1 Euro Italian Properties, Great Deal or Renovation Nightmare?

Santa Domenica Talao, Italy

Ciao!

Southern Italy has really started booming lately. Tourists who are tired of the Italian Trifecta (Rome, Florence and Venice) are discovering a whole new Italy, or should I say an old Italy where Italian traditions are still intact and the local mom and pop establishments have not sold out to Starbuck’s and believe it or not, Dominos Pizza.

Southern Italy is a charmer and is luring more and more people looking to retire or to purchase a dream home to run away to when life gets to be too much.

And, if you are savvy, you can make a great purchase, find exactly what you want and not break the bank.

So that brings up the question, What about those 1 Euro houses that are all the rage in Southern Italy and especially Sicily? It sounds like a fabulous deal!

Is it?

Having purchased several properties in Calabria and having discovered honest real estate agents, architects and builders, I can see at a glance several problem areas with what I have researched on these 1 euro homes.

Why are they selling these homes for so cheap?

To answer that questions I have to delve a bit into Southern Italian history.

Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, much of Southern Italy survived mostly on hunting, agriculture and fishing. Southern Italy is also known as the Mezzogiorno region which means “midday” in Italian. The name evokes images of intense heat and sun in the Summer months creating an environment that can burn plants right out of the ground and starve grazing animals when conditions turn inhospitable.

Life in Southern Italy was hard to say the least. For that reason, when news came that America was the land of opportunity and where survival was not nearly as difficult, a huge number of Southern Italians jumped on boats and headed over. Many simply abandoned their houses. Some had the idea of returning but never did, so once the family died out, the houses were, again abandoned.

Every village in Southern Italy has abandoned properties and the villages who have not reinvented themselves and drawn people to them are, in fact, dying out.

Clever mayors are looking for ways to attract new people to these villages and to create new life and a future for their beloved paese. The Italian government having recently handled a huge Mafia problem in our area is now giving grants to the hill towns of Southern Italy to help them promote themselves and new marketing campaigns are rolling out touting the beauty and products of Calabria.

And one of the methods of stoking interest is to offer these abandoned properties for so cheap that you simply must come over and check them out.

That said, there are some things you need to know about this “deal”.

Houses in Italian Historical Centers are way older than any house in the US and some give new meaning to the term “crumbling ruin”

Many of these villages are medieval and some even pre-medieval. This means that these houses are several hundred years old. Most often abandoned properties have been abandoned since the Italian Diaspora in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. This means they can have been standing vacant and neglected for over a hundred years. This also means that roofs may have fallen in and once that occurs, water gets into the ancient walls created out of stones, ceramic roof tiles an any flotsam and jetsam that is lying around, and they start to crumble taking the entire structure with them.

And finally this means that although you are purchasing a “house”, you may end up taking it down and completely rebuilding it.

Most of these deals come with conditions

One of the condition is that you have to agree to renovate within a certain period. In addition to that there may be conditions on who you can use in your village as far as work goes. I know that certain villages frown on you bringing workers in from somewhere else to do your work and this can cause friction in a village. You might end up renovating your dream home and living with the fact that you have inadvertently created antagonism with your fellow villagers.

On the other hand, the renovation contracts accompanying these “deals”may be ridiculously expensive for the area or even in general making it a very bad deal indeed.

Sometimes the locals put up the prices for foreigners

Pete and I were discussing where to purchase finishes and supplies for the renovation of our BNB. Our close friend insisted that our builder accompany us to make the purchase because she knew that the vendor might put the prices up when they saw us. Our builder came with us and was able to negotiate a fair price for everything we needed.

Recently Pete and I also received an estimate for the refinishing of some stucco on our rental apartment and it was over 8,000 euros. Obviously that was way too much. We will use someone we trust instead.

Renovation costs can be huge

I recently read interviews with people who had purchased a ruin for a euro and then spent over 250,000 Euros to renovate it.

With housing prices as they are, they could have purchased a completely new or renovated mansion for 250K. I cannot imagine paying that for renovations for a house or apartment of 1,000 or even 2,000 square feet when you can buy one completely done up for less than $100,000. It makes zero sense and if you had to sell for whatever reason you would lose a ton of cash.

Renovation in the Historic Centers is also difficult. Many times there is no road leading to your new house or apartment so the supplies might have to be brought up stairs or ramps in wheelbarrows. Giant scaffolds may be required because many of these villages are in hill towns. All of these things drive up the costs of renovating.

