(CNN) – The cheap home boom in Italy continues to attract hundreds of interested buyers, despite the pandemic. But what happens once someone takes the plunge and invests their (small) piece of currency in a crumbling corner of a remote town?
For Roy Patrick, a 67-year-old British car and motorcycle fanatic who bought an old school in the northern mountain village of Carrega Ligure for around $ 16,500, it was an adventure – not without mishaps such as a chimney drop and a door corner – and also a joy.
Patrick, from Oxford, bought the property after finding himself in the village, in the mountains on the border of Italy’s Piedmont and Ligurian regions, almost by accident.
He arrived after disembarking from a post-divorce Mediterranean cruise in the port of Genoa, where he met people who told him about the wonders of the village. He decided to visit and take a look and was mesmerized by the place.
After visiting several older properties, he fell in love with the 1930s school building and bought it in 2017.
“The other houses were beautiful but nothing special, they could have been in any small Italian village tucked away in alleys”, explains Patrick. “But this one was special, the view is unique: the way the sun sets over the mountains when it sets, you’d say ‘wow’. This is my personal Arcadia, my Nirvana, healing place.”
The property, which was unloaded by the local town hall as part of an initiative to boost populations of declining communities (similar to many exploited across Italy), is located in the quiet area of Connio, where only 12 people live.
Since the purchase, he has visited her every two weeks, even during the pandemic. He does business in Italy buying and selling old three-wheeled vehicles. He says he has found a new family in the city and a bucolic haven to detox and disconnect in the great outdoors.
Carrega, he adds, has many charms.
“Topping the list is the friendliness of the locals, followed by the amazing views I get from looking out the windows facing the valley. Mine is the best panorama in the village.
“In addition, I am fortunate to have, a few feet away, a fountain which is fed by the invigorating cool water which descends from the peaks of the mountains.”
Patrick Roy’s house cost $ 16,000 and required few renovations.
Courtesy of Roy Patrick
Patrick says his first encounter with his new home was less than promising.
He recalls that the mayor had to climb a ladder to enter through a window in order to open the building. It had been closed for decades and the door was locked, the keys nowhere to be found.
A subsequent structural disaster turned into a positive story. When on Christmas Eve an unstable chimney collapsed due to heavy snowfall, one of Patrick’s neighbors volunteered to climb onto his roof to bring him to safety. Patrick says he was amazed when the man refused to be paid.
People are welcoming, he says, they want to help newcomers and don’t want anything in return. At most, a glass of heady red wine to sip together.
Patrick says he has made a lot of friends in the village and that he enjoys his Italian dinners with them.
During the minimal renovations needed to make the old school livable, Patrick says he’s unearthed a treasure trove of historic finds.
In the attic, he discovered vestiges of the old building life: dusty piles of old textbooks, inkwells, glass bottles, student registers and other unusual objects reminiscent of the bygone era when 20 students were educated in what is now Patrick’s living room.
On the doorstep is a mosaic with Roman numerals indicating the year the school was built. Patrick decided to keep the original tiled floors and the wood-covered walls.
Carrega, where many people are selling their empty family homes for as little as $ 12,000, also feels stuck in time in many ways.
A quiet life
The sleeping village is miles from the nearest shops, bars or restaurants.
Courtesy of the Municipality of Carrega
Located in the Apennine mountains, it is scattered over 15 inhabited neighborhoods and two ghost hamlets. In one neighborhood, there are only two residents. People greet each other and chat from their window balconies.
While Carrega has been dumping cheap properties for a few years, authorities still occasionally auction abandoned buildings. A few ruined houses have recently been sold for between $ 6,000 and $ 7,000. Another batch of two properties has just been put on the market.
Patrick has a few tips for those who are tempted by the idea of buying a home here: don’t expect a social buzz and be prepared for some bumpy and tricky roads.
There is absolutely nothing, he says, just great views, silence, clean air and pristine surroundings. No bars, supermarkets, shops or restaurants. A vehicle is essential to get around.
However, Carrega comes to life in the summer, when day trippers and vacationers arrive to relax.
“There’s that night when all the kids get together and throw a huge rave party with loud music until the next morning,” says Patrick. “Otherwise it’s just bird chirping and total silence. I feel guilty if I use a chainsaw.”
The two-story school has thick stone walls and high ceilings. It does, Patrick says, very cold in the winter when it’s not busy for a few weeks and takes a while to warm up. When the snow accumulates, it is difficult to make your way to the door.
Patrick took care of the entire school renovation himself, including the plumbing and heating upgrades. He repainted the exterior walls white and brightened up old yellow shutters with a lick of green paint.
Rewiring was tricky, he says.
“The wiring was typical of a small old Italian village – scary and ill-suited to modern technological equipment. I could only turn on the lights, nothing else, not even the microwave. It had a few kilowatts of power and n kept stumbling. “
Patrick says he ripped off the ‘appalling’ old kitchenette.
Courtesy of Roy Patrick
The house had a few fixtures when Patrick bought it, but he got rid of the “appallingly dreadful” kitchenette that had been used by the family who lived there after the school closed. For furniture, he visited local flea markets, keeping an eye out for unusual items.
“The interior decoration is eclectic, there is a bit of modern and retro: a typically Italian marble table, old wooden kitchen furniture, bucolic paintings, a mummified boar’s head, a comfortable armchair. Red is the predominant color. red stove, red microwave, red kettle, red chairs. I have a nice electric blanket to keep me warm, which is my luxury. ”
Patrick says he has a love-hate feeling for the pine panels that cover the interior walls. His first move was to tear it off, but since it was in good condition and created a warm atmosphere, he decided to leave it there.
“I’m still pinching myself, I can’t believe my luck,” he said. “The school was in great shape, the ceilings were beautiful. The big restyle is done but it’s still a work in progress, every time I visit there is something to do. I never relax, I always working on small repairs. I like spending the time thinking about how to improve things. “
When not fixing, Patrick spends the time cooking and listening to music – when locals hear the melodies playing from his window, they know he’s back in town and it’s time to go. celebration.
Although the renovation didn’t cost him a fortune given that the property was far from run-down, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Patrick says he needed to bring in scaffolding to repair and paint the exterior – which he recalls as a “pretty dangerous job” – and that he had to install a new shower in the bathroom because there was only a toilet.
“I had to struggle with a series of problems,” he says. “In the UK I know exactly where to go to buy the tools and materials I need. But in Carrega I had no idea. So first you need to know where to drive and what. store or what person to look for before you start the job, you need to plan it. ”
Another problem is that he struggled to insure the house as it is located, like many beautiful parts of Italy, in an earthquake-prone area.
The best advice Patrick wants to share with people who are considering buying a home in Carrega is to think carefully beforehand.
“Other than a weekly cheese delivery with people knocking on doors, there is absolutely nothing at all in the village.”
Supplies are to be purchased in the nearby village of Cabella, which, although less than 10 miles away, takes over 30 minutes to reach along a road littered with hairpin bends.
“Believe me, it’s not a nice walk along these narrow mountain roads, especially when covered in new virgin snow. It can be scary.”