Want a home in Italy for less than €200,000? Or maybe even for less than €100,000? It’s entirely possible. Fleur Kinson tells you how to get yourself a slice of sunny dolce vita at a rock-bottom price.
Times are hard and we’re all looking for ways to economize. That’s true even of people lucky enough to be considering buying a second home abroad. No one wants to be spending any more than they have to on anything in the current financial climate. Italy certainly isn’t the cheapest of warm-weather countries, but it’s still possible to get yourself a lovely home here for between, say, €25,000 and €200,000 – if you know where to look and what to look for.
Other sunny-boltholes such as Spain, Turkey, Bulgaria and so on might offer a bountiful supply of low-priced property, but a low price isn’t always the same thing as good value. A ‘bargain’ isn’t always a good deal. First of all, there are the small matters of personal taste and local culture to consider. Sunshine might be the same everywhere, but food, architecture, landscape, history and national style are not. You’ve already admitted you have a soft spot for Italy by looking at this website. If it’s Italy where you really want to be, then any other country will prove a slightly worse deal for you – lower price or no lower price. Secondly, there’s the very important factor of Italy’s property market – which in itself offers greater ‘good value’ than the markets of most other warm-weather retreats. Why? Because Italy’s property market is remarkably safe and stable, with no tendency towards sudden booms and busts. Whatever else goes on in the Italian economy, property remains largely unaffected either way (perhaps because property is viewed as a semi-sacred thing connected with family life, and seldom as a cash-cow to be milked dry as it is often viewed in, say, the UK!). Add the fact that Italy holds an unwavering appeal, so holiday rental prospects are great and property resale potential generally stays high. Taken all together, you see how money spent on a home in Italy is remarkably secure.
Like the UK and many other countries, Italy is currently in an economic recession. But it has seen no significant tumble in property prices. Sales are slow, however, and thus a buyer’s market holds sway. Many vendors, reluctant to have to wait too long to sell, are more open to negotiation on asking price than they used to be. Before the serious global financial woes began, buyers wishing to negotiate on asking prices in Italy were rarely successful. Today, you might put in an offer of 5-15% below a property’s asking price and have it accepted. Which makes right now an exceptionally good time for buyers with a small budget. Foreign vendors, meanwhile – people who bought a holiday home and now want to sell it quickly to liquidate assets – can be particularly open to negotiation on price. (However, do note that regardless of vendor, if a property’s price is already very low, you’re best off not trying to negotiate. A vendor who knows that s/he is offering a property for very little money is unlikely to lower the price further.)
A key consideration for the buyer on a small budget is, of course, location. Happily, many of the types of locality where you’re likely to want a home are among Italy’s less expensive places. For example, many foreign buyers want to be out in the countryside. Rural Italy is generally much cheaper than urban Italy. Perhaps you want to be near the sea but not exactly right beside the hubbub of a beach resort. Perfect. Italian buyers tend to want their front door on the sand, making seaside property highly coveted and expensive. Prices start tumbling as soon as you step back from the water. Buy a home ten miles or more from the sea and you’ll be making substantial savings while still enjoying easy access to beaches. British buyers in particular tend to prize a view, and Italian geography is on your side here, too. All over Italy, heading inland usually means steadily rising altitude. The result is increasingly panoramic views – often of the coast in one direction and mountains in the other.
Note that if you’re keen on mountains and higher-altitude living generally, then Italy is a superb place to buy cheaply. Except for the glitzier ski resort areas of the far north, Italian property prices generally sink in inverse proportion to altitude. Go up, and prices come down. If you don’t fancy being up in the mountains or out in the sticks, however, note that Italy’s villages and small towns are also often inexpensive places to buy a home. While you should definitely rule out super-costly cities such as Rome, Milan, Venice and Florence, you’ll find that many of Italy’s thoroughly charming smaller cities are within your budget. You might consider an apartment in lovely places such as Perugia, Urbino or Lecce, for example. The good news for city-lovers is that that urban properties generally appreciate in value above the national average, plus they have a longer holiday rentals season, since many people take city-breaks in non-summer months.
It’s possible to make a very broad generalization that Italy’s north tends to be the priciest part of the country and that the further south you go the lower the property prices. But there are many exceptions to this pattern. If your heart’s in the north, try the pretty countryside of the Veneto region or the lovely ‘Le Langhe’ area of Piedmont for very good-value rural property. There are plenty of options here for less than €200,000. Water-lovers on this budget could even get themselves a small holiday apartment in a Veneto seaside town or on a northern lake such as Garda or Como.
Central Italy is another traditionally expensive area, with heavyweight regions Tuscany and Umbria dominating the market. But much of these regions’ mutual neighbour Lazio is still very reasonably-priced. And nearby Abruzzo, with its long golden beaches and majestic mountains, can be even cheaper still. Simone Rossi of the online property portal Gate-Away.com notes that Abruzzo’s tiny neighbour Molise “is only now being discovered by foreign buyers and has incredibly tiny prices. We feature properties here starting from €5,000! We have detached houses to be restored from €25,000.” Simone also makes the very good point that it’s possible to find affordable areas even within Italy’s priciest regions. “First among all is Tuscany,” he says. “In Tuscany’s Chianti area you can’t even buy a heap of rotten stones for less than €400,000, but in the Lunigiana and Garfagnana areas of northern Tuscany you can find a detached house in good condition for around €100,000.” Umbria is a similar case in point, with pricy zones ceding to inexpensive ones at various places across the region.
