Interview – Buying a 1€ House in Sicily: Developing a Community Kitchen, Renovating, and More!
Happy Tuesday, Escapists! I am sure many of us have seen the CNN articles advertising 1€ houses for sale in Italy and are very intrigued about the people and realities behind it – so today I am sharing a wonderful interview with @dannyforgood about his experience buying and renovating a €1 house in beautiful Mussomeli, located in Sicily, Italy!
Can you introduce yourself and share a little about your background?
My name is Danny McCubbin and I live in the most wonderful town in the middle of Sicily called Mussomeli. I moved here in December 2020 from London. I am from Australia originally and I lived in London from 1998 to 2020. Three of My Grandparents on both my Mum and Dad’s side were originally from the UK so I was able to work in London with an ancestry visa. For nearly 17 years I worked for the Chef and Food Campaigner Jamie Oliver. I started when the company was relatively small and over the years I worked in various roles. At the heart of my work was the notion that food is a powerful agent for change. It is the one thing that we all have in common and it really does bring people together. I worked very closely with the various teams on all of Jamie’s food campaigns and through my work I started to volunteer for other food based charities throughout Europe. My work took me to Italy and I remember falling in love with this country when I visited it for the first time many years ago. It was always my dream to move here one day. In December 2020 when the Brexit transition period was about to end I took a leap of faith and moved here to Mussomeli.
How did you hear about the 1€ properties? What made you interested in getting serious about buying one?
I first heard about the 1 euro house project about 5 years ago when I read an article on CNN. Many of my friends in Italy started sending me other articles as they knew that in my heart I wanted to live here one day. I thought to myself when I read the article that this may be my chance. Like many people I guess, I did think that the project seemed to be too good to be true. On the other hand I kept thinking what a good idea it was. Due to depopulation there were so many houses in towns all across Italy that had been abandoned, what a great idea then to sell the houses to foreigners for 1 euro as this is a way of building the community once again. I am very lucky as I have many Italian friends and they were able to help me find a town where the process to buy the 1 euro house was very clear and simple. I did a lot of research as all of the towns across Italy have varying rules and regulations that you must sign up to when you buy the house. Some require a deposit and others state that you must spend a minimum amount of money on the house. Here in Mussomeli the Municipality has made it very easy for foreigners to buy, you just need to commit to completing the renovation within 3 years of buying the house. You can also have the house as a second property and you don’t need to live here permanently. There are no hidden costs or any other hoops that you have to jump through, everything is clearly explained to you before you purchase the house. My priority in buying a house was to secure one that was in a good condition and also for it to be big enough for me to run a Community Kitchen out of it. I always envisaged that I would start a community based project in my house as a way of giving back to the town and also utilising all of my skills that I learnt from working with Jamie for all those years in London.
What was the process like to acquire one of the homes?
The real estate agent that sells the 1 euro houses is https://www.immobiliaresiciliana.it/ They work directly with the Municipality and they have sold over 120 1 euro houses to foreigners. It is not possible to buy any of the houses over the internet, you must make an appointment with the team and then come here to the town to view the houses. Aside from the 1 euro, the paperwork cost me 2,800. I visited Mussomeli 3 times and viewed over 25 1 euro houses before I found one that suited my needs. I finalised all of the paperwork from Australia so that figure I just quoted you could be lower if you complete the paperwork here in the town.
What was the condition of the home like when you got it? What was your plan to tackle renovations?
My house is in a very good condition, the foundations are fine and there is no major structural damage. The house is very old and it only has a toilet and no bathroom. It is an old farmhouse and the families would have bathed in the stable in washing basins that are there. My house has a beautiful stable attached to it and unfortunately the roof of the stable is weak so that is the only major challenge that my house has, every other room is in a good condition. The house has been abandoned for 15 years and when I first walked into the house it was like the family had just left over night. There is already a great sense of community in this town and very reliable architects and builders who are ready to work on the 1 euro houses. It was always my intention to buy one of the houses that did not require a major renovation. The estate agent recommended 3 architects to me and I ended up choosing one who understood my plans to run a Community Kitchen out of my house. My architect Nicola was born one street away from my house and he has been brilliant. We are changing the rooms around and also installing a bathroom in the stable. The house needs new doors and windows and the kitchen needs to be installed as well. The house will also need to be completely rewired and also new plumbing. There is also an asbestos water tank that has to be removed. This can only be done by a Government approved company.
Any interesting renovation stories you can share?
My architect Nicola also bought a 1 euro house in the centre of town here and he has turned that into his office space. The transformation is incredible and he has created the most spectacular space.
Could you share how much it takes to renovate one of these properties to a livable standard?
My renovation will cost less than 20,000 euros. Many people bought 1 euro houses that have incredible views but are in a pretty bad state, crumbling and falling down that will require much more than 20,000 euros to renovate. Nicola is also applying for Government grants to offset the costs of the renovation to make it sustainable.
What are your plans once the home is completely renovated?
I am launching a Community Kitchen in the house. My plan is to rescue surplus food from the supermarkets here and then use that food to cook meals for vulnerable people in the town. There is a great deal of poverty here and many people have lost their jobs because of Covid, I will provide food for these people from the kitchen.
How do you like living in Mussomeli? Was the community welcoming?
I absolutely love living in this town and everyone has welcomed me with open arms. The people of the town are very receptive to the foreigners who have bought 1 euro houses. I had always heard that people in the south of Italy were very friendly and this is so true here in Mussomeli. People are so kind and helpful here, they say hello to you in the street and also on many occasions the elderly people have stopped me to have a chat, they sure are surprised to learn that I am from Australia. Everyone here has made it very easy for me to settle and to be a part of the community. I decided to donate my 1 euro house back to the charity that I am setting up so that meant that I would have nowhere to live. I then decided to buy a house of my own and I found one that is in perfect condition that is for sale for 8,000 euros. It is perfect for me so I decided to buy it. It is only 1 bedroom with a garage but I am finding that the older I get the less space I need so the house is right for me. It also has a balcony with a view of the Sicilian landscape and it is one street away from the Community Kitchen.
Do you have any advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
Do your research on all of the towns that are offering the 1 euro houses and visit as many of them as you can, you need to feel an affinity with the town even if it is just going to be a second home. If you don’t speak Italian then find someone who can decipher all of the rules for you for each town that is selling the 1 euro houses. Take a builder or architect with you when you view the house so that you can get a clear picture of how much the renovation will cost. Don’t think that you can buy lots of these houses, renovate them and then make a huge profit. Here in Mussomeli there are close to 200 houses that are for sale on the back of the 1 euro house project. This 1 euro house project is all about being a part of the community and being willing to integrate, if you have that as your intention then this project is for you.