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This Italian town is struggling to sell off its empty homes for one euro. Here’s why

Italy’s one-euro-home sales have been attracting a lot of interest over the past few years, with dozens opting to snap up abandoned properties in some of the country’s depopulated towns.

But while towns like Mussomeli in Sicily and Zungoli in Campania have managed to offload various abandoned dwellings to foreigners longing to live the Italian dream, some have struggled to sell their empty homes.

Among them is Patrica, a remote medieval village of barely 3,000 residents located south of Rome, where more than 40 properties deserted in the early 1900s have been left to rot.

Perched on a rocky plateau overlooking the Sacco valley in central Italy, Patrica is an idyllic spot, but life here wasn’t easy for locals in the past.

Abandoned homes

Italian village Patrica, located south of Rome, is struggling to offload its abandoned homes. – Comune di Patrica

Many left in search of a brighter future elsewhere, leaving their homes empty for decades.

In an attempt to breathe new life into the dying village, the town’s mayor Lucio Fiordaliso has been trying to emulate the success of other Italian villages who’ve put their empty homes up for sale for one euro, or just over a dollar. He’s so far had little success.

“We first mapped all abandoned houses and made an official call out to the original owners to invite them to hand over their dilapidated family properties, but we managed to sell just two homes for one euro,” Fiordaliso tells CNN.

While local authorities in towns left underpopulated due to earthquakes and other natural calamities have the jurisdiction to put abandoned homes up for sale without permission from the owners, this isn’t the case for Patrica and other towns like it.

“We first need the availability of owners, or their heirs, in disposing of their old houses,” says Fiordaliso.

“Only then can we place these properties up for sale with their consent, which makes the process very complicated. Almost impossible.”

Fiordaliso explains that the town received a “positive response” from 10 owners after sending out a “public call to involve them in our one-euro-homes project,” but they withdrew at the last minute. The rest never replied.

Public call

Many of the town's local families left in search of a brighter future elsewhere, leaving their homes empty for decades. - Comune di Patrica

Many of the town’s local families left in search of a brighter future elsewhere, leaving their homes empty for decades. – Comune di Patrica

Fiordaliso feels that those who changed their minds may have done so because of issues with other relatives who owned shares of the same property.

Abandoned buildings in old Italian towns are sometimes split between multiple heirs who own just a section – like a bathroom, balcony, kitchen – and nothing can be sold without written consent from all heirs, as per Italian law.

In the past, it was customary for children to inherit parts of their family home, including patches of land, wells and orchards.

But it’s not always a guarantee that relatives will still be on good terms and/or in contact years down the line.

“The disposal of potential one euro homes faced a deadlock as most relatives sharing the same property were at odds with one another for personal reasons or couldn’t agree on the sale, some hardly spoke or knew each other, others lived in distant cities and even abroad,” says the mayor.

In some instances, homes were never officially split between heirs in the past, so the ownership line had broken along the way without a clear indication as to who should be the current owner.

According to Fiordaliso, tracking down the descendants of owners who’d long migrated overseas, mainly to the US, Canada and Argentina and perhaps had different last names, or may have passed on their Italian property to foreigners without notifying Patrica’s town hall, has been a very hard task.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he adds.

The only two abandoned homes that Patrica managed to sell as part of its one-euro scheme were fully owned by two locals, so no liaising with fourth-degree cousins or great-great-grandsons was required, and they could sell the properties without any complications.

Family ties

The remote medieval village has a population of around 3,000. - Comune di Patrica

The remote medieval village has a population of around 3,000. – Comune di Patrica

In situations where family feuds are at play, relatives could choose not to sell their share due to legal issues tied to inheritance disputes, or even as a form of revenge.

And original owners who’ve been living elsewhere for many years may be wary of making themselves known to local authorities and potentially being hit with back taxes for their property and waste disposal charges of up to 2,500 euros (around $2,730 per year, plus unpaid utility bills

Another reason that the one euro scheme never really kicked off in Patrica could be due to the condition of its forsaken homes.

Some of the houses are simply too neglected to sell, even if the owners were willing to agree to it.

Patrica local Gianni Valleco and his two brothers decided to place their parents’ abandoned home on the market to see what would happen, but soon found that the house was far from desirable.

“We thought, ‘Why not give it a go’? Even if it’s just for one euro, we’d be rid of a heap of useless stones. We were curious to see if someone might be interested anyway in buying it,” says Valleco.

“We were aware that after half a century our parents’ home had turned into rubble, it was totally destroyed, like razed to the ground.

“The roof and most walls had collapsed, leaving an open-air room covered in grass and bushes. All there remained was a patch of land, an ugly garden right in the heart of the historical center.”

According to Valleco, a neighbor had been using what remained of the home to dump their old stuff.

“We then realized nobody would ever buy it,” he says. “It’s a bad investment requiring lots of money to rebuild the house. It’s more worth buying a tiny rural cottage in the surroundings.”

Thankfully, not all of the deserted homes in Patrica that could be potentially sold for one euro are in quite such a terrible state, and some have garnered interest from potential buyers.

“A few foreigners came to see the abandoned one-euro dwellings. There was lots of interest but unfortunately we had nothing to offer them,” says the mayor, adding that those interested were from the US and Europe.

In the meantime, Fiordaliso has been coming up with new ways to boost the town’s appeal in the hope of luring newcomers.

New scheme

The town hall recently funded the makeover of the external façades of some ancient palazzos, prompting several locals to entirely restyle their old family homes and put them to use after decades of neglect.

Local resident Alessandra Pagliarosi took things a step further by turning the 1950s mansion inherited by her husband into an elegant B&B called Patricia.

“We redid the roof, which was practically no longer there, and the interior. The mayor’s move finally gave us a good excuse to fully renovate the property which had been sitting there uselessly,” says Pagliarosi, who benefited from the new tax breaks introduced by the town hall to revive the local economy.

Those who decide to kickstart a commercial activity like an B&B or artisan boutique in the ancient district are exempt from paying taxes on waste disposal, advertisement and public space use for 10 years and granted tax credits for restructuring costs.

“For a small B&B, that would amount to a total of roughly 1,200 euros (around $1,310) per year in tax savings, which is a significant amount of money,” says Pagliarosi.

Foreigners planning to relocate to Patrica and launch a small business are also entitled to the tax benefits.

So far, two new B&Bs and one restaurant have opened up as a result.

Local realtor Ilario Grossi, who runs Immobil Lepini estate agency, located in the nearby town of Ceccano, says several American descendants of emigrant families recently visited Patrica to look at properties.

But the town’s ready-to-occupy homes, with two-bedroom properties starting at 20,000 euros ($21,832,) proved to be more appealing.

“There is interest, but then when many (foreigners) actually see the bad shape of the old homes they’d prefer to opt for turn-key apartments that are already restyled or in need of just minor fixes,” says Grossi.

“So it’s much more convenient to buy one of these newer ones than grab an old building in need of a major renovation, where the final cost would end up being much higher.”

Despite these challenges, Fiordaliso hasn’t given up on selling some of the town’s long neglected homes, even if it means having to negotiate between warring relatives.

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