(CNN) — There’s a place on the Italian island of Sicily where you’re increasingly likely to hear an American accent wafting through its narrow streets instead of the local language.
Sambuca di Sicilia, which has gained a reputation as one of the first places in the country to sell old houses for almost nothing, is becoming a kind of Italian “Little America” after a wave of Americans mostly settled to buy bargain properties. and breathe new life into the city.
As the second application deadline closed last November, City Hall was again inundated with hundreds of inquiries from interested buyers. The houses were eventually sold at auction to the highest bidder, between €500 and €7,000 ($540 and $7,560).
Almost all new buyers come from North America, says Deputy Mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo. Some shopped their website unseen while others defied Covid travel restrictions and flew out to have a look.
“Let’s say that almost 80% of the people who wrote to us, applied for and participated in this second auction are either from the United States or are American,” explains Cacioppo. “There’s a lot of interest from US buyers, and thankfully it’s not waning. The pandemic has been a challenge to close this new sale, but we were lucky. It all went well. ”
So what motivated these new buyers to snap up earthquake-damaged properties deep in Sicily? Surprisingly, many apparently did not want to simply acquire a discounted vacation retreat. They also want to contribute to reviving the effervescence of the village and its economy.
“I give it”
David Waters says he will use crowdsourcing to fund his renovations.
Courtesy of David Waters
David Waters, an Idaho internet businessman with a passion for Italian real estate, plans to remodel his newly acquired Sicilian mansions through crowdfunding — and then donate them.
He bought two adjacent buildings by placing winning bids of €500 for each. They are located in the quietest corner of Sambuca, an old neighborhood where abandoned houses line the streets.
Waters describes himself as a fan of Italy’s one-euro house project and says he wants to help revamp dying and neglected communities.
“I wanted to create a way for inbound investors to support smaller communities like Sambuca of Sicily,” he says. “I want to allow someone who wishes to fulfill their dream of owning a piece of Italian history to do so.”
Waters says his crowdfunding campaign will offer reward tiers, ranging from merchandise to finished home nights, for those who want to support the local community.
“I purchased two properties so I had the opportunity to start with a small crowdfunding campaign and expand to a larger campaign goal.”
He says donations and services will be offered to improve the park, roads and infrastructure in Sambuca.
“We are going to involve the crowdfunding community as much as possible by giving them the power to vote on what we offer within these community services,” says Waters.
Crowdfunders will participate in the renovation and will also receive ticket codes, which represent a chance to win their Sambuca properties, depending on the level in which they have chosen to participate.
Rewards will be fulfilled before properties are awarded to the giveaway winner, who will be randomly selected by computer.
Although his two-story properties need major renovations, Waters says he was fascinated by their location and view, and wants to show people how such dilapidated homes can be transformed into “something beautiful and great”.
One house is tiny, while the adjacent house is 80 square meters and has seven rooms.
The lure of Italian cuisine is what prompted Arizona-based chef Daniel Patino, co-founder of a fresh produce chain in the United States, to take the big step and grab a slice of la dolce vita.
Patino grabbed the only available building with three floors and a panoramic terrace by placing a bid of just €2,500 – and winning. He did everything remotely, from the United States. A local lady from Sambuca contacted him through the town hall and sent him a video and photos of the property, enough to give Patino an idea of what he was bidding.
“It’s more than an adventure,” he says. “Maybe a bet?
“I placed a bid on view after looking at all the properties online but this one in particular just spoke to me. It had a small rustic outdoor patio area. I couldn’t see what the inside was like because it could have been dangerous to enter, so I suspect it will need a lot of renovation.”
Patino does not yet know exactly what he intends to do with it: whether he should use it simply as a holiday home or also as the Italian branch of his food chain. For now, he says, it’s just a dream come true, and also a walk down memory lane.
“I have always loved Italy, when I traveled earlier in my career as a professional chef, I learned about Italian food culture and why food is so important to Italians.”
“I also learned what the Italian lifestyle is. It’s about living life, not going as fast as we do in the United States. It’s about enjoying the tranquility, taking time to relax and not always worrying about work. It’s just the best of all worlds.”
Patino says his wife wasn’t on board at first, telling her “you’re crazy, this can’t be real”.
Now that the property is his, he says he’ll just see where it goes from here.
He might decide to start making some of his fresh salads in Sambuca and adapt American-style healthy foods and homemade dressings to Antipasto alla Siciliana.
Haven of peace for artists
Brigitte Dufour wants to transform two abandoned buildings into a refuge for artists.
Courtesy of Brigitte Dufour
Brigitte Dufour, a French-Canadian lawyer and founder of a human rights organization, bought two abandoned homes in the historic Saracens district, a small one for €1,000 and a larger one for €5,850. She placed both bids without seeing either one.
“Just to be sure, I was aware there was a lot of competition, so I figured bidding on two different houses would increase my chances of success,” she says.
Dufour says she wants to help the local community by providing space for artists from around the world fleeing crises.
Her smaller, two-story, 50-square-meter (about 540 square feet) property will serve as an artist’s residence, she says. It will be a place where artists can express themselves and “take a break from the difficult environment and the pressure of their country of origin”.
“They can stay two weeks or a whole month and be inspired by the beauty of Sicily and Sambuca to create works of art that speak to issues of gender, dignity, human rights. from a nice safe place.”
The property is in good condition with a terrace providing outdoor space with views of the surrounding green hills. Dufour loves the old painted earthenware floors, which she says give the house a traditional feel. She even found an old garlic braid hanging on a wall when she bought the place.
Dufour says the properties she has purchased are in good condition.
Courtesy of Brigitte Dufour
“It’s much better than I expected, not a ruin,” she said. “Everyone told me ‘oh but you’re going to ruin yourself.’ Instead it has good walls, but there’s quite a bit of renovation to do.”
Dufour is planning an eco-friendly restyle and will seek advice from £1 home buyers who have already renovated their homes.
His second property, measuring 80 square meters (approximately 860 square feet), will serve as both a private residence and additional space for incoming artists.
“I thought it was better to have more than one house to bring in more artists, but when I visited Sambuca after winning the auction, I fell in love with the village and thought I could keep this second home for me and my family.
“My kids and family in Canada, especially my brother and sister, are really, really excited about it,” says Dufour, who especially likes that the beach is a 25-minute drive from Sambuca.
If the artists’ residence needs more space, it will use parts of the second house for this, also accommodating artists if needed once it is renovated.
The second house has a huge open space which she says would be ideal for hosting social events and exhibitions, with high vaulted ceilings and a great panorama. Unlike the first floor, the second level needs extensive renovation.
“I couldn’t see it because it was dangerous to walk inside the rooms,” she says. “The solidity of the ground was unclear. But you can really feel the place.”