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What 1 euro can buy you in Sicilian real estate

In Sicily and across Italy, towns are on the brink of extinction. Locals have been leaving these picturesque communities, with their antique buildings and narrow roads, in search of economic opportunity, and few babies are being born there. Some towns are trying to lure new residents with the prospect of cheap real estate. Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports on what one euro can buy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you ever dream of owning your own vacation getaway in Italy? Well, the cost usually makes people think twice at least.

    But now, in some parts of Sicily, you can buy your own home for just one euro, or little more than a dollar. That's because the homes for sale have been abandoned, and the towns there risk vanishing if new owners don't move in soon.

    Special correspondent Christopher Livesay went to see just what kind of home you can buy for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    In the Sicilian town of Gangi, it seems like little has changed since the Middle Ages. Throngs have turned out on this day to celebrate the annual Festival of St. Francis. But many in the crowd are only tourists or actors.

    And once the festivities finish, and everyone leaves, the town looks like this, empty, at least down many streets. And it's been getting worse for decades.

  • Francesco Migliazzo (through translator):

    of Consider that, in 1951, Gangi had 13,000 inhabitants. Today, there are fewer than 7,000.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Francesco Migliazzo is the mayor of Gangi. He tells me that the same things that make his town so picturesque, from its narrow streets to its isolation from noisy cities, have also made it inconvenient for locals, who've been steadily leaving in search of work in those noisy cities since after World War II.

    In Sicily and across Italy, there are thousands of towns like it, risking extinction in the coming decades. The mayor says Gangi was desperate.

  • Francesco Migliazzo (through translator):

    Homes were being abandoned and left to fall apart. We needed a way to incentivize people to live in the historic center in order to save our town. So we started selling homes for only one euro.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So, hold on. You can buy a house in this town for only one euro?

  • Francesco Migliazzo (through translator):

    Absolutely, for the price of a cup of coffee.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Sound too good to be true? To see for myself, I meet Ignazio Tuzzolino, a retired banker who bought a vacation home for less money than he will spend repainting his mirrors.

  • Ignazio Tuzzolina (through translator):

    I have got to get a smaller car.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So this is it? Wow. This is amazing.

    Of course, he didn't find it this way. Part of the one-euro deal requires that buyers renovate their home within three years of purchase.

    So the original design was this way. You just cleaned it up and made it habitable?

  • Ignazio Tuzzolina:

    Exactly. Exactly.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Wow. Amazing. Beautiful.

    With some slight modifications.

    OK. So you took the shutters off the old window, and it became a cupboard.

  • Ignazio Tuzzolina (through translator):

    We managed to save that sink too. It's at least one century old.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    They don't make them this way anymore.

    Tuzzolino says he spent 200,000 euros, about $220,000 right now, to makeover all 3,200 square feet, inside and out.

  • Ignazio Tuzzolina (through translator):

    That's money that went into the local economy to pay for materials and wages for workers. Now multiply that by all the other homes like mine. So far there's been roughly 120 homes sold as a part of this program.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Perched in the shadow of Mt. Etna, Gangi's allure has been contagious. So has its marketing strategy. It's been 10 years since it began selling homes for one euro, and now other towns in Sicily have caught on, towns like Mussomeli.

    With a population of 10,000, it's currently selling nearly 400 homes for just over a dollar each. Houses are cheap, come with stunning views, and 300 days of sunshine a year. But, buyer beware, there are hidden costs and a lot of assembly required, some more than others.

    To start the house hunt, I book a visit with a realtor.

    Cinzia Sorce shows me just what you can get for one euro.

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    As you can see, this floor is divided between the living room and bedroom, which is very big. You have got to be careful about the floors, which are very fragile.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Wait, wait. so you can't walk over here?

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    No. Avoid it.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    It could collapse?

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    Yes, it's unsafe.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    OK.

    For better or worse, one euro also gets you whatever you find inside these dusty 2,000 square feet.

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    Whoever buys the house then has to empty it out in order to rebuild it. That means getting rid of furniture, getting rid of rubble and debris.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    A lot of surprises, yes.

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    Yes.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    But don't be surprised by the extent of the overhaul. In this house and most others, there's little you won't have to fix.

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    Everything, new pipes, new electric, gas. Not a single thing is up to code.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So how much would I have to invest in this house if I wanted to make it livable again?

  • Cinzia Sorce (through translator):

    You will have to invest a lot, absolutely. It's impossible to say. At least 20,000 euros.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Still, not a bad deal for idyllic views in your own Sicilian hideaway. And hidden, it is, not to mention hard to get to. The nearest major airport is more than two hours away by car on highways that have seen better days.

    If tourists are going to want to move here, they're going to have to put up with roads, which range from the good, to the bad, and the utterly nonexistent.

    And most of these homebuyers are, after all, tourists, here for just a few months out of the year. Most aren't raising children, the only real long-term solution to the population decline, according to demographers.

    But among the hundreds of people who have already invested their euro in Sicily, some are starting new families.

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    Hello.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    So nice to meet you.

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    Nice to meet you.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    One year ago, Belgians Bert Van Bellingen and Nina Smets became the first people to buy abandoned real estate in Mussomeli.

    This is original, these tiles?

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    This is original.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    But you rebuilt it?

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    I rebuilt it.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Lovely.

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    It's about 300 years old.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Now it feels so much like home, they got married here just a few days before we met.

    Over here at the church?

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    Over there at the church.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Oh, wow.

    Since they moved here, more than 100 other homes have been sold in Mussomeli to people from across Europe, Asia, and the United States.

    Do you regret anything about having moved here?

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    No. It's worth. It's worth. If you see what the finish is, in one year, what we have done, me and my wife, it's beautiful. If you're waking up, and you see this view in the morning…

  • Christopher Livesay:

    No regrets.

  • Bert Van Bellingen:

    No regrets, never, no.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Christopher Livesay in Mussomeli, Sicily.

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