Property purchases in Italy are not legally the same as they are in the states

Recently in our village there was a situation where our builder was frankly, ripped off. I asked him why he didn’t sue and the fact was that despite the gorgeous work he did on the house in question, the real estate market simply did not support a price that would make lawyer fees sensible. Lawyers in Europe are as expensive as they are here. Getting into a legal battle takes forever and will cost you way more than you ever thought.

It is best to avoid resorting to legal remedies in Italy if at all possible. Get everything in writing, ask all the questions you need to ask and don’t be afraid to walk away from a purchase if your gut tells you it’s not right.

So with all that said, does it still make sense to purchase an ancient house in Italy?

The answer is yes but only if you are smart about it,

Every hilltop village in our area has properties available in various stages of construction or deconstruction. The prices in Southern Italy are the lowest I have seen in 10 years. I believe that this is because of the uncertainty in the political and economic situations in the EU and the UK.

Many English and Europeans are hunkering down and sitting tight to see what will happen.

Others are up and selling because they are scared. The prices dropped to almost half of what we saw when we first purchased our house in Santa Domenica Talao.

With this going on, there is a fantastic opportunity to buy your dream home in Italy, especially in the South.

If you are dreaming of a home in Italy here is how I recommend you proceed.

Decide where you want to be

This may be a multi trip project. Go to Italy, find some villages and stay awhile in the ones you find attractive. What are the people like? Each village has a character and it must match yours to some degree if you are to be happy there.

Decide what your ideal scene is with regard to your property

Every property purchase comes with a list of must haves, wants and things you don’t want. Make a list of all of these and assign priorities to each item. Understand that you may completely toss your list if you find a place you fall in love with but at least you will have considered everything.

Get to know your architect and builder if you are planning on renovating

In small villages there is normally one builder and one architect. Be sure you are comfortable with them before doing anything with them. If you aren’t, get something that is already renovated.

If you are planning on renovating, get the prices for EVERYTHING before you make an offer

Sit down and tot up the cost of the house, closing costs, architect costs, and renovation costs down to the last toilet. Get this all in writing and see if the deal makes sense. If not, offer what does make sense. You may do this more than once before you settle on the right house and situation.

If the house needs a new roof, you may want to put on a roof terrace. A roof terrace adds so much to your lifestyle that any place that needs a new roof should be evaluated for a roof terrace, but that is my own personal preference.

Do not over renovate for the area

The property values in any given area are what they are. Putting in $2500,00 in renovations in a house that will maybe sell for $80,000 is fine if you really want it, have the money to support it and don’t plan on recouping all of it if you ever sell.

If you have all of the above covered, go nuts. If not, consider carefully how you plan to renovate.

Understand that you may not be equipped to do the work yourself

Ancient houses are NOT the same as houses here in the US. See our Super Savvy Travelers Youtube video below where I describe them. Any improvements you might make yourself will come with a learning curve. If you are ok with that, proceed.

Budget for more than what you think it will cost

In any renovation, you never know what the final cost will be. Things turn up when moving walls or fixing plumbing, especially in an ancient village. Be prepared.

Purchase something that does not require any structural repairs

New walls, new ceilings and floors are expensive. Avoid all that and get something that is in good shape structurally but just needs some cosmetics. Prices are so low in Southern Italy now that you will be amazed at what you can get.

If you are hell bent on a renovation project CONTACT ME!

Pete and I have a ton of experience purchasing and renovating properties in Calabria. We have discovered and vetted reliable estate agents, property managers, builders and architects. In short we have put the infrastructure there for you to enter into a renovation project eyes wide open. We can walk you through the process.

If you are planning to come to Italy to look at property or to just have a great vacation, we can help you put together a fabulous trip. Send us an email at [email protected]

 

 

Southern Italy’s Most Instagrammable Places

Beach in Maratea

Ciao!

Who doesn’t love Instagram? If you are dreaming of travel or just adding to your bucket list, Instagram is a great place to go to escape even for a short while.

It is lovely to take out your computer on a cold and rainy Sunday, and look at photos of bright sunshine, blue skies and fabulous crystal blue seas.

And for all of the above, there is no place better than Southern Italy for snap after snap of impossibly beautiful images whether in your mind or in your camera.

