For $1, or less than a pizza slice, you can buy a house in Italy

By Megan Cerullo

/ MoneyWatch

Earthquake rattles eastern Sicily

A semi-abandoned town in Italy is selling homes for just over $1 in hopes of luring foreigners to renovate the properties and reviving its local economy.

Sambuca, a hilltop town in Sicily with sweeping views of the Mediterranean, is selling dozens of bargain basement-priced homes after other Italian towns and villages have made similar offers. Sambuca — no relation to the liqueur of the same name — has a population of fewer than 6,000 residents and is located about 40 miles south of Palermo.

Gangi, also in Sicily, started selling vacant homes for €1 in 2015, and Ollolai, in Sardinia, followed suit. At the heart of those efforts are attempts to revive their economies and preserve their cultures as young residents flocked to big cities and older inhabitants passed away, leaving a stock of abandoned homes in their wake.

Home-rental company Airbnb is also offering to pay four foreigners to spend three months in Grottole, located in the southern province of Matera, through its Italian Sabbatical program. Participants will "help the local community revitalize" the village.

"The small village of Grottole, with only 300 inhabitants and more than 600 empty homes, is at risk of disappearing and is asking for your help!" the program's description reads.

An aging population

Italy's birth rate has been trending downward for years. "The Italians a few years ago set records for having the lowest birth rate recorded in history, at 1.1 children," said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute.

He said he's witnessed a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging procreation, none of which have been effective.

"There are villages and towns where they are offering bonuses for every child born there because the birth rate is so low," he said. "But there seems to be no combination — around the world — of economic incentives, at least in developed countries, to bring the birth rate up to be replacement, which would be 2.1 children," he said. "I don't know if there is anything Italy can do."

Younger residents of Sambuca have moved to urban environments, while its elderly inhabitants generally are not equipped to maintain a modern economy.

"Older populations don't innovate and invest for the future, they just draw down resources they have already accumulated," Mosher said. "Some countries have years of inventory of homes that may never be occupied again because there simply aren't people to occupy them. It's a drag on the economy."

Thousands of emails

But global interest in the newly listed Sambucan homes suggests the tactic is already working.

"It's amazing I have had thousands of people expressing interest all the way from Dubai, Barcelona, and I have had tons of requests from New York," Giuseppe Cacioppo, Sambuca's deputy mayor and tourist councilor, told CBS MoneyWatch. He said he hasn't come up for air since the international community got word of the deal after CNN initially wrote about the plan.

"I didn't sleep last night because I was getting so many phone calls," he said. "I received 39,000 emails in response to the offer, including people who want to buy whole blocks of houses."

Strings attached

The homes — which cost less than a slice of pizza — are enticing, but do come with strings attached.

Buyers must make a €5,000 (or $5,682) security deposit and commit to spending upwards of €15,000 (about $17,000) to revamp them within three years. The security deposit will be returned once the renovations are complete, CNN reported.

Potential homebuyers should also come armed with a plan to keep themselves busy.

"These places are small and very skewed toward older generations. Life is very quiet and simple and basic. There wouldn't be much to do beyond renovating your property and gardening," said Kathleen Peddicord, publisher and founder of Live and Invest Overseas.

And fluency in Italian is a must, according to travel and retirement experts.

"You definitely need to be comfortable in Italian if you are going to undertake any kind of labor project," said Kat Kalashian, editor of Live and Invest Overseas. "You will need to speak Italian to get referrals and find labor, and you will need to speak Italian to work with them."

Property taxes

Buyers can avoid paying property tax on the homes if Sambuca becomes their principal residence. Otherwise, a tax rate of up to 0.76 percent applies. A secondary tax, that varies across municipalities, also applies, in the range of zero to 3.3 percent. "You could have zero point zero taxes depending on the municipality," Kalashian said.

Max Dilendorf, a New York-based attorney who last year responded to a similar initiative, ultimately decided the offer didn't make sense after weighing the cost of a gut renovation against renting.

"At the end of the day, if you are only going to end up being there once or twice a year, I think you are better off just getting an Airbnb," he said. "But if someone is willing to relocate and live there, maybe it does make sense."

Peddicord agrees that while it's a unique opportunity, it's not for everyone.

"It would mostly be a labor of love and a life adventure. These properties really make sense for someone who is in love with the romantic idea of it," she said.

First published on January 18, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Family of teen killed by cop doesn't believe police explanation

Police say 14-year-old burglary suspect was carrying replica handgun when he was shot to death by officer

updated 37M ago

Iranian TV anchor detained in U.S. as material witness

The U.S.-born Iran state TV anchor was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans but has worked for Iranian state TV for 25 years

updated 45M ago

AeroMexico ad offers "DNA discounts"

The ad finishes with the tagline, "There are no borders within us" – an apparent dig at President Trump's pursuit of a border wall between U.S. and Mexico

1H ago

Elizabeth Warren wants you to know her (clean) dog is going to New Hampshire

Warren is one of many presidential candidates attempting to carve a niche online

1H ago

Schwarzenegger's son recreates famous photo

If Joseph Baena keeps it up, he could be a "Mr. Universe" – just like his dad

1H ago

Iranian TV anchor detained in U.S. as material witness

The U.S.-born Iran state TV anchor was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans but has worked for Iranian state TV for 25 years

updated 45M ago

Elizabeth Warren wants you to know her (clean) dog is going to New Hampshire

Warren is one of many presidential candidates attempting to carve a niche online

1H ago

White House says next North Korea summit to take place next month

The announcement came after President Trump and top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol met in the Oval Office Friday

updated 29M ago

PayPal offers cash advances to government workers

Company commits $25 million to program to help federal employees stuck without paychecks in fourth week of D.C. impasse

