Pretty Italian villa for €1: what's the catch?

Sarah Coles

How would you fancy your own cottage in a pretty 12th century hilltop village in Sicily - for just €1? That's roughly 80p. The properties in the village of Gangi have a couple of minor downsides, but for less than the cost of an ice cream this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. The question is whether it's worth it.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the council made the offer after decades of people moving out. A number of the properties were handed to them by people who were leaving and no longer had the funds or inclination to look after the properties themselves. Now they are selling 20 of them for €1 to try to breathe life back into the village.

There are lots of upsides to this purchase. The village itself is beautiful. It's also just an hour away from the popular tourist resort of Cefalu, and an hour from the beach, so while it can't exactly be described as a buzzing metropolis, it's not stranded in the middle of nowhere.

The estate agent blurb says in return for being off the tourist trail, you'll be welcomed into a new community. It adds: "Here you find "the genuine Sicily ", with traditional values and habits still present. The population is well-known for its welcoming and helpful attitude. Here you do not have to worry about locking the front door at night, here people take care of each other and the atmosphere is kind and social."

The conditions of purchase aren't particularly demanding either: according to The Local (an English-Italian newspaper) you have to pay the legal costs of purchase, which are estimated at around £4,760. The cost could be higher if you buy one of the larger properties because it depends on the taxable value rather than the sum you have paid for it.

You also have to leave €5,000 with the local council as a pledge that you will restore the property to its former glory within five years. Once it is satisfied with the state of the home you'll get your money back.

The downsides
However, the fact that the council has had to make this stipulation reflects that the properties are often not just neglected, they are downright derelict. If you take one on you have to get to grips with building a new roof, new floor and new walls. It's going to take tens of thousands of pounds to restore them - £30,000 would be a conservative estimate.

Perhaps even more importantly, expert tradespeople will need to be found and employed, and the owners will have to deal with local officials to have the services restored. Dealing with local bureaucracy is not for the faint-hearted or the non-Italian-speaker. The company marketing the deal was quick to explain that the Mafia won't have the slightest interest in construction projects of this scale, but that doesn't mean renovation will be seamless.

If you wanted a run-down property to do up, renovation projects requiring less work start at €5,000, or you could buy a reasonably refurbished house away from the beach in one of the less touristy towns in the region: there are a number of these on the market for €35,000 - which would save you the headache without exactly costing the earth.

Would you?
All these issues may be why when the scheme was launched two years ago there was little interest. However, now marketing has been taken over by an English-speaking Swedish property consultant, enquiries are picking up. She told the Telegraph that she had interest from Brits, Swedes, Americans and Russians, and there were already four British couples considering a purchase.

So would you buy one of these one-bedroom homes?

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