In my last post about 1-euro homes, I mentioned how Lorraine Bracco purchased a home for 1-euro and, after starting with a renovation budget of $145,000, the project ended up costing her more like $250,000. That’s a huge difference from budget to reality. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t want to risk that kind of increase in expense. And, let’s face it, I don’t have that money.
But, in Bracco’s three-part series, My Big Italian Adventure, she casually mentions (almost in passing) that she wanted more space than the 1-euro home and was able to purchase the home next door for only 40,000 euros. Homes in Italy are built with adjoining walls, so this allowed her to expand quite easily by simply knocking through the wall. What intrigued me most about this, however, is that you can (theoretically) buy a habitable home at a very affordable price and update it while you live there. Now that is more in line with my budget and stamina!
THIS was an idea I could work with! One of the problems with 1-euro homes is that they are completely uninhabitable. This means you have to find another lodging – and pay for that other lodging – while you are renovating. That’s an additional cost that you need to factor into your budget. It also means that all the renovation basically needs to be done at the same time.
Whereas, if you purchase a home that is habitable, you can do renovations bit by bit. Maybe even do some of the work yourself. At least the house is already connected to city services (plumbing, sewer, electricity) and there is a working kitchen and a full bathroom.
With this idea lodged in my brain, I abandoned the dream of a 1-euro home and began searching for habitable Sicilian houses on the market for 20,000 to 50,000. Obviously, the cheaper the property, the more work that needs to be done. Meanwhile, I reached out to a dear friend and asked if he might be interested in investing in a property with me.
A year later, when he agreed to visit Italy with me, one goal of the trip was to see some potential properties for purchase. Because I had already visited Sambuca di Sicilia a few times in 2020, made some friends, and connected with the deputy mayor who started the 1-euro auction in that town, it was a given that Sambuca would be the first place to look.
The town of Sambuca di Sicilia wasn’t familiar to me in 2020. I hadn’t paid any attention to any of the 1-euro towns in Sicily. I was only looking at 1-euro homes on the mainland. Sicily was so remote, so far away. I wanted to visit, I wanted to spend time there, but I had no intention would live there. But that was before I spent three months in Sicily! Now things have changed. Sicily is where I want to live.
So, on February 19, 2022, we arrived in Sambuca and immediately stopped to visit with some friends, the owners of Bar Caruso.
After a round of pastries and coffee, we went for a walk. It was interesting to see how much had changed since 2020, how many buildings had been rehabbed., including the 1-euro home next to the belvedere steps which was purchased and renovated by Airbnb.
We stopped by my favorite home in Sambuca, owned by Giuseppe. The inside still needs to be renovated but I love the outside just as it is!
Another stop was at the home where I stayed for six nights in 2020. While admiring it from the outside, we noticed that the property next door had a “For Sale” sign.
Two men standing outside asked if we wanted to see it. Sure enough, they had the keys and we readily agreed! The immediate appeal, before even stepping inside, is that I know the neighbor to the left because I had stayed in her home in 2020. As I’ve mentioned before, houses in Italy typically share one or two walls with other homes. So it helps to know who your neighbors are. Especially if, like me, you have an aversion to noise! The other bonus is the location in town – just off upper main street, close to the belvedere and downtown, in the old Arab Quarter.
The house has only four rooms, two on the ground floor and two on the first floor. Historically, the kitchen is always on the ground floor, along with a sleeping area for Nonna (grandmother), who rules the kitchen.
So here’s what we saw when we entered: you walk down a few steps and this is the ground floor consisting of two rooms and a bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t even look in the bathroom – not sure why. The first room is what I would make into a living room.
The second room is the kitchen. Or, what would be the kitchen, once you installed it.
Looks great, right? It looks like mostly only cosmetic changes would need to be made. Like painting and removing the tile from the kitchen walls. I’m also not a fan of the floor tile but I’m told it is historical, though maybe dating back only sixty to seventy years.
Then you climb back up those few stairs, turn the corner and climb to the 1st floor.
This is where I was gobsmacked. Upstairs stole my heart! Look at the gorgeous historical tile in each room! Look at the pocket envelope ceilings!
There is a sweet door between the two rooms. Obviously, the second room would be a bedroom. The first room perhaps my study / library / writing room. Did I mention how much I love the ceilings? You can’t really see them in these photos but they’re lovely. Okay, the lights would have to go, but that’s not a big deal.
Our guides were a realtor and an architect from Palermo. Neither spoke any English so we communicated through Google translate. The realtor emphasized that while the house was small, we could put a terrace on the roof. This is always a wonderful feature of Italian homes. Except when we opened the door to the stairway, there was the toilet and a small sink! Very funny! After the realtor saw that, he didn’t take us up.
Obviously, the toilet and sink would have to be moved. Not a problem. It would be easy to install a bathroom in the bedroom, just above the kitchen.
I love this little house! It’s a perfect size for just me. Of course, this means I would have to give up my dream of living with others, at least temporarily. With a place this adorable, I could get myself to Sicily first and then figure out how to get friends to move there as well.
Did I mention how much I loved the ceilings and the floor tiles? And the asking price? 30,000 euros. I couldn’t believe it! Fantastic! We had found my home!
But there was a catch.
Moisture. The most fantastic display of moss on the walls. Artistically, I admired them. Yet admittedly, they also freaked me out. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of them straight on – but you can see some of it in the photos I did take.
The realtor said, yes, the moisture was coming from the abandoned house on the other side. Yes, it could be fixed but it would have to be fixed from the other side. Okay. I mean, for 30,000 euros there was bound to be a problem, right?
Except that the mold problem is worse than the realtor admitted. When I mentioned the home to Giuseppe, he shook his head. “Stay away from that house,” he said. Why? “The moisture. Too much moisture.” But surely it can be fixed, yes? He shook his head.
The abandoned house, which the realtor claimed was the source of the moisture problem, is owned by eight people. Inheritance laws in Italy are partially to blame for the inventory of abandoned homes. Family automatically inherits property when the owner dies. Which can mean a home that hasn’t been occupied in fifty or more years can be owned by siblings and cousins of the second and third generation, with possibly none of them living in the area or even in Sicily.
On top of that, Giuseppe said 30,000 euros was too much. That home should sell for maybe 15,000. Even better! (I thought.) No, he said. “You do not want that house.”
Except that I do. I don’t want the mold but I do love this house. I can’t get it out of my mind.
We looked at two other homes in Sambuca after this one, both much larger, one for the same price and one for quite a bit more. I’ll show you those in my next installment of 1-Euro Homes or (probably better named) Purchasing Property in Italy.
What do you think? Would you accept the wisdom and advice of Giuseppe who is an architect and the founder of the 1-Euro home auction in Sambuca or would you forge ahead and buy it anyway?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!