You’ve probably seen the headlines about the hundreds of homes being flogged for pennies in Italy recently. They were even unloading castles for practically nothing!

Sounds too good to be true, right? Some fake news making the rounds? Whether it’s too good to be true is something I’ll get into in a minute, but fake? Nope. This is a hundred percent actually happening. So the big question is: WHY? The main reason is Italy’s rapidly shrinking native population.
Italians used to have more kids, but now they have the lowest birthrate in Europe. That means people are inheriting “extra” houses from Auntie Gina and Grandpa Roberto that once would have gone to siblings or cousins.
Or the elderly are finding themselves with no one to leave their houses to. Their kids don’t want them — they’ve already moved to bigger cities with better opportunities. Owning houses means paying taxes, and so liquidating surplus homes can be a huge financial load off. Often these “extra” houses are donated to city hall, and many municipalities have had to get creative about what to do with them.

Mayors already scrambling to backfill their dwindling populations have come up with an innovative way of killing two birds with one stone — sell the houses for super cheap to anyone who is willing to commit to restoring them, with the long term goal of bringing life and tourism back to these areas.
The trend started a decade ago when the mayor of Salemi, a small town in Sicily, came up with the idea of selling homes that had lain in ruin since a 1968 earthquake to anyone who would agree to renovate them for just one euro.

For reasons ranging from the buildings not being earthquake-safe to the homes being repossessed because of mafia infiltration, the Salemi project was a failure. But it inspired other communities to create similar initiatives that have been quite successful — nearby Gangi received 1000 applications and had sold 100 houses by 2016.