Americans have jumped on the opportunity to become owners of heritage homes in Sicily due to a €1 Homes program. The successful sales in several Italian and Sicilian towns in 2019 led to a second wave of houses going up for auction – this time at €2. However, competition for the ruined houses was so great that the final prices ended between €500 and €7000. Financial success aside, the competition also allows foreigners to have a large stake in local heritage, with all its risks.
It’s hard to argue with such a good deal but there is, of course, a catch. Many of the new owners cannot even walk in their houses due to the risk of collapse. The owners also need to submit plans for renovation along with a sizeable deposit as proof that they’re willing to fix up the properties. The scheme has attracted international attention before, as one property was being offered as an Airbnb for a year.
The town of Sambuca in Sicily has suffered in recent years from natural disasters and depopulation. It is hard to find local investment, and without interest from elsewhere, the town’s future looks bleak. Reviving the spirit and energy of the town requires new people. According to deputy mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo, most of the new buyers are American.
“Let’s say that almost 80% of people who wrote to us, applied and took part in this second auction either come from the States or are American,” Cacioppo told CNN. “There’s a lot of interest from American buyers, and luckily it isn’t waning. The pandemic has been a challenge in pulling off this new sale, but we’ve been lucky. All went well.”
These new buyers hope to bring the American dream to Sicily. A businessman from Idaho plans to crowdfund the renovations and offer rewards to whoever buys a heritage home. He hopes that the crowdfunding will stretch to supporting infrastructure in the town too.
A chef from Arizona purchased one of the houses for sale based on a virtual video tour given by a local. Daniel Patino, who runs a fresh food chain, sees the purchase as a “bit of a gamble”. He isn’t sure what he will do with the property but sees it as his chance to enjoy la dolce vita. Others were not so lucky in their gamble, as shown in the video report by Business Insider. Text continues below video
Brigitte Dufour, a French-Canadian lawyer and founder of a human rights organisation, bought two properties without seeing them. She plans to turn them into an artists retreat, and then use the spare space as a family home. She is optimistic about fixing the buildings up: “It’s quite better than I expected, not a ruin,” she told CNN. “Everyone was telling me ‘oh but you’ll get a ruin.’ Instead, it has good walls, but there is quite a bit of renovation to do.”
The municipality is pleased with the scheme, but it’s still early days. With so many foreign investors, there’s a gamble that the identity and heritage of the town become at risk. If the renovations are successful, the town might regain its charm and vitality, but too much international attention could turn it into another tourist honeypot. The financial benefits are clear, but it cannot have been easy to let foreigners have such a stake in local heritage.