Diamante
Diamante, Calabria

Diamante, Calabria

Diamante means “diamond” in Italian and a diamond it is.

Diamante rides atop a point that juts out into the Mediterranean and curves inland creating white sand beaches and gorgeous seascapes.

The historic center of Diamante (Centro Storico) is a beautiful blend of ancient Italian houses and tiny cobbled vias interspersed with spectacular views of the sea.

Diamante promenade
The lungomare (promenade) in Diamante

Diamante is also known for its murals which present themselves around corners and tucked into alleyways. A morning spent on a hunt for each mural is so fun as you wind your way through the town taking picture after picture to put on Instagram.

Mediterranean Near Praia A Mare
Mediterranean Near Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare, Calabria

Pete and I just love Praia a Mare. On a Summer afternoon, Praia’s shady, tree lined promenade down the center of town is a treasure chest of Instagrammable snapshots.

Gulf of Policastro
Gulf of Policastro

Praia a Mare is so spectacular that Pete and I recently purchased a property that we are now renting out on Air BNB

View from Casa Gorasole
View from the wraparound terrace of Casa Girasole
Tortora Calabria
The beautiful hill town of Tortora, Calabria Italy

Tortora, Calabria

Calabria is studded with gorgeous little hill towns that take your breath away. each one has its own personality and charm however Tortora is one of our all time favorites for billions of Instagrammable views and sights.

Another reason to love Tortora is that our great friend Giacomo and his family live there and they have introduced us to their friends and family.

Roseangela PAsta demo
Roseangela pasta making demo

Any trip to Tortora must include lunch at Al Caminetto, a restaurant in the Centro Storico that is run by the extremely talented Roseangela and her family.

Roseangela is royalty in terms of Calabrian cooking. A meal with her is a feast of traditional Calabrian appetizers, freshly made pasta dishes featuring Chinguale or local wild boar, and freshly made ravioli with ricotta from the local farms.

Pasta with Wild Boar at Al Caminetto in Tortora, Italy
Pasta with Wild Boar at A; Caminetto in Tortora, Italy

While we were there, Roseangela gave us a pasta making demo which you can see here. Enjoy watching me mangle a fusilli. It is quite entertaining how she whips them out perfectly while I struggle trying to make something that might pass for a fusilli noodle if it is buried at the bottom of the dish.

Fusilli at Al Caminetto
Fusilli at Al Caminetto, Tortora, Calabria, Italy

I recommend visiting Al Caminetto with a big group and ordering a selection of traditional Calabrian dishes. You wil be amazed at the variety and how delicious it all is.

Ancient Greek vase Tortora
Ancient Greek vase in the museum in Tortora

Tortora also has a beautiful museum where you can see artifacts that have been dug up in recent local excavations, including Etruscan and Ancient Greek artifacts that date back to the era of the Magna Grecia which encompassed Southern Italy.

Tortora is also one of those villages packed to the brim with Instagrammable images. Everywhere you look is something beautiful.

Maratea_coast
Sweeping Mediterranean views from Maratea

Maratea, Basilicata

There is portion of Italy where you can see three different regions, Calabria, Compania and Basilicata. You can see them all from our Air BNB apartment on the terrace.  In fact the sunsets from our balcony are all Instagrammable and they are different every night.

View from the terrace
View from the wraparound terrace I Casa Girasole

Maratea is just north of Calabria along the coast. Maratea is known for the giant white marble statue of Christ the Redeemer similar to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

This statue is perched high atop the hill in Maratea. A drive up there affords you the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean found anywhere.

Cristo Redentore, Maratea
Cristo Redentore, Maratea, Calabria. Christ the Redeemer of Maratea, at 21 meters high, is the third-tallest statue of Jesus in Europe. The statue was built of pure Carrara marble in 1965 by Bruno Innocenti, a sculptor from Florence.

The beaches in Maratea are also stunning as are most beaches in Southern Italy. The Mediterranean turns crystal blue as you journey down South.

Beach Near Maratea
Beach near Maratea

Matera, Basilicata

Matera used to be called the Shame of Italy. Back in the 1950’s starvation was rampant as was malaria. Many of the people in Matera lived in caves in the rock walls bringing their animals inside with them in Winter for warmth. Carlo Levy, in his book,  “Christ Stopped at Eboli” was the first to shine the light on the deplorable conditions in Matera and this caused the Italian government to come in, repatriate the people in better housing and to care for them.

