1-Euro Homes, Building a Dream

I met someone the other day who owns farmland in Northern California. About 80 acres with a small home, guest house, and room to build other compact dwellings. He told me it was remote, down a long quiet road, an hour from the nearest gas station.

I always get excited when I hear this kind of thing. I’ve dreamed of living on land in community with friends for a very long time. In the 1980s, I imagined owning a bed and breakfast – a real bed and breakfast back when that was still a thing. By the early 1990s, the vision was bigger: at least 75 acres where we could build small cabins or tiny strawbale homes and a larger creative space that we would share for music, massage, dance, and more. In the middle of the property would be a huge garden where we would grow our own food.

This guy nodded his head and said, “Yup, my place has plenty of room for all of that.”

Of course, now I dream of such a community in Italy. But Northern California is beautiful.  I’m open to all possibilities.

Then he told me that while his property was an hour to the nearest gas station, it was actually about two and a half hours to the nearest town.  Oh. Full stop.  Even for me, that’s too remote.

Italian towns first started advertising 1-euro houses for sale in early 2019. Sambuca di Sicilia was one of the first and others quickly followed. The only catch was that a minimum of 17,000 euros needed to be spent in renovations and the renovations needed to be completed in three years.

Then, the region of Molise (southeast of Rome) announced it would pay $27,000 to relocate to one of its villages. There were, however, a few caveats:

  1. The village had to be one with less than 2,000 residents.
  2. It had to become your primary residence.
  3. You had to open a business that would benefit the local economy. More than a service to current residents, how would your business promote the town and attract visitors?

I have a friend who’s been an ex-pat for 22 years. We met in San Francisco in 1989 when I was living in a community house in Haight Ashbury, (which is a whole other story).  Anyway, she and I got excited about these possibilities. Really excited. We did our research and brainstormed about how we would renovate and what we could create that would bring a steady stream of visitors.

The most obvious idea is a retreat space. Individual rooms with a shared common space and an outdoor setting. Perhaps writers retreats or yoga retreats or artists in residence. I could even fall back on my 20+ years as a massage therapist and offer massage.

One week of my planned trip to Italy in 2020 was dedicated to us driving around and visiting villages where we might make this dream come true.

Then the pandemic happened. All plans came to a halt as the world stood still. I’m not sure if the Molise offer still exists. But the number of Italian towns offering 1-euro homes has grown to twenty-six. If that seems like a lot, remember that Italy is primarily a country of small towns and villages. Around 5,800 of them have less than 5,000 residents and half of those have been partially or completely abandoned.

There are several reasons for this. Earthquakes and other natural disasters severely damaged many towns. Residents who didn’t have the funds for repairs simply left. And of course, the 20th Century brought more opportunities in cities like Rome and Milan. But the first major exodus happened shortly after the unification of the country in 1861. By WWI (1914), sixteen million Italians emigrated, with most landing in North and South America. Low-income laborers accounted for at least half of these numbers. Which is to say, the homes they left were nothing great to start with.

1-euro homes are basically shells. Empty for decades and some even for over a century, these are not simple fixer-uppers. Everything needs to be done in these places: roofs and walls, plumbing, electricity… bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms all need to be built from scratch.

There are a lot of YouTube videos featuring the purchase of 1-euro homes. Enough to make me reconsider. The amount of work that needs to be done seems staggering, particularly for someone with extremely limited funds.

Lorraine Bracco’s  My Big Italian Adventure is worth watching. In just a few months, shown over three episodes, her 1-euro home in Sambuca di Sicilia is completely transformed. She’s an actress and it’s a TV show, so it’s filled with drama, but it’s also pretty honest. She started with a $145,000 budget. After it was all said and done, she admits the project cost more like $250,000.

That’s money I don’t have. But… she did something that gave me an idea. Something that seems more reasonable and even practical. Something that maybe I could do. Something I explored during my visit in February.

Stay tuned!

I took this photo in Sambuca in 2020
Airbnb (the corporation) purchased it, renovated it, and now it looks like this.

Check out this video that features 1-euro homes in Sicily:

In it, you’ll meet Giuseppe Cacioppo, deputy mayor of Sambuca di Sicilia, whom I met in 2020. Giuseppe has become a friend and was a guest at the dinner I detailed in my post, “Food, Family, Friends.”

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