Looking for a holiday gift but still not found the perfect one? Here’s a last-minute idea: a home in Italy, yours for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
Yes, another month, another set of idyllic Italian village cottages up for sale – and yes, it’s all part of the bid to breathe new life into remote rural locations that have been quietly dying off.
However, if you’re used to the usual model – town authorities wanting to attract new residents and offering cut-price houses or subsidized living to entice them – this is a little different.
In the regular schemes, buyers generally have to put together a proposal for what they’ll do with the property and lay down a deposit that will be refunded only if they finish the renovations within a specified time. Renovating a house in Italy, it must be said, is not without its challenges – especially when it comes to taking advantage of the generous tax breaks offered for restoring properties in rural areas.
Enter Nicolò Bolla and Alessandro Barba. The business partners – from Emilia-Romagna and Sicily respectively – have set up a new site that aims to list houses available from 1 euro ($1.20) from all over the country.
A one-stop shop
“The main thing is we try to simplify the process, not just with technology but with all the possible tax breaks and immigration,” says Bolla.
“We don’t want people to be stuck in a deal, that they have a home but no papers to get there. They may need immigration help, or support setting up a business in Italy – we want to create a one-stop shop.”
To do so, they’re pooling their respective professions – Bolla is an accountant, Barba an immigration and relocation expert – to help buyers with the entire process, whether that’s renovating their dream second home or moving to Italy.
And, appropriately for the age of Covid-19, their aim is to do everything online (a requirement in some other towns is that bidders must either make their offer in person or hire an appointed representative, such as a local attorney).
“When Covid goes, we can do tours, and see the property beforehand, but at the moment, everything can be done online”, says Bolla, who believes “the old-fashioned procedure doesn’t work anymore”.
What’s more, he says that their new service will significantly downplay the “friction” that can arise in town-led projects. “We can deal with the bureaucracy,” he promises.
After going live over the summer, their website, Auctions2Italy, has now launched its first auctions, with six houses in three locations: Vetto, in the north-central region of Emilia Romagna, and Mussomeli and Campofelice di Fitalia, in Sicily. Both are close to the pair’s heart: Bolla is from Vetto, though he now lives an hour away in the city of Parma, while Barba’s father grew up in Mussomeli.
“I’m very attached to Vetto, but I had to go elsewhere to work,” says Bolla, whose family used to own a hotel near the village, which is sitting empty (though Bolla dreams of making it a long-stay place for digital nomads).
“Any time I come back, I revert to how I was. These small towns – of 2,000 people or fewer – have a really big sense of community, which I really want to be a part of. We want to repopulate those areas, keep their sense of community”.
There is also the matter, of course, of cost, when it comes to buying in Italy. You’ll never find a house for sale for €1 in a big city or in popular rural places such as Tuscany. However, Italy’s small hilltop towns in less fashionable rural areas have never recovered from post-World War II emigration. Many have dwindling populations, with mostly retired residents. Authorities are keen to attract new blood to stop the towns dying out.
Prices intentionally low
Of course, whichever scheme you go with, the house will end up costing far more than one euro – renovations can stretch to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the work that’s needed.
Bolla and Barba’s site aims to be transparent about the process. Of the six they’re starting out with (the plan is to expand the service), the two houses in Mussomeli have no reserve prices – so you really might snag them for €1. The others have a reserve of between €3,000 to €5,000 ($3,700-$6,100) – the choice of the seller. However, all auctions are capped at around €10,000 ($12,250), so you will never pay more than that, however many people are bidding against you.
“Our idea is that people shouldn’t battle to get the market price,” says Bolla. “It makes no sense if people end up spending more in an auction than what they’d be able to buy on the free market.
“We want the prices to stay low – otherwise we might as well be selling mansions. We don’t want to do that – the