We’re Scouting for a Town to Buy in Sicily

My scout, Ciaran, has boots on the ground in Sicily…

I’ve asked him to travel to the Italian island on a special mission—he’s looking for a town to buy…

The Italian island of Sicily, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts breathtaking hill towns, stunning coastal cities, and rich history and culture.

Numerous members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group have raised the idea of buying a town with me over the years. And International Living’s Founding Publishing Bill Bonner has been encouraging me to put together something like this for close on a decade. It’s an idea worth exploring…

Across Europe, you’ll find incredible real estate bargains in stunning historic towns and villages. Many of these towns, for all their charm and beauty, have experienced decades of depopulation, which is why prices are so low. Buying a bargain home in one of these towns might seem appealing, but if the community continues to decline, then the amenities and services you need to live comfortably there—the cafés, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, etc.—may disappear as well.

However, by buying together with a group of like-minded people committed to community revitalization, you would ensure the amenities and services survive and prosper. In essence, you could take the benefits of buying in a master-planned community—in which the developer provides amenities like cafés, restaurants, gyms, etc.—and apply them to a charming ancient town.

So, I’ve decided to kickstart this project—to look seriously into the feasibility of this idea and to begin our search for a town. A project like this may ultimately be a lifestyle rather than an investment play, but the prospect is intriguing.

The initial step in this project—choosing which country to scout—was the easiest…

Italy is the cradle of the Renaissance, boasts one of the world’s most celebrated food cultures, and is bursting at the seams with natural wonders and historic treasures. Many of its towns and cities are works of art in and of themselves.

This country is also the land of astonishing real estate bargains…

All across Italy, you’ll find stunning medieval towns surrounded by lush, rolling hills, set upon towering cliffs, or nestled beside sprawling Mediterranean beaches.

But Italy has also long been the “sick man of Western Europe.” Its economy has lagged its major European neighbors for decades. As a result, there’s no work for the young in many of its historic towns. The country’s population has fallen by 1 million over the last decade due to a plummeting birthrate and an exodus of young people seeking work overseas.

Depopulation has particularly ravaged rural Italy. Town centers are crumbling. Historic homes sit empty and abandoned. You’ll sometimes see entire towns listed on the market, such as this one which is under offer in rural Tuscany. But in our search, we’re looking beyond just these opportunities…

Often, when you see an entire town for sale, the term “town” is generous, if not entirely misleading. These communities are generally tiny hamlets at best. And given that they’ve been abandoned, their infrastructure has often completely decayed. Buying something like this would likely require a significant investment in rebuilding the local infrastructure. And even then, they’d be no stores… post offices…restaurants…cafés…

So, when looking for a town to buy, a more sensible approach is to find a historic town that still has the infrastructure…the great restaurants…the charming cafés…stores selling exceptional local produce…but where there’s ample real estate on the market at bargain-basement prices.

This means you could potentially buy up a significant proportion of the town for a small investment. You’ll find depopulated historic villages like this across Italy, particularly in the south. But the most logical place to start this search is on the island of Sicily.

Many stunning towns and villages in Sicily and across Italy have experienced significant depopulation.

Sicily is a land of historic cities…ancient temples…quaint little villages…towering mountains…and stunning beaches on every shore…

Over the millennia, this island—the largest in the Mediterranean—was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, the Spanish, the Vandals…to name just a few. To this day, Sicily feels somehow apart and distinct from mainland Italy. This history has given it a different way of life…a different attitude…even a different cuisine…

Where it’s similar to the mainland is in its bargain-basement real estate prices.

In medieval towns there set amongst lost-in-time landscapes and surrounded by sun-drenched hills, you can find historic homes in various states of repair for $70,000…$50,000…even $20,000, or less.

And that’s before you consider the homes that are being “given away”…

Sicily is the birthplace of the €1 home scheme. This concept of giving away crumbling homes, under the condition that the new owner renovates them, is one of the most successful real estate marketing projects of the past several decades.

The first of these schemes was launched a decade ago in the Sicilian town of Gangi. Since then, virtual every major media outlet on the planet has reported on them.

I was there at the very beginning…

The hilltop town of Gangi was the pioneer of the €1 homes scheme.

Back in 2014, I put boots on the ground in Gangi.