Another central Italian region that has been very firmly in the affections of foreign buyers for the past twenty years is Le Marche. Initially seen as a cheaper alternative to Tuscany (especially for buying and restoring old farmhouses in the countryside), Le Marche is no longer anything like as cheap as it was but still offers good value. Kevin L. Gibney, who runs the property search and restoration company Marche Homes Direct, advises buyers with €200,000 or less to spend that “An apartment is doable, and there are even a few houses out there – although they’re more cottage-like than villa-like. We’ve actually created a ‘Budget Solutions’ category on our website to help buyers with limited budgets, and there are several nice properties there. It’s important to note, though, that a big house or a spectacular view is not likely to be had in Le Marche for under €200,000. And a full restoration of a cheap ruin is not a recommended strategy, even for the avid DIY-er. The laws and regulations governing structural works and anti-seismic compliance put all but the smallest of restoration projects out of the reach of someone with €200,000 or less.”
As suggested earlier, southern Italy is generally the least expensive part of the country. There are big exceptions like the Amalfi Coast, Taormina on Sicily, Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda and so on, but usually the south is an excellent area for the budget buyer. Puglia for example, the high heel of the Italian boot, is a great region you might consider. It’s a friendly and well-organized place, and one that swiftly became a hit with foreign buyers as soon as cheap flights put it within easy reach in 2004. Nick Carlucci of The Puglia Property Company say that today in Puglia “€200,000 or less will buy you a new, completely finished two- or three-bedroom villa, an old property of many kinds to restore, or a very nice apartment in a popular resort town such as Ostuni or Otranto.”
West of Puglia, sleepy Basilicata is a rural backwater with some of Italy’s lowest prices. Detached houses to restore here start at about €35,000, with ready-restored ones at about €80,000. Or if you want to take your pick from inexpensive seaside homes, you could consider Calabria, with its many miles of coastline. Elspeth Rodwell of Calabrian Apartments says “Most properties by the sea in Calabria are modern-built. Two-bedroom apartments range from €40,000-€90,000 and three-bedroom ones from €90,000-€150,000. A few miles inland, Calabria’s hilltowns are an attractive option with great views. Small two-bedroom houses can range from €25,000-€75,000. Restoration projects might start at €25,000. Houses out in the countryside, either habitable or needing some restoration, start around €75,000.”
So if your budget is small, there’s no reason to assume that a home in Italy must be beyond your reach. Have a good look around and you’ll discover plenty of lower-priced options. And it’s nice to know that, whether your budget is big or small, this country remains a very safe place to put your money.
Glasgow-based academics Professor Donald Christie and his wife Dr. Claire Cassidy bought and renovated a two-bedroom apartment in San Ginesio, a medieval hilltop town in Le Marche.
“We went to Le Marche for two consecutive summer holidays and absolutely fell in love with the area,” Donald explains. “We bought an apartment in Paris a few years ago, so we already knew quite a bit about buying a home abroad. In September 2011 we went out to Le Marche to look at properties, having been in touch with Kevin L. Gibney of Marche Homes Direct. Kevin drove us round, spent a lot of time with us and was super-helpful. He quickly tuned in to what we wanted, and gave us lots of ideas.
“A small house with a bit of land was certainly feasible on our budget. But when we saw our apartment, which is the top floor of an old building and enjoys spectacular views, we knew we’d found our place. Habitable but needing new décor, the apartment clearly had lots of potential. Kevin gave us some great suggestions for how we might re-work it. We totally transformed the interior by re-configuring it. We made one of the bedrooms into a living area, knocked down the wall between that room and the kitchen, demolished a passageway and made a beautiful archway which extended the living room. Now the whole place has a wonderful sense of space and light. We lifted the floor and tiled it in traditional style, put in a new fireplace, a fantastic new bathroom and kitchen – all for a fairly modest amount of money. Kevin coordinated everything for us with his network of builders. We’re absolutely delighted with the finished apartment.
“This summer we furnished it from scratch in a few days. The biggest challenge was getting the furniture to the place! San Ginesio is a medieval village with very narrow streets, and getting a transit van through was pretty tricky. We finally managed it with help from neighbours. The local people are so friendly and helpful.
“What Claire and I love most is how restful and inspiring we find the place. Even from our kitchen table we have the most wonderful views. Le Marche has all the beauty you associate with the typical Italian landscape – soft conical hills with little towns on top, one after another into the distance; vineyards and green valleys. But behind it all there are the spectacular Sibillini Mountains. We fell in love with this area the very first time we visited. Another lovely feature of the property is our little walled garden – surrounded by a trellis covered with well-established vines which provide screening and shade but also lots of fruit. We bring many bunches of our grapes home to Scotland to share with friends and family.”