You may remember the viral stories around the run-down homes in historic Italian towns of Sicily being sold for just €1 in a bid to reverse depopulation and inject tourism into the ageing towns.
Maybe you tagged your friends or significant other posts on Facebook, and for a fleeting moment or two, seriously humoured the idea of quitting your job and moving to Sicily to renovate a decrepit dwelling and live out your days drinking Aperol in the sun.
For so many of us, the dream was short-lived. But for Meredith Tabbone — a Chicago-based financial adviser — the Italian dream did not end the moment she clicked away from the story.
In fact, after reading up a bit about the process and undertaking some further research, Tabbone bravely did what we were all perhaps too scared to do: She made a bid.
“A few different friends and co-workers had forwarded me the articles because I had often said over the years that I wanted to buy a home in Sicily,” Tabbone tells TheLatch—.
Tabbone felt a strong affiliation to Italy and to Sicily in particular. Her ancestors had lived in the quaint town of Sambuca and she had always planned to visit one day, but Tabbone couldn’t have predicted she’d become a Sicilian homeowner at this stage in her life.
The sheer popularity and rock-bottom prices of the dwellings attracted thousands of buyers from all around the world to towns like Mussomeli, Bisaccia, Ollolai and more, and while some people were able to snap up properties for the advertised price of €1, Tabbone had to take a different path.
Seeing an opportunity, the major of Sambuca began auctioning off the abandoned properties to the highest bidder. While €25,000 was reportedly the highest a buyer paid for their place, Tabbone’s bid of €5,555 was accepted, and before she’d even had a chance to visit Sambuca or see the place for herself, she was one of 16 bidders to become an official Italian homeowner.
“I had never even been to Sicily before. My first time there was a month after I found out that I had won the bid,” she tells us.
As part of the conditions in buying a heavily discounted Italian home, buyers must agree to renovate and refurbish their new homes within a number of set years.
Of course, in addition to paperwork, translation issues, and building concerns, this is just one of the barriers that may prevent a person from taking the plunge and buying a home, but Tabbone says the process is running a whole lot smoother than she could have anticipated.
“Language is not as big of a barrier anymore with Google translate,” she says. And as for finding an architect who could help her manage the renovations to her place within the deadline, Tabbone says she found the perfect candidate on social media.
“Finding an architect wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be — I found one pretty quickly on Instagram, but I understand this could be difficult for some.”
Now, Tabbone is challenged with the task of renovating her 79sqm, two-storey dwelling, which at this stage has no water or running electricity.
“The entire home needs a ton of work,” she tells us. “There is no electricity or running water and every room needs work.
“The ground floor was previously horse stables, so there’s actually a trough built into the wall that will need to go.”
Once completed, the home will be big enough for two bedrooms and two bathrooms. While the space will need to be gutted almost entirely, Tabbone would like to incorporate some original aspects of the home in the finished design like the tiled ceilings, thick stone walls, and curved staircase.
There is also a balcony with a view of the town that will remain a place for outdoor dining and entertaining.
For now, Tabbone will oversee renovations led by her architect and a team of builders from her home in Chicago. The home will serve as a vacation spot during the summer, but Tabbone does have plans to retire in Sambuca permanently one day.
She’s in good company, too, with relatives on her bloodline still living just up the road and a town of welcoming residents who are thrilled by the attention to their ageing town.
“The locals are very excited to have people coming back to move to their town. They’re very warm, friendly, sweet and curious,” she says.
To anyone considering taking the plunge and purchasing a €1 home, Tabbone has some choice advice.
“I would do it again and I probably will. My best advice to anyone considering buying one of these homes is to put in a bid!”