An ancient Sicilian hamlet surrounded by peach and olive groves has joined the list of Italian towns fighting depopulation by selling houses for about $1 apiece.
The mayor of Bivona, however, has realised that simply offering dream homes for the price of an espresso no longer works: as many as 16 other towns have already signed up for the scheme. “We need to be more competitive, so we have decided to throw in tax cuts as well,” said Milko Cinà.
Nestling inside a natural rocky amphitheatre at the heart of a protected rural area threaded by streams and only a 40-minute drive from beaches, Bivona is topped by a castle and a warren of alleys dating from the Arab occupation a thousand years ago.
Religious festivals and a lively music school keep the town alive but the population has shrunk from 8,000 about 80 years ago to barely 3,800. News of the €1 homes drew interest around the world, and Mr Cinà expects to be able to hand-pick his new neighbours.
“We need to be more competitive, so we have decided to throw in tax cuts as well.”
Bivona is joining a crowded market: Sambuca, also in Sicily, had more than 100,000 inquiries for a handful of abandoned houses, all of which needed restoring. Sambuca ended up auctioning the properties — some for as much as €10,000 — while matching buyers with about 100 houses being sold privately.
“We are offering 30 per cent off rubbish, water and property taxes, a discount of €400 a year for a three-bed house,” said Mr Cinà, 44. He has had 4,000 inquiries about ten advertised houses, all of which need restoring.
The tax deal has a catch: buyers will need to register as residents. “After all, this is all part of a plan to repopulate the town,” Mr Cinà added. He will give precedence to bigger families and to people thinking of setting up a business.
Buyers will need to register as residents.
Bringing in new businesses rather than simply boosting tourism is driving a separate scheme in Molise, southern Italy, which has offered a €700 monthly wage to anyone opening a commercial enterprise in a village with a population of less than 2,000.
“We had funds for 50 newcomers, but our jaws dropped when we got 50,000 inquiries, followed by 660 detailed proposals for businesses, from hotels to biological farming to ceramics and leather work,” said Antonio Tedeschi, a regional councillor.
Italy’s repopulation schemes have fueled dreams for thousands of foreigners of creating a new life in a stunning hilltop hamlet. In Sambuca, however, one Scottish buyer said she had been given a rude awakening to the practices of Sicilian builders.
Italy’s repopulation schemes have fueled dreams for thousands of foreigners of creating a new life in a stunning hilltop hamlet.
Gillian Sweeney, 42, a former banker from Falkirk, paid £1,000 for an abandoned house that needed extensive work, but the builder she flew out to meet insisted on giving her only a rough price, with no itemised quote. “There are few builders to go around, and they may be preferring to work with people who don’t ask so many questions,” she said.
Ms Sweeney said she suspected that many local builders had focused on restoring the house bought nearby by the American actor Lorraine Bracco, whose experience in Sambuca is being filmed for a TV documentary.
“If you are a British builder who can work in a transparent way, I suggest there is a lot of money to be made in Sicily right now,” she added.