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With one-euro houses against the rural exodus


A house for one euro: With this offer, more and more Italian villages are fighting against rural exodus. The model has proven successful in a village in Tuscany.

By Verena Schälter, ARD Studio Rome

The road winds its way up the mountain in narrow serpentines. Once at the top, a breathtaking view awaits you over the mountain landscape of Garfagnana in Tuscany. Up here, partly carved into the bare rock, is the small village of Vergemoli. It is part of the municipality of Vergemoli di Fabbriche. Anyone looking for nature and peace will find it here.

But Mayor Michele Giannini fears that things could become too quiet here in the long run. “My community has 700 residents, but 50 years ago there were more than 3,000,” says Giannini. Because so many people have left, many houses are empty and falling into disrepair. The mayor explains that they are symbolic of the rural exodus: “Empty houses mean that only a few people live here. If there are only a few people, there are fewer and fewer children who go to school and the schools are closed.”

One euro houses mostly strong Renovation needed

To stop this trend, they had an idea here almost ten years ago: the community bought the empty houses from the owners who had either moved away or who didn't have the money to renovate the buildings. They then offered these houses for sale again for the symbolic price of one euro – just like the old stone house in front of which Mayor Giannini now stands.

The old wooden door is so warped that it cannot be opened. Giannini, who worked full-time in the financial police before becoming mayor, quickly kicks down the door. “Be careful,” he says before he goes inside. Inside, the house resembles a ruin, a remnant from another time. Opposite the entrance door there is a niche in the wall in which the figure of Saint Anthony stands, to the right of which hangs the framed portrait of a young soldier – judging by the uniform, it dates from the beginning of the 20th century.

Saint Anthony and the soldier's portrait seem to be almost the only thing intact in this house: “As you can see, the roof has collapsed. If the house sits empty for another eight or ten years, the walls will collapse too.” In the medieval village where the stone houses were built right next to each other, this could be really dangerous. It would be better to sell the house for one euro – but who would want to buy something like that?

Land prices high in Tuscany

The small town of Fabbriche di Vallico is about half an hour's drive away. He also belongs to Mayor Giannini's community. Paolo Giusti bought a house here for one euro. He points to a stone plaque set into the house facade. “The house is from 1731 – so it's almost 300 years old,” says Giusti.

But this house currently looks more like a ruin than a Tuscan dream house. Giusti has big plans: he wants to turn it into a small hotel, and he has already started renovations. “When I bought it, it was in danger of collapsing, so the first thing we did was replace the roof.” He wants to be finished by 2025 at the latest, and he will have to invest a total of at least 100,000 euros. Still a good deal for him, because in Tuscany the building land alone is very expensive.

About 100 houses already sold

The mayor is also happy – everything is better than empty, dilapidated houses, says Giannini. They have already sold around 100 houses, around half for one euro. The other houses for significantly more: Depending on their condition, the houses could be sold for five to twenty thousand euros.

The community also assists buyers with bureaucracy and helps find architects and construction companies. The only requirement: The facade of the houses must be preserved so that it fits into the historical appearance of the place.

One euro houses all over Italy

Foreigners have also struck here, including an Englishman, a Danish family and even a Brazilian, says Mayor Giannini. They would have fulfilled their dream of owning a holiday home.

But there are also others who want to stay permanently. “More than 50 people have already moved here, including families with children,” says Giannini. Above all, the one-euro initiative stimulated the economy, because a house like this has to be renovated and maintained.

Across the country, more and more communities have joined the initiative in recent years: houses are currently for sale in around 70 communities for prices ranging from one euro upwards. In Vergemoli di Fabbriche, the initiative has brought new hope to the village. Last year a child was born here for the first time in ten years.

Verena Schälter, ARD Rome, tagesschau, March 25, 2024 11:13 a.m

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