2H ago

Stocks' message to Washington: Stay shut

Four weeks into the longest shutdown in U.S. history, stocks are up more than 10 percent

updated 18M ago

Iranian TV anchor detained in U.S. as material witness

The U.S.-born Iran state TV anchor was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans but has worked for Iranian state TV for 25 years

updated 45M ago

White House says next North Korea summit to take place next month

The announcement came after President Trump and top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol met in the Oval Office Friday

updated 29M ago

Graham in Turkey after criticizing Trump's Syria withdrawal plans

Senior GOP senator has said Trump's move to pull out will embolden ISIS, as ex-U.S. envoy warns it's already happening

5H ago

Heavy machinery used in bid to reach toddler down 360-foot hole

Spanish boy Julen Rosello fell into the narrow waterhole five days ago and hasn't been heard, but there's still hope he's alive

6H ago

17-year-old from Jersey makes history at Australian Open

"I want to win this tournament," Amanda Anisimova said. "Right now."

5H ago

Schwarzenegger's son recreates famous photo

If Joseph Baena keeps it up, he could be a "Mr. Universe" – just like his dad

1H ago

Sony Music reportedly drops R. Kelly

Industry reports say Sony has parted ways with embattled singer R. Kelly, who faces allegations of sexual misconduct

2H ago

17-year-old from Jersey makes history at Australian Open

"I want to win this tournament," Amanda Anisimova said. "Right now."

5H ago

How to watch "Star Trek: Discovery" season 2

New season of "Star Trek: Discovery" premieres Thursday on CBS All Access

17H ago

Netflix beats expectations for subscribers, undershoots revenue

The streaming service, which added 8.8 million new users in the last quarter, recently hiked its monthly fees

20H ago

Saturn spent billions of years without its rings, NASA says

Saturn's rings may have formed during the age of dinosaurs – but compared to the planet, that's not that old

4H ago

Tens of thousands of embryos are stuck in limbo in fertility clinics

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees while some couples are struggling with tough decisions

Jan 17

Unpaid NASA workers protect missions during shutdown

NASA managers and engineers continue to oversee critical missions amid shutdown chaos

7H ago

Facebook shuts hundreds of pages linked to Russia's Sputnik

Facebook said it discovered two large disinformation operations as part of its fight against fake news

Jan 17

"Super blood wolf moon" will light up the sky Sunday

An unusual lunar eclipse will unfold Sunday night — and it will be hard to miss if you stay up

15H ago

Possible link seen between opioids and birth defect

The horrific defect involves the baby being born with its intestines hanging outside the stomach

1H ago

Vaping has created teen nicotine addicts with few treatment options

The options for treating nicotine addiction in children is limited at a time when teen vaping is exploding in popularity.

7H ago

Perdue recalls chicken nuggets for possible wood contamination

Company reports customer complaints that wood was found in its gluten-free Organics Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets

5H ago

Anti-vax movement among top 10 global health threats for 2019

Climate change also makes the World Health Organization's list of biggest health concerns

21H ago

The world needs a diet overhaul, expert panel says

New report concludes we need a major diet change to do what's best for our health and the planet

Jan 17

For $1, or less than a pizza slice, you can buy a house in Italy

A semi-abandoned town in Italy is selling homes for about $1 each — but there are some catches

updated 5M ago

AeroMexico ad offers "DNA discounts"

The ad finishes with the tagline, "There are no borders within us" – an apparent dig at President Trump's pursuit of a border wall between U.S. and Mexico

1H ago

Sony Music reportedly drops R. Kelly

Industry reports say Sony has parted ways with embattled singer R. Kelly, who faces allegations of sexual misconduct

2H ago

PayPal offers cash advances to government workers

Company commits $25 million to program to help federal employees stuck without paychecks in fourth week of D.C. impasse

2H ago

Stocks' message to Washington: Stay shut

Four weeks into the longest shutdown in U.S. history, stocks are up more than 10 percent

updated 18M ago

Family of teen killed by cop doesn't believe police explanation

Police say 14-year-old burglary suspect was carrying replica handgun when he was shot to death by officer

updated 37M ago

Facility where comatose woman had baby faces new abuse allegations

The facility is facing scrutiny after another patient in a vegetative state unexpectedly gave birth

4H ago

Disabled woman, 23, raped, impregnated in health care facility: Suit

Lawsuit alleges she was living in facility in Pensacola, Florida when it happened, but authorities say they can't find DNA evidence of a rape

9H ago

Man sentenced in fatal stabbing of Morgan Freeman relative

Prosecutors say Lamar Davenport, 33, stabbed his girlfriend E'Dena Hines multiple times while under the influence of alcohol and drugs in August 2015

16H ago

El Chapo mistress describes "naked" drug lord's escape

"He took off running. He left us behind," Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez said Thursday in Joaquin Guzman's drug trafficking trial

17H ago