American buys €1 house – sight unseen – and couldn’t be happier

Meredith Tabbone in front of her €1 house in Sambuca di Sicilia.
Meredith Tabbone in front of her 1 euro house in Sambuca di Sicilia. 

In 2019, a friend forwarded a CNN article about a Sicilian town selling houses for just 1 euro to Meredith, an American of Sicilian descent living in Chicago. Sambuca di Sicilia, the town mentioned in the article, just happened to be the birthplace of her great-grandfather. 

To combat population decline, the town was auctioning 16 empty properties it had acquired after an earthquake shook the town decades earlier. Interested buyers needed to submit an application, including the amount they were willing to pay for the property, and a security deposit of €5,000 guaranteeing to renovate the home within three years. 

Having never been to Sicily, nor visited any of the properties available through the program, Meredith selected one based on the available photos and sent in her paperwork. When asked what prompted the purchase, she responded “I really only picked it because of the 1 euro scheme and because it is the village that my family is from.  My great grandfather grew up there and my relatives still live there.  It was coincidental that it was the same town doing the auction and I thought it was too much to pass up the opportunity to put in a bid.

She describes the process as being very easy. After placing the bid on her own, she booked a flight to Sambuca for the first time upon learning that she had won the auction for the property.  During that initial visit, she connected with the town officials and began the process, then completed the follow-up paperwork over the next two visits. 

Inside of 1 euro house in Sambuca Sicily
Interior photo of her house, which had been empty for decades.

The real costs of a 1 euro house

Initially, she spent €5,555 on the house and related fees, plus an additional €183 in taxes. Her budget to renovate the property was €40K, which she feels was sufficient. However, a year later the property next door also became available so she purchased that as well to combine the two into a larger house. 

Meredith estimates the property will cost around €1,000 to €1,500 per year for property taxes and utilities.

The renovation process has also been smooth. She drew up the initial plans using a free app on her phone and sent them to her Geometra. Using that, he was able to create a formal blueprint to submit to the town for approval. “I can only speak to Sambuca, but there is no issue with getting plans approved.  It does not hold up the process.  You may not be able to do everything you want, but it is not a long process to get approval.”

Impressive workmanship

She has been impressed so far with the quality of the workmanship. 

They are true artists and craftsmen who take their work very seriously.  Both the quality of the work and the materials used are superior to what I see in the US – by a long shot.  

I found an architect and the architect found my geometra and my contractor and all of the other people that we are using.” 

Craftsman installing terrace tile in Sambuca
Local craftsman installing tile on the terrace.

Thus far, she says that there have been no unexpected costs or challenges. The only changes to her original budget have been due to her own shifting plans – including the decision to add another terrace, ½ bath, and fireplace. At the current pace, she anticipates the renovation will be complete by Q1 of 2022. 

She is currently in the process of applying for dual citizenship by descent (Jure Sanguinis), which she started before purchasing these homes. For now, the property will be used as a vacation home and eventually a retirement home. The experience has encouraged her to speed up her Italian language acquisition. She admits that while it is not necessary, understanding Italian will definitely enhance the experience and make day-to-day life easier. When asked if she has any concerns about Mafia presence, she responded that she does not. 

With each visit to Sambuca, she brings a few more personal items from home but plans to source all the major furnishings locally. And also intends to eventually purchase a car there to make it easier to explore the island. 

Photo shoot in Sambuca for Airbnb project
Meredith and friends during a photo shoot for a joint project between Airbnb and the town of Sambuca.

All about the people

The biggest surprise throughout the experience has been discovering how much she loves the people there.  

I have met so many wonderful people and everyone is so friendly, welcoming, and kind. I have many friends that are both local from Sambuca, and foreigners from all over the world that have purchased homes there.  I get invited to events including wine parties, lunch parties, dinner parties, museum openings, book releases, theatre events, birthday parties, etc. every time I am there. I honestly have more of a social life in Sambuca than I do in Chicago!

She says that the residents of Sambuca are excited to have new people visiting and buying these homes. While Covid has slowed things down with lockdowns and travel restrictions, the program has created a positive renaissance of sorts for the town. 

Sambuca di Sicilia recently published its 2nd round of available homes, this time the bidding starts at €2. All of the properties are listed on Renovita, along with the program documentation, and contact details.

You can follow Meredith on her 1 euro house journey here. 

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