With nearly 50 million visitors last year, Italy is among the world's top tourist destinations. Those interested in staying longer than just a few days could be interested in the special offer of a town on the island of Sicily: The town's council is selling about 20 houses for less than $2.
Since this summer, about 150 potential buyers have come to Gangi from as far as Brazil and Australia, according to European news site The Local. At least 50 people have formally applied for the properties, and the application process is now closed and the future Gangi house owners are expected to be announced later this week, real estate consultant Marie Wester told The Washington Post. According to estimates, the buyers would need to invest about $50,000 to renovate the houses.
To outside observers, the extraordinarily cheap offer might seem confusing, but the town council thinks the sales will benefit Gangi and its 7,000 inhabitants in the long term. Sicily is known for its beauty, but it's economy lags far behind other regions of Italy. The inexpensive properties are supposed to revitalize Gangi and prevent the town's population from declining further.
Unable to find jobs on the island, located to the south of mainland Italy, many people have decided to move toward the north, where unemployment rates are much lower. Hence, Gangi's population has dwindled and the amount of empty houses has increased, reflecting a broader Sicilian problem.
Sicily's downfall did not come out of nowhere: After the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, jobs shifted toward mainland Italy, where factories were easier to operate. The Mafia — which is particularly active in Sicily — presented another obstacle. The idea to sell empty properties to foreigners was originally launched several years ago. However, due to a lack of English speakers, the city council's plan created little interest abroad until this fall.
Gangi is not the first town or city willing to sell houses far below their actual value. In Detroit, city officials were willing to sell tax-foreclosed properties for as little as $500 after the 2008 financial crisis. A house in Florida was advertised for only $1 in November, but the buyer would have had to invest at least $130,000. Elsewhere, owners have tried to sell entire villages: Earlier this year, the Spanish village of Esblada was for sale for $360,000, while 14 Italian stone and timber houses were advertised on eBay for $330,000.
Wester, the real estate consultant, is convinced that the Sicilian sale is a better deal. House owners would live in a century-old town in central Sicily, surrounded by the island's picturesque Madonie Mountains.
The active, snow-covered volcano Mount Etna is only about 60 miles away.
Besides exploring the surrounding areas, future house owners would also have to commit to more serious tasks such as the development of plans to revitalize the town. So far, the proposals reportedly included plans to transform parts of the town into a film set or to open a cookery school.
While real estate consultant Wester emphasizes that the town inhabitants welcome the idea to bring in foreigners, others have made different experiences.
In 2012, a user named Dave Seminara wrote an account of his time in Gangi on the travel guide platform. While Seminara loved his time there, his post also offered some important insights every potential house owner should consider: "The modern traveler cannot help but notice what isn’t in the old town of Gangi — no restaurants, no Internet cafes, art galleries, hotels, wine shops, tourist information offices, souvenir stands," Seminara wrote.
He concluded: "Gangi — like many hill-towns all over rural Italy — is a place that does not embrace change or outsiders."
If the town's revitalization plan were successful, 20 house owners from all over the world would soon find out whether Seminara's impressions were correct.