Matera Morning
Matera Morning

In recent years however, Matera has become an artist’s Mecca with art and music schools popping up, and festivals in Summer. When we visited, we heard music around every corner from opera to jazz to pop. It was quite extraordinary.

Aside from the art aspect however, Matera is, itself a work of art. Made from the local white stone, Matera gleams in the sunlight and glows in the evening as the golden town lights come up.

Matera evening
Matera evening

Most recently, Matera has been the perfect location for movies. The new James Bond movie “A Time to Die” was partially filmed in Matera. (Click here for some awesome footage.)

Church in Matera
Church of the Purgatory in Matera

Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria

Of all of the Instagrammable places I have presented here, my heart belongs to Santa Domenica Talao which is my home.

The Piazza
Our Piazza

When Pete and I first looked for property in Calabria, we saw Santa Domenica Talao and that was it. We knew this was where we belonged.

Every day that I walk around the village I see new and beautiful instagrammable views, from the sweeping views of the sea and the mountains to the fruit laid out at my friend Nunzia’s store and the kids playing soccer in the parking lot. There is so much to take in.

Nunzia's store
Nunzia’s store

We love Santa Domenica Talao so much that Pete and I have purchased a ruin just up from the piazza and a few steps from Nunzia’s store. It is a ruin and we are renovating it and turning it into a BNB so that others can come and enjoy our beautiful village. Check out our renovation project and follow us as we complete it.  Then make sure you are there for the grand opening!

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao, our beatiful home.

Santa Domenica is infinitely Instagrammable but beyond that, when you come you will fall in love with the people. We have so many warm friends there and have been welcomed from the beginning.

As you can see, Southern Italy is a photographer’s paradise. Start planning your trip down. Pete and I are experts in the region and can help you plan the perfect visit. Contact us and we can get you started.

#calabriaisbooming!

View from the terrace
Orso Marso
Chris at the top of the hill Orso Marso

Ciao Belli!

If you are in any way, shape or form an Italophile, I am sure you are always on the lookout for hidden treasures and tucked away gems. You are interested in tiny hill towns bursting with culture and community and perhaps you have even thought about purchasing a property in one of these little pockets of beauty, tight knit community, culture and history.

Pete and I have been drawn to Italy since we were both teens and young adults when we visited Italy and each made a decision that some day we would make it a huge part of our lives.

That day came in 2011 when we purchased our house in the little Calabrian hill town of Santa Domenica Talao.

Santa Domenica Talao
Santa Domenica Talao

At that time we saw the treasure that was this town and all the other hill towns and seaside villages that dotted the mountains and shores of Calabria. And we could not believe that they were not overrun with tourists breathlessly discovering the spectacular mountains, the freshest air, the beautiful crystal-blue waters that make swimming a joy and the food, wine, community and culture that are the most valuable hidden treasures here.

Calabria has always been off the beaten path for travelers, in fact a very famous guide book publisher told us that “Americans don’t go to Calabria”. Well, that may have been true at one time but it is not true now.

In fact, I get a lot of emails from people looking to purchase property in Calabria and researching retiring there.

Calabria is an excellent tourist destination and retirement destination for so many reasons.

Calabrian Atmosphere
Calabrian Atmosphere
Pizza Bella Vista
Pizza at the Bella Vista

It is inexpensive.

Properties here are so amazingly affordable. Apartments can be found in the 30,000 Euro range. And with them you have proximity to the beast beaches in the world. In Amalfi, these places would be unaffordable. In addition, a fabulous wood fired pizza in our village costs as little as 6.00 Euros. The cost of living is a whole lot less than just about anywhere.

YUM!
YUM!

The food is unparalleled

We have dishes in Calabria that are now setting the world on fire with their uniqueness and flavors.

Recently there was a festival in our village where we had speakers and cooking demos using the products unique to Calabria. I learned that there are 380 food products unique to Calabria. The cedro and the Calabrian Black Truffle are only two of the products that grow only in Calabria and famous chefs who love Italy are discovering the food treasures found only here.

Scalea
Scalea

Calabria has some of the most spectacular landscape on the planet.

Our village of Santa Domenica Talao is between the mountains and the sea and you get spectacular views of both. The Pollino Mountains rise up forming a rocky spine just inland. In one sweeping view from our terrace you can see the most spectacular mountains anywhere and the endless Mediterranean.

