7 Places in the World Where You Can Buy a ‘Free’ Home

Posted in What to Buy

Astute property watchers will remember the furore this May when the Sicilian municipality of Sambuca began auctioning abandoned homes at the starting price of €1 — essentially free. The initiative, geared towards resuscitating the town’s economy, resulted in a massive injection of foreign investment (a large number of Sambuca’s ‘free’ homes sold for as little as US$1,200, on the proviso that buyers spend US$17,000 on renovations over a 3-year period).
Given the success of that scheme, an increasing number of sleepy, rural hamlets (mostly in Italy) are trying to get a piece of the ‘free’ home action. But what’s the catch? Read on to find out…

Cumnock, Australia

Once an important stopover in the New South Wales railway network, Cumnock is about a 4-hour drive from Sydney. Over the years, the population has dwindled to fewer than 300 people, so in order to attract new residents the town is offering homes with ‘a typical Australian country feel’ for as little as US$1. Even a 3-bedroom house — complete with fireplaces and a palatial veranda — will only set you back US$100 a week.

Okutama, Japan

By now, rapid population ageing is a well-documented issue affecting multiple aspects of Japanese society — housing included. In order to attract younger residents back to the countryside, rural towns are allegedly giving away unoccupied properties. The most desirable of these ‘free-housing’ schemes is located in Okutama, a remote municipality that is in fact part of the western Tokyo Metropolis. Naturally, eligible properties here aren’t exactly free: families, whose children are under junior high school age, may only claim ownership pursuant to paying off a 22-year mortgage (totalling roughly US$120,621).

Monti Scìaga, Switzerland

Not content to let the Sicilians have all the fun, Monti Scìaga — a mountainous village bordering Italy and Switzerland — is currently selling its empty homes for the princely sum of one Swiss franc (US$1.01). Situated a stone’s throw from Lake Maggiore — the largest lake in southern Switzerland — and about 100 km from Milan, Monti Scìaga is among the most remote villages in the region. Not a bad spot if you’re looking for peace & quiet (in the middle of the Continent no less).

Mussomeli, Sicily

The runaway success of Sambuca’s dollar auctions meant it was only a matter of time before other Sicilian townships launched similar schemes. While all of them benefit from being able to offer housing in a temperate, serene environment, the city of Mussomeli has gone above and beyond with its very own online property listings. This freestanding, 70-sq.-mtr. house is in a style that’s fairly typical of the area — boasting a balcony and sufficient space for multiple bedrooms. Still, it goes without saying that a substantial restoration will be required, in order to account for the property’s lack of internal heating or electricals.

Patrica, Italy

Patrica, an ancient commune on the outskirts of Frosinone, is another of the small Italian towns which have recently joined project Case a 1 euro — one of the biggest nationwide efforts to combat rural depopulation. At 450m above sea level, the town’s biggest drawcard is its breathtaking views of the surrounding Valle Latina. Each of the 38 houses on offer overlooks the Sacco and Liri valleys: reason enough to pay the (approx.) US$28,000 renovation fee.

Sambuca, Sicily

The one that started it all: since mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo launched his pilot ‘free housing’ scheme in May, the quiet Sicilian hamlet of Sambuca has experienced nothing short of a revitalisation. Currently, 66 properties have already been sold to private owners including the Discovery Channel (who intend to document the progress of other foreign investors in the town next year).
New international arrivals aside, Sambuca possesses a host of features that make it a fantastic spot for an idyllic holiday home: Cuisine is influenced by Sicily’s long history of Greek and Arabic migration; the town boasts an enviable location near the coastline; and Mt. Etna looms majestically on the horizon.

Randy Lai