Perched high above rolling plains, this quaint town is comprised of ancient homes built into mountain rock, with Mount Etna towering in the near distance. This small and tightly-knit town of around 7,000 people boasts 18 churches—a sign of its more opulent past, when Gangi was a regional center of power.

But as with so many other Italian towns, the young started leaving as the economy declined. That left Gangi with uninhabited homes—some left abandoned for years, the annual taxes unpaid. So, the mayor came up with a novel plan. Give these homes away to folks who will commit to renovating within five years. (The agreement stipulated a purchase price of €1, but that was then waived.)

Nineteen homes were available for free when I visited five years ago. In the years since, more than 100 have been sold in Gangi…so many in fact, that the town is not currently offering €1 homes.

But with the success of the program in Gangi, the concept spread across Sicily and the rest of Italy. In the decade since, dozens of Sicilian towns have operated a €1 program at one point or another.

These towns offer an excellent starting point for our search. That’s not to say we’re focused on buying €1 homes. These homes are rarely a bargain. Most are dilapidated and require extensive investment to bring them back to life.

But where there are €1 homes, you’ll also typically find bargain properties in better states of repair. Moreover, the presence of these schemes means the towns are working to attract foreign investment, which suggests a welcoming environment.

We’ve identified a number of these towns worth scouting…and Ciaran is on the ground to run the rule over them.

The €1 homes program brought considerable attention to Gangi, helping revitalize the town. Since then, scores of towns across Italy have introduced similar policies.

Our search for a town to buy will focus on two broad regions.

The first is a mountainous region southeast of Palermo. This is where you’ll find the town of Mussomeli. Best known for the 14th century Manfredonico Castle just outside town, Mussomeli is set high on a hill in central Sicily and offers stunning vistas of the island’s rolling interior.

Mussomeli is one of the great success stories of the €1 homes schemes. To date, hundreds of homes have been sold in Mussomeli through the program, but the town plans to add more. And this is in addition to the numerous highly affordable properties on the market around town.

Nearby are two other potential candidates, both of which have also rolled out €1 programs in an effort to emulate Mussomeli’s success. First is Cammarata—a charming medieval town 25 minutes west of Mussomeli similarly perched high on a hill. And there’s the small village of Bivona, located in a green valley a little further west.

And our search doesn’t stop with these central Sicilian towns…

The city of Cefalù is on the northern coast of Sicily and is noted for its historic sites and stunning beaches.

Ciaran is also planning to scout two towns near the city of Cefalù on Sicily’s northern coast. Squeezed between the sea and looming hills, the picturesque seaside city of Cefalù is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the island, and boasts numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites and in-town beaches.

In the hills just outside the city, you’ll find two towns, Gratteri and Pollina, that do not have €1 homes, but have something that may be more appealing…

The towns have worked to bring historic homes in decent condition back onto the market and have policies to fast-track planning permission for renovation. You’ll find homes listed in the €25,000 to €70,000 range, many in livable condition…and you’d be near the coast and historic Cefalù.

Of course, our scouting plans may change. That’s why we put boots on the ground. Often it’s only by driving the roads and hills, walking the towns and streets, and meeting with local contacts that the best opportunities reveal themselves.

Stay tuned… Ciaran’s first update is coming later this week in Your Overseas Dream Home.


Ronan McMahon, Founder, Overseas Dream Home & Real Estate Trend Alert

P.S. Even been to Sicily? Have a question or suggestion for Ciaran while he has boots on the ground. Click here to share it with us.

Your Daily Dream Home

Scansano, Tuscany, Italy


In a charming Tuscan hill town halfway between the coast and the slopes of Monte Amiata is this four-bedroom home. It’s less than an hour’s drive from a selection of beaches, and a 30-minute drive from a spa and golf resort.

The first floor has a dining room, a kitchenette, a utility room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. On the second floor you’ll find a large dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms and a balcony with panoramic views.

Outside, you’ll find a small courtyard, and a sizable garden.

Click here to find out more

Remember, we don’t make money from any listing shared here in the Your Daily Dream Home section. We have no dog in the fight. We’re just sharing cool properties we’ve found.

I haven’t visited this property or done due diligence on it. If you’re interested in the listing, you should hire an attorney and do your own due diligence.

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