Anywhere in Calabria you are close to a spectacular beach, a beautiful town or village and art and architecture that takes your breath away.

Roseangela at Al Caminetto
Roseangela at Al Caminetto
My Beautiful Friends Nunzia
My Beautiful Friend Nunzia

There is a special culture unique to Calabria.

You see, Calabria is the REAL Italy. Now this is no dis to Rome or Florence or Venice who all have their charm but they are big famous celebrities while Calabria is, well, its home.

I love my friends there. They made us feel welcome from the very beginning and we are a part of something bigger than ourselves or our families. We are part of a village with all its joys and sorrows, all its trials and triumphs.

I feel that much of this feeling of belonging is missing for a large number of Americans. Depression and loneliness are almost foreign here, Since my husband is still working in America, I spend a lot of time solo. When I get lonely I simply go up to the piazza and see all of my friends.

We are parts of their lives and they are part of ours.

Most recently I have seen a huge interest in Calabria not only from our website but from many sources.

Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun just wrote an article in National Geographic Magazine all about the cultural and culinary riches of Calabria,

In addition, Air BNB’s recent magazine prominently featured Calabria as a tourist destination.

In short, Savvy Travelers everywhere are finally discovering Calabria and the Italian government and the local towns and villages are all aligning in the same direction,

Last Summer while I was there, our village featured  a major culinary festival spanning two days. A famous local chef was invited and a panel discussion was held and later cooking demonstrations featuring typical Calabrian products.

A week later, I was honored to speak at Santa Domenica Talao’s 350th anniversary. All of the mayors of the local towns and villages were there and wanted to know what it was about Santa Domenica that drew Pete and me there and made us decide to invest in a business there.

They listened intently as I told them how much we felt loved and welcomed into this amazing village and how it gives us things we have not found at home, things like a real sense of community, and a feeling of being a part of something important. We are now a part of this Italian village and we could not be prouder or more humbled.

Happily a local reporter was there who interviewed me and wrote a nice article on the event.

Here is an exerpt in English:

Great astonishment was aroused by the testimony of Chis, a naturalized Cristina, a middle-aged woman from California, who found her dimension in Santa Domenica Talao. The American citizen explained how after a trip she fell in love with this place, even coming to buy a house in the middle of the historic center, where she now spends five or six months a year. The passion for this land has also infected his sister, who has become her neighbor. And that's not all, because a year ago Cristina decided to buy a second building, this time to turn it into a b & b. To make it known to overseas tourists, Chris writes about it on his blog, which can be found on the website www.supersavvytravelers.com, in which he describes, in detail, what comes in the small community that overlooks the Tyrrhenian coast at an altitude of 304 meters. Between thunderous applause and great enthusiasm, the evening ended with the cake cutting tradition.

 

In addition many of the mayors who attended stood up and spoke. I learned that the Italian government has provided certain grants to these villages and towns in Calabria to assist them in promoting themselves.

As a result we have seen a lot of new interest in Calabria by travel magazines, famous chefs, and travel writers. All of this has created the beginnings of a boom in our beloved part of Italy.

Nunzia's Store
Local Calabrian products

There has also been a surge of new businesses, including a gorgeous new BNB in Praia a Mare owned by our friend Giacomo’s son and his two friends. Together they purchased a crumbling ruin in the historic center of Praia a Mare and renovated it into a high end luxury BNB called Praja Vecchia.

Their message to the young people of Calabria is that you don’t have to go away to find work in Rome, Milan or London. You can create your own work where you are. You can stay with your families and in the place you grew up.

And this is what they have done.

Pete and I have also purchased a ruin to renovate and turn into a BNB in our village. While I was meeting with Antonello, our amazing architect, and designing our new BNB, he told me that this last Summer, every BNB, every room in a house and every apartment in Santa Domenica Talao was full all Summer.

And that makes me tremendously happy.

Since #calabriaisbooming, perhaps you want to come and be the first among your friends to discover its charms.

Chris in Santa Domenica Talao
Chris in Santa Domenica Talao

Pete and I can help you arrange you trip. Recently we have purchased a rental property in Praia a Mare with sweeping views of the Mediterranean from your private terrace and private patio.

We can help you arrange all of your travel to get here and a property manager will be there on scene to ensure that you have everything you need.

Your morning view
View from Casa Gorasole
View from the wraparound terrace of Casa Girasole