Excited by the prospect of buying a house in Sardinia for one euro, I tell all my friends about it.
Their reactions are like a cold shower. Some look at me with pity, as though I had just fallen in love with an online scammer who promises eternal love in return for my bank account details. Others are mildly intrigued. All are sceptical.
What do you get for one euro – a ruined pigsty? Who wants to live in a village in Sardinia? It isn’t even on the coast… How much is it really going to cost?
I inform them that Bonnanaro is not a village but a town, well known (locally at least) as the City of Wine. Its heritage dates back to the Bronze Age. A matriarchal civilisation ruled by warrior princesses established the first settlement there, 2,000 years before Boudicca led the Iceni and the very first Essex Girls into battle against the invading Romans in Ancient Britain.
The house is a bit decrepit-looking, