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‘I could never do this in London’: meet the UK buyers who bought €1 houses in Italy


taly’s €1 home scheme is the stuff of dreams. The kind that start on a dull winter’s day in London, say, sparking a vision of a new life in the Italian sunshine, living in a house that costs less than an espresso.

Introduced in 2008, the scheme was intended to combat depopulation in rural towns, revitalising them with new inhabitants.

Abandoned private houses —of which there are around 2 million, says Maurizio Berti, who runs advisory website Case a 1 Euro — are sold for the symbolic price of €1, with buyers often obligated to restore the properties and encouraged to relocate to Italy.

How the scheme took off

According to Berti, the scheme began to generate significant interest in early 2019, when a CNN article was published about the introduction of the project in Ollolai, Sardinia.

Overnight, the number of users on Berti’s website increased 1000-fold, crashing the server for two days in a row. In the first two weeks of February 2019, he had 5,000 emails from interested parties.

The scheme is still popular, of course, and there are now more than 60 municipalities offering €1 homes across Italy, from mountain villages in the north to sunny Sicily in the south, which hosts by far the greatest share.

So far, Berti estimates that around 1,000 homes have been sold — although it is difficult to give a precise calculation and, he stresses, nor is this the best way of evaluating the success of the project. “€1 house is not a real estate project. It’s a cultural project that aims to show the culture of abandoned villages in internal areas of Italy. It is not just the sale of houses.”

Amanda Holden and Alan Carr’s €1 house, now for sale for €145,000 with all proceeds going to charity

/ Italy Sotheby’s International Realty

The TV show — and the timeframe

Most purchasers are foreigners, who see some romance in their endeavours. In January, the BBC aired an eight-part documentary series, in which Amanda Holden and Alan Carr combine and renovate two dilapidated €1 houses in Salemi, Sicily.

Interspersed with shots of the sparkling coastline, daily aperitivo and traditional Sicilian cooking, their rustic house (now for sale for €145,000) epitomises the €1 home fantasy. And, thanks to a BBC production crew, the ambitious renovation is complete in the space of one short summer.

“I can tell you now: it’s completely impossible. You can’t even get a permit for that in that time,” says Sam Wilson, who runs Smart Move Italy, a company, which, with its sister estate agency, helps English-speaking buyers relocate to Italy. “In reality, it’s going to take a long time — well over a year, if you have money to spend.”

So is the €1 home scheme too good to be true? And, 15 years on, is it working? We caught up with buyers from the UK to find out.

‘The €1 home scheme was what brought me to the town’

Danny McCubbin, 58, bought his €1 home in 2019. Originally from Australia, he had lived in London and worked for Jamie Oliver for 17 years.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he planned to pursue a slower pace of life. When he saw the scheme advertised in Mussomeli, Sicily, it was the catalyst he needed.

McCubbin booked a flight out and viewed a handful of ruinous houses before he was shown an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the town. Though it had been abandoned for 15 years, it was in better condition and, crucially, had an adjoining stable which he intended to turn into a community kitchen.

McCubbin paid €1 for the house, plus €500 to his estate agent and €3,000 for a notary.

Anticipating a two-month renovation to strengthen the floors, re-plumb, re-wire and install a new kitchen and bathroom, McCubbin set up a CrowdFunder for the community kitchen, raising over £24,000.

Inside Danny’s €1 house

/ Danny McCubbin/The Good Kitchen

Intending to move in February 2020, the pandemic delayed McCubbin until December that year. When he eventually arrived in Mussomeli, builders were in short supply, busy with €1 home renovations and eco-adjustments to properties, encouraged by a government bonus scheme.

McCubbin was offered an old shop space to rent for €150 per month in the town’s main square, and launched The Good Kitchen in July 2021, providing meals for vulnerable people using food rescued from local supermarkets. Eventually, he decided that it was a better home for the initiative.

“It was better that we were in the town square as we had much better exposure. My €1 house was on the outskirts of the town and not visible from the street, and I wondered whether it was even worth renovating it, given that we’d launched in the town square,” says McCubbin.

“We decided not to go through with the renovation because it was better for the charity.”

McCubbin sold his €1 house back to the agency, who in turn sold it on again. He initially bought a house down the street for €8,000 (plus a €5,000 renovation budget) and has since decided to split his time between a smaller apartment in Mussomeli, which he bought at a discounted rate from a local family, and a farm on the coast.

McCubbin now has Italian residency, and The Good Kitchen cooks for around 50 people per week, providing over 3,000 meals in its first year. Almost three years on, McCubbin still credits the scheme for planting the seed.

“The €1 home scheme was what brought me to the town in the first place,” he says. “I could never do this in London. That was part of the dream for me – to move somewhere where the cost of living wasn’t as high.”

‘The costs have shot up. It’s a different proposition now’

Alex Stubbs found herself in a similar situation after the pandemic. Like Holden and Carr, she bought two neighbouring properties in Mussomeli for a Euro apiece in 2019, intending to transform them into one larger home.

But, after the pandemic and Italian eco-bonus scheme, construction will cost “significantly more” than she originally thought, and she has had to put her plans on hold — for now.

“When I went back last year, it was absolutely impossible for me to find anybody to take on my renovation. You were bashing your head against a brick wall,” says Stubbs.

“I decided to park it and wait for the eco-bonus to run its course. But in the years since I bought, global material costs shot up, so the quote that I had back in the day is not going to even vaguely cut it. It’s quite a different proposition now.”

Nevertheless, Stubbs still plans to go ahead with her renovation. Based in Norfolk, she is keen to set up a social enterprise in Mussomeli and share the space with others, rather than using it as a private home.

“I fell for this pair of properties because I had a vision of what they could become,” she says. “The ball’s in my court as to when I go back and get it all re-costed.”

The reality of the scheme for buyers

As Stubbs’ and McCubbin’s experiences show, buying and restoring a €1 home is not a quick process. “Like anything in Sicily, you just have to be very patient,” says McCubbin.

“There was a bit of a goldrush after the pandemic, when people wanted to buy a cheap house and set up a B&B or Airbnb and make money from it. People were looking for bargains, but there’s not really bargains to be had anymore…I think people are a bit more serious about what they’re buying.”

The €1 home scheme is not about turning a quick profit, argues Berti — it is aimed at people who want to relocate to Italy and discover the local culture. “My idea is a longer-term project. I’m not interested in people buying a lot of houses, restoring them and putting them on sale.

“The right way is people who are interested in coming to Italy to live here — for vacation; for retirement; they want to stay in Italy and finish their life here.”

McCubbin launched The Good Kitchen in July 2021

/ Danny McCubbin/The Good Kitchen

For Wilson, who meets plenty of hopeful foreigners, it is important to manage expectations. “The romance definitely drives people forwards,” she says. “There are a lot of dreamers for the €1 house. Most people come for the scheme because that’s the budget they have.”

Wilson encounters buyers with low budgets (below €30,000) as well as those with slightly more to spend (€50,000 to €100,000).

“I think when people realise that the cost of some properties in Italy are so incredibly affordable compared to where they live, it’s a pretty hard thing to turn down,” says Wilson. “But there’s a reason that these properties are the price that they are.”

Many €1 homes are properties abandoned by family members who inherited them under Italy’s forced inheritance system, and do not wish to pay for their upkeep, Wilson explains. They are not usually ruins, but most will not be habitable and will require major work, including structural repairs.

“The cost to renovate is extraordinary right now,” she says, adding that lower budget buyers will be hard pressed to purchase, repair and get their paperwork complete for under €30,000, even if the house only costs €1.

“I’m not saying that €1 homes are something you should avoid, but it’s not a low-cost home.”

Don’t discount ‘bargain’ homes

Despite having a higher initial price point, “bargain” properties (under €50,000) often offer buyers better value for money — and are more readily available.

With the €1 home scheme highlighting the international demand for old Italian properties, families are increasingly opting to sell the properties they have inherited for a discounted rate instead.

For Louise and Mark Bickley from Cheshire, the idea of buying a €1 home in Sicily was a lockdown fantasy. They would find themselves reading about property in Italy, or down social media rabbit holes.

“Sometimes you wish you’d done something, or you overthink it and talk yourself out of it,” says Louise. “It was one of those situations where we thought: we should seriously look at this. What have we got to lose?”

The view from Louise and Mark’s house

/ Louise and Mark Bickley

But by the time they arrived in Sicily to view properties in February 2022 they had discounted the possibility of buying through the €1 home scheme, finding low-cost housing to be more attainable for their €20,000 budget.

They fell for the first of the 15 houses that they saw: a two-bedroom house in the ancient hilltop village of Cammarata with spacious rooms and views over the surrounding countryside.

It was on the market for €18,000 and they paid €15,000, plus around €3,000 in fees. The property needs to be connected to power and water but is otherwise in liveable condition — although they did have to clean out all of the previous owner’s belongings.

“It’s in reasonably good condition,” says Mark. “A lot of the cheaper housing — like the €1 houses — varies in condition. We didn’t want to buy somewhere that completely needed gutting and renovating from the bottom up. This does need some work, but most of it is decorative.”

Inside Louise and Mark’s house in Cammarata

/ Louise and Mark Bickley

Mark and Louise, who are 53 and 51, plan to work remotely from the house and share it with their three sons. Post-Brexit, they can only live there for up to three months at a time.

“It was amazing to get the keys — it’s still quite surreal,” says Louise.

“We’re not there to make money or flip the property,” Mark adds. “It’s there for us to use as a family, and to enable our family and friends to use it whenever they wish. Just to share in that joy, really, because it is a wonderful area.”


Escaping the rising cost of living

Given that the average house in London costs £542,000, it is staggering to think of buying a property for just €20,000.

According to Wilson, Smart Move Italy are increasingly encountering Brits looking to escape rising living costs. “In the south of Italy, you can be close to sea; the weather’s better. It’s got lots to offer. It’s not just the property, but the cost of living is extraordinarily low, compared to the UK,” she says.

For those looking to permanently relocate, Wilson says that €60,000 to €100,000 is enough to buy a nice, modest property in good condition — “not in the middle of Florence, but certainly in a pretty place where you can really enjoy the Italian lifestyle.”

This was Claire’s motivation behind buying her 200-year-old trullo in Ceglie Messapica — a pretty, inland town in Puglia — for €106,000.

A single mother, she had been renting a property near Winchester with her daughter, who will soon be going to university. Initially attracted to the €1 home scheme, she quickly realised that buying in Italy — even at a higher price — would allow her to buy the kind of house that would be unaffordable in the UK, and to live mortgage free.

“Interest rates are going through the roof. I didn’t want my entire life to be tainted by that letter coming through every month telling me that it’s increased again,” says Claire. “I thought: what’s the alternative?”

She travelled to Italy in October 2022 and was shown a trullo, a traditional round stone house with a conical roof. It had two bedrooms and 2.5 acres of land.

There were hand-painted ceramics above the doors and a herb garden outside. It had been used as a summer home by an Italian family and, having been well-loved, was in good condition.

At €106,000, it was being sold for half its value because part of the building had been constructed without proper permission. Claire risks a potential fine further down the line — but, says Wilson, this is the case with many Italian properties.

“The agent started to show us round, and I burst into tears — that for that little money, I could afford this property. It was idyllic. The olive harvest was happening, and we were shown a 200-year-old lemon tree in the garden. The place was just beautiful.”

Claire’s trullo, which she is buying for €106,000

/ Claire

Claire and her daughter put an offer on the property before they left for the airport. Her plan is to apply for Italy residency and move there full-time, working freelance if possible.

Having paid a deposit and had the house surveyed, Claire will meet her notary, pay the remaining sum and get the keys at the beginning of April.

“There’s been a lot of thought put into it and a lot of research done, but ultimately you have to take a leap of faith and be a bit brave,” says Claire. “We’re going to go out [in April] and raise a glass to moving out there.”

The wider impact

For these people, €1 homes were the catalyst that brought them to Italy — even if they didn’t end up buying through the scheme.

This is why, for Berti, the scheme is not about selling €1 houses — it is about selling Italy. Not just the stereotype, but the local culture. “There are two Italies,” he says.

“The real Italy and the promotional, touristic Italy that you see in magazines and on TV. Sambuca and Mussomeli are famous, but there are other incredible little villages — fantastic places with fantastic views, excellent food and people with very open arms. The world doesn’t know about them.”

“It’s true,” says Diletta Giorgolo Spinola at Italy Sotheby’s International Realty. “The €1 homes had a very good effect on marketing areas like Sicily…Before, everybody would go to Tuscany, Umbria or the lakes. The latest trend is definitely Sicily.”

As well as influencing the sale of lower-cost homes, the €1 home scheme is also having a knock-on effect on house buying in other sections of the market.

According to Giorgolo Spinola, Sotheby’s, whose properties range in price from €145,000 to more than €20 million, saw sales double between 2019 and 2021. In 2022, they sold 80 per cent more properties than in 2021.

Whilst some of this uptick is the result of Covid, which heightened demand for second properties, Giorgolo Spinola says that “€1 homes have reflected into the higher market,” with clients often telling her that they were inspired by the scheme.

Mussomeli, where McCubbin and Stubbs bought their houses

/ Danny McCubbin/The Good Kitchen

The influx of new life has led to increased public investment, says Berti. The government is funding municipalities to improve their public spaces. Villages are seeing their old churches, public services and community spaces restored — which in turn helps to attract new inhabitants.

“The €1 home scheme has been a success, because the mayors and public administration saw how important it is to renovate not just the broken houses, but also the public places in the municipality,” he says. “It’s an incredible project that involves people all over the world.”

In Mussomeli, McCubbin has detected an increase in tourism in the time he has lived there, and notes that the town square has been renovated, with new padel and tennis courts under construction.

According to the municipality’s performance report for 2022 to 2024, the €1 houses are “making an important contribution to the urban rebirth of the city” and construction has almost doubled the town’s growth.

The €1 house scheme may spark dreams — but it is about more than cheap houses.

For McCubbin, the project was key in realising his dream of living in Italy. “I had an amazing life in London, but I love the pace here in Mussomeli — there are no traffic jams; I walk everywhere; I have a lot of time to think about The Good Kitchen…It’s a beautiful project — like an onion, with all these layers that are being peeled back, revealing the true soul of the people here.”

He adds: “It’s the way of life that I had been looking for, that wasn’t possible in the UK. That’s why I came to Sicily.”

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