I have been back in Sicily for a month and I’ve only just got my head together well enough to write a new post.
After three months in the quiet English Cotswolds, I was suffering from extreme culture shock. I realised how much I love this place, and I also realised that having dozens of Sicilians around me all shouting different conversations at the same time made my brain short-circuit.
In the Cotswolds, going shopping means pootling down to into town and rubbing shoulders with all the oldies in green wellies and green anoraks (“They dress like quilted bogies” says my sister) as you browse around the antique shops, and then stop off for a relaxing tea and a cupcake before wandering into the supermarket. In Sicily, shopping consists of entering a demolition derby till your vehicle eventually comes to a halt, sometimes unplanned, then dashing into the nearest sequinned clothing shop to cool off under the air-conditioning before facing your pasta dash in the supermarket.
While away, I was interested to see that Sicily features regularly in the British press. It seems the journalists are still fascinated with this lovely place.
I read one article in The Telegraph claiming property prices have plummeted so heavily that ‘Cianciana is attracting English buyers looking for houses that cost little more than a railway season ticket in the Home Counties.’
Then I read another saying that the mayor of Salemi is selling off houses for 1 Euro each.
What? Really? Should I sell my current house and buy a street in Cianciana? Or the whole town of Salemi perhaps?
Of course, there is always an explanation, a catch if you want to call it that. Sicily is actually still part of Europe, still part of the world, and still in 2013. You cannot buy a house for 1 euro unless it is really truly only worth one euro.
The reason you can buy a house in Salemi for one euro is because the houses are derelict and have been so since the town was destroyed by an earthquake 40 years ago. So if you buy a house there, you have to practically rebuild it from scratch, and that will indeed cost you more than one euro. It will cost you approximately the price of a house! And at the end if it, you’ll have a house in an earthquake zone, in a town which may not offer running water or sewage facilities or gas. Do you even want gas pipes running under your house, in an earthquake zone? You do know when there is an earthquake your house insurance pays you exactly NOTHING, don’t you?
Oh, and have I mentioned that you even need planning permission to paint your front door or window frames a diferent colour in Sicily? If you’re going to restructure a house, oh deary me! You pay for any planning permission, you usually have to do it piecemeal, and the process often takes years rather than months. You see, Sicilians aren’t idiots. There are good reasons why it’s foreigners buying these 1 euro “houses”.
I had probably better tell you, whilst I’m being disappointing, that if you buy a house in Italy that had a mortgage on it organised by the previous owner, that debt becomes yours. So just imagine what a bummer it would be if you bought a derelict dump for one euro, then found out you had a mortgage of 200,000 Euros to pay off.
In Italy, always ALWAYS, the rule is CAVEAT EMPTOR.
Meanwhile in Cianciana, I found out there is basically one estate agent that is selling heaps of houses via a UK website called Rightmove. All the cheap ones, that the UK newspaper raved about, were a lot like this house, which I spotted for sale in Tindari a while back:
And they were described like this:
A CHARACTER HOUSE FULL OF ORIGINAL FEATURES: [by which they mean the antique electrical wiring and bucket-based plumbing I presume], well-lit and airy [thanks to the well-ventilated front door and lack of a roof] The property features a rustic- style facade, a lusciously planted green roof garden [growing out of the remains of the roof], with additional garden areas both inside and out, and an open-plan interior [it’s just one room]. This character home would make an ideal pied-a-terre for those seeking a Mediterranean villa with character.
Why are there so many abandoned houses for sale in Cianciana? The area is so economically depressed that the original inhabitants had to move away to find work. Sicily is rather full of ghost towns like this. If you’re a foreigner looking for a holiday home, of course you don’t care if there is work to be had locally or not, you just care if there are sights to be sightseen, and around Cianciana, there are.
You do care, however, if you can get running water, electricity and a company to rebuilt your bargain wreck for less than the total value of your home in London. I’m not saying don’t buy a holiday home in Sicily, I’m just saying, CAVEAT EMPTOR.
If you want to know more about buying a house in Sicily, here’s a realistic and actually intelligent article about the pros and cons of buying property in Sicily. You can also ask me for advice if you like.