The repopulation of Sicilian towns thanks to houses on sale at €1 each

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The venture of some island towns has gone around the world. On May 8th in Sambuca (province of Agrigento) they opened some envelopes containing offers from many different countries, from China to USA. Let’s retrace the origin and the development of this original way to revitalize small towns many people invested in

Depopulation and abandonment are two common problems in Italy. Therefore, the initiative “Houses on sale at €1 each” spread throughout the country with the aim of revitalizing old towns by selling some properties at low prices in exchange for restoration. In Sicily the project is active in Salemi (Trapani), Gangi (Palermo), Bivona (Agrigento), Sambuca (Agrigento), Mussomeli (Caltanissetta) and Regalbuto (Enna). On May 8th in Sambuca they opened some envelopes containing the offers of many prospective buyers from China to USA, even if the idea originally started in Salemi in 2008 under the mayor Vittorio Sgarbi. However, something went wrong then and Gangi became the first town to do that, as the former mayor Giuseppe Ferrarello said: «I asked people the mandate to sell the houses by ensuring that Municipality would act as an “estate agency” to simplify the project. I made available my own house in the old town to give a good example, and citizens followed me». In Gangi the venture worked enough to sell about 160 houses: «During the first two years the project didn’t go well, ‒ said Ferrarello ‒ but in the meantime, we got busy to turn Gangi into a tourist attraction working on events, sport facilities and cleanliness. At last, in 2011 we managed to sell our first house. Mass-media success started from there, and then in 2014 Gangi became “The most beautiful Italian village”».

HOW THE PROJECT WORKS. The procedure isn’t the same everywhere and every case has its peculiarities. In Gangi, for example, people sell their houses in exchange for restoration: «That’s how it works: the buyer applies and goes to the place, while the Municipality puts them in contact with the owner and deals with the practices ‒ explained Ferrarello. – The only obligation they have is to pay a €5,000 guarantee when signing and to restore the house within three years». In Sambuca, on the contrary, the procedure provides for auction with a starting price of €1, and on May 8th they opened some envelopes containing the offers of many prospective buyers: «We are selling 16 properties ‒ explained the mayor of Sambuca, Leonardo Ciaccio. – We opted for this solution to find allocation criteria, since there are only 16 houses for a thousand applications. Once opened the envelopes and chosen the assignee, this one will be obliged to pay the offer within 30 days and to start the procedure in the interests of the two parts».

THE CASE OF SAMBUCA. Many people from all over the world have been interested in the houses for sale in Italy. The recent case of Sambuca caught the attention of international media such as CNN, Daily Mail and The Guardian. Moreover, Discovery Channel proposed a television program providing the purchase of a house whose restoration will be filmed by a camera crew and told by the American actress Lorraine Bracco. But what have the impact of this unexpected fame been? «In 2016 in Sambuca there was just a hotel, not even a B&B ‒ told us the mayor Ciaccio. – Nowadays there are 24-26 B&B and since January almost all of them have been sold out already. A working team was instituted in order to guide the guests, and a house tour is planned twice a day. We already sold 25 houses apart from the project, lately, and can only be pleasantly surprised by this attention».

THE BUYERS. Many Sicilians decided to buy houses in Gangi through this method some years ago, just like Gerry Pedivillano, an engineer from Caltanissetta: «We were the first to buy a property with this formula. It’s not easy as it seems, because you need some money to invest and above all a clear idea of what you want to do. In our case, we didn’t want to move there: we only wished a second house and are happy to have made this investment». Ignazio Tuzzolino, former CEO of the Bank of Palermo, said instead: «My decision came from my love for the area of the Madonie. There were many difficulties, but the Municipality guided and assisted me through every step. I think that the main problem of these beautiful villages is the lack of job prospects, even if tourism brought something positive there. This initiative has been surely an important and decisive resolution, but you also need to create other attractions to establish a network between villages».

THE PROJECT. “Houses on sale at €1 each” has revitalized the old towns and restarted tourism. Nevertheless, there still be an open-ended question: in addition to create tourist destinations and holiday resorts, can this venture really bring to a repopulation? Only time will tell.

Translated by Daniela Marsala

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