Italy’s €1 homes aren’t for everyone, warns man who sold his after two years

The town of Mussomeli, Sicily (Danny McCubbin)
The town of Mussomeli, Sicily (Danny McCubbin)

There’s more to Italy’s “one euro homes” scheme than just scoring a bargain for less than a pound, warns a man who chose to give up his property less than three years into the project.

Danny McCubbin bought a house in Mussomeli, Sicily, in 2019 - but made the decision to return it to the authorities after refurbishment proved too much of a challenge.

The €1 properties are on sale as part of an Italy-wide initiative to sell off crumbling, unused properties in poorly populated towns, in a bid to attract new residents and local investment.

Mr McCubbin, a chef and former marketing professional for Jamie Oliver, had originally pitched the idea of buying a €1 house and turning it into a community project as a TV show for Channel 4.

“Obviously these towns where you can buy this sort of property aren’t doing so well economically,” he tells The Independent. “I’d been going to Italy for 10 years volunteering with a local project, and had friends there.”

Danny’s one euro home (Danny McCubbin)
Danny’s one euro home (Danny McCubbin)

He saw 28 potential €1 homes before making his final choice in December 2019, signing up to the terms of the “Case 1 Euro” scheme - which include having to renovate the property within the first three years of ownership.

He then returned to Australia, where is is originally from, before the pandemic hit, delaying his planned move to Sicily for nearly a year and putting the kibosh on the Channel 4 filming project.

Mr McCubbin had started a crowdfunding campaign to help with the renovations and to set up The Good Kitchen, his proposed community food project.

But the delay in moving to Italy slowed the prospect of getting to work on the property, leaving it to fall into further disrepair.

Once Mr McCubbin finally did relocate to Sicily in December 2020, Italy’s “super bonus” initiative - involving tax breaks for property buyers - created a shortage of construction workers, making it even harder to get building work started. On top of this, the cost for building materials surged.

“These €1 houses often need a huge amount of structural work. You’re not just paying €1 upfront, you’re paying around €3,000 to sort the paperwork,” he says.

After the initial outlay, he says, large-scale structural work can run into the tens of thousands. He quickly saw his social enterprise becoming delayed indefinitely by the €1 “dream”.

“It wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t find a builder - the pandemic had a knock-on effect for many industries. My house sat there for a year and I wasn’t able to look after it, to repair the roof,” he reflects.

So he began looking at other cheap properties in the Mussomeli area that didn’t need as much structural work, eventually finding an empty shop in the town square.

“A lot of people are now buying ‘premium’ houses in towns like this - ones that don’t require a lot of structural work, just cosmetic. While the one €1 project has really been a catalyst to bring people to the town, these are often a better option for people who want to move here,” he explains.

In the end, he made the decision to return his €1 home, and instead spent €8,000 (£6,730) on another vacant property which would be easier to renovate quickly and ready to begin using within months.

The ‘premium’ property Danny ended up buying (Danny McCubbin)
The ‘premium’ property Danny ended up buying (Danny McCubbin)

The Mussomeli authorities and the agency who had sold him the home were understanding, he says, as were his crowdfunding investors. He’s since used the funds to train up local staff for The Good Kitchen, which distributes meals to those in food poverty.

“There was no drama,” he says. “A young Italian couple have bought the house; I believe he’s turning it into an artist’s studio.”

Now he is keen to warn prospective buyers of the difference between a €1 home and a quick fixer-upper.

“When you take on a €1 house, you take on a challenge,” he says.

“Saying, ‘I’m just going to buy a bargain, renovate it and flip it’ - that doesn’t work. I would say to anyone who’s thinking of doing it - you need to put in effort and time.

“Come with a builder, if you can, someone who knows about the potential work needed.

“Foreigners make the mistake of coming here and looking at €1 houses that have stunning views, and they neglect to look inside at the structure, or at the street they’re on. Maybe it doesn’t have a community feel, if other houses have been abandoned.

Danny’s social enterprise The Good Kitchen (Danny McCubbin)
Danny’s social enterprise The Good Kitchen (Danny McCubbin)

“It’s a big decision, not just at €1 - even at €5,000 or €10,000. Get a feel for the place. Don’t be bedazzled by the view - even though the surrounding area is absolutely stunning.”

He also warns those who are thinking of buying the properties to start a business: “It’s one thing if you want to move here, start a life here. But I’ve seen B&Bs go broke - €1 houses aren’t always the best scheme for starting a business.”

While the initiative didn’t work out for him, he’s pleased that the scheme is bringing expat interest to Italy’s sleepier villages.

“It certainly hasn’t been a negative for this town. People are coming to these places to see the €1 houses, but often buying these ‘premium’ houses instead.

“It has really been a catalyst to bring people to the town.”