The true cost behind Italy's $1 homes
- Starting in early 2019, sixteen towns across
Italybegan selling homes for €1, or about $1.10.
- Suffering from rapid depopulation and aging residents, these idyllic and historic towns are in danger of dissapearing.
- In hopes of revamping their economies, local governments started selling abanonded homes for a steal.
- But there are some catches: security deposits, renovation requirements, and crumbling homes.
- Business Insider goes inside these town with some of their newest homeowners, revealing the true cost of these $1 homes.
Following is a transcription of the
Narrator: These are Italy's famous dollar homes.Gillian Sweeney: This bit here, I'm not gonna talk because there is a pigeon living in this bit.
Meredith Tabbone: Holy moly.Narrator: Over 20 towns across Italy have started selling abandoned homes for a single euro, or about $1.10. For the sake of this video, we'll call them dollar homes. The towns selling these dollar homes are small, and most of them are far out in the countryside. And they've been suffering from rapid depopulation for decades.
In 1968, a massive earthquake hit Sicily. It caused so much damage that for some homeowners, it was cheaper to cash in on insurance and move somewhere else completely. The exodus continued from there. Across Italy, younger people left for the cities. Many moved to escape the poor job markets in their rural hometowns. In Sambuca, the population has decreased by 30% since the 1950s.Marco Cicio: There's not much work here right now, so the only work is construction. Narrator: And according to The Wall Street Journal, it's been especially bad in the last 15 years.
Marco: The town was small. We used to be 8,000 people. Now we only 5,000 people.
Narrator: And Sambuca isn't alone. Tally up all those towns losing residents, and that makes more than a million people in the last 20 years who have moved away from Italy's rural regions and closer to the urban cities.Toti Nigrelli: A lot of people went to UK, to North Italy, and other parts of the world to have a job. So here we have a lot of houses without people inside.
Narrator: What's left are beautiful towns with abandoned homes, an aging population, and economies on the verge of collapse.
Toti: So we decide to repopulate this part of the town. Now you can buy an home with only 1 euro.Narrator: Some towns, like Sambuca, set up websites where prospective buyers could scroll through the homes for sale. In the mountainous town of Molise, where they've lost 9,000 residents since 2014, town officials made the deal sweeter. They would pay newcomers almost $800 a month to move here for three years and start a small business. It didn't take long for publications to pick up the story. And it blew up globally.
Tom Murray: The headline kind of writes itself. It's a beautiful home in rural Italy for a dollar. I mean, who isn't gonna click on that?Narrator: Once the story got out, people from all over came running.
Gillian: The very beginning started on Facebook. I saw my mom had shared an article, and when I saw it, I thought, "I want to buy a house for a euro."Narrator: All the other stories sounded pretty similar. Gary Holm: We saw the CNN article.
Bert Smets: Read an article in a Belgian newspaper.
Narrator: Most of the newcomers came from the US and Northern Europe.Giuseppe Cacioppo: I'm happy for the people arrive in Sambuca. I'm enthusiastic for this big revolution.
Narrator: That's Giuseppe. He's the guy who launched the program in Sambuca, a town of nearly 6,000. Sambuca got the widest media coverage after Giuseppe put 16 homes up for sale in early 2019.
Giuseppe: Arrive interesting people. A journalist, a singer, and a actor. Everything, you know? Is important arrive younger people. Younger woman and younger man for stay in Sambuca.Narrator: Even though the towns are small and rural, foreigners have flocked here, looking to find vacation homes, open Airbnbs, or even move here full time.
Tamara Holm: I love how you can just see the stucco peeling off and the old stone just popping out right behind it. It's like a little piece of history.Gillian: You literally could take a photo anywhere round about you. You could actually put them on the wall, you know?
Gary: It's like a Disney movie. [church bells ringing]Narrator: Plus, everyone we spoke to said the locals here were welcoming to the new faces and energy. Neighbor: Ciao, ciao.
Bert: My neighbor gonna make lasagna, and she invited my wife to make it with her.
Nina Smets: It was the best lasagna I ever tasted.Narrator: So landing a dollar home in these idyllic towns may sound perfect, but there's a catch. Actually, multiple catches.
Toti: You have to spend money to make the contracts for the taxes, and another $400 for a real-estate company.
Narrator: That could bring up the total to about $3,000. In some towns, like Sambuca, the homes were actually sold at auction, which meant they started at a dollar but ended up selling to the highest bidder. More than 100,000 people sent in requests for 16 houses, so competition was steep.Gillian: I looked at my emails one day, and I saw that email, and I went, "Ooh."
Gillian: I'm at the house, and this is the first time that we've seen it.Narrator: She ended up paying $1,100 for her new home.
Gillian: So I picked up the phone to my long-suffering husband, and I said, "Eh, Danny, see, when I say this, I'm not joking, but we've got lot No. 7 on the auction." And he was like, "Oh." [laughs]Narrator: Only one home in Sambuca actually sold for the dollar listing price. Most of them ended up going for a few thousand, but the most expensive home went for $28,000. Then there's the security deposit. Gillian: We bought the house for the 1,000 euros. At the same time, we had to send a 5,000 euro deposit.
Narrator: The deposit amount ranges from $2,300 to $5,600, depending on the town. Homeowners will get it back if they start renovations within a year and agree to finish within three years of getting designs approved.
Gillian: It's a safeguard for them to make sure that they don't almost give away these properties and then they sit vacant again. 'Cause they want people to be in and using them.Narrator: And since most of the homes were in pretty rough shape, they sometimes come with a requirement to spend at least $17,000 on renovations.
Bert: Houses are really destroyed, really. So you have to do a lot of work.
Narrator: That's Bert and his wife, Nina. They're from Belgium and were two of the first people to purchase dollar homes in Mussomeli. They purchased four $1 properties and have finished renovations on one of them.Bert: If you buy a house for 1 euro, you can't expect it will be beautiful. Impossible.
Gary: It's far, so we're gonna have to hire somebody.Tamara: And also they don't have large hardware stores. So I can't just, like, run down and grab lumber.
Narrator: So, what does a dollar home really cost? Let's do the math. A dollar listing, $400 in taxes, a $5,600 deposit, say $60,000 in renovations, plus flights back and forth for years. Add it all up, and you're looking at $76,001.Still nothing compared to the $124,000 that Forbes reported one Sambuca resident expects to spend renovating. And that's for a home that was supposed to cost a dollar. So it might seem like a rip-off, but... Bert: If you buy those houses in Belgium, it's a million.
Gillian: The fact that we'll have a holiday home for life for a fraction of the price that we would spend elsewhere, you know what? I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I haven't even finished it yet.
Narrator: And so far, the program has been a success. In Mussomeli, more than 100 of the houses have been sold in the past year. In Sambuca, all 16 of the original euro homes went in a matter of months. Today, they've sold a total of about 60. And some people who didn't win a dollar home at auction stuck around to buy a normal listing, like Gary and Tamara, a couple from Arizona who bought their home from a private seller for $20,000.Gary: Now, this home still needs quite a bit of work.
Tamara: Yeah, the roof is in rough shape.
Gary: It's got leaks, but it's gonna be beautiful when it's done.Narrator: The dollar-home sales stopped across Italy due to the coronavirus.
Narrator: Gary and Tamara haven't been able to
Narrator: As of July 2020, the program has started up again in Sambuca.Tamara: And it's called "casa for 2 euro." So, they are starting it back up. Narrator: Despite the pandemic, there's hope that all these newcomers will bring about change in these rural towns.
Toti: It started a small economy here. Engineers, architects, designers that make plans, make project of the house. The building companies can have a job also.
Narrator: Along with new businesses, restaurants, and Airbnbs in Sambuca and Mussomeli, Tamara said you'll also see postings for English classes.Tamara: And I also think it's helped tourism, because for the last couple of times I've been there, I've been seeing more and more tour buses coming through, so I really think it's put Sambuca on the map.
Narrator: Of course, more people in once sleepy towns will create some friction. In Mussomeli...
Tom: One of the local newspapers had launched something of a smear campaign against the new Belgian inhabitants after one of them was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. So there are some cultural differences that will need to be worked out.Narrator: And in Sambuca...
Narrator: As for whether all this new energy will really save these shrinking towns, only time will tell.Tom: In my time reporting in Sicily, the reaction to myself and the newcomers in town was really, really positive. I think they were just excited to see some fresh faces.
Bert: We see it now already. All the houses are renovated, there will be a new bed and breakfast at Piazza Roma. Beautiful. In my street there's a new home, and everybody is working on it. And I think that they say 10 years, it will be a beautiful city. [church bells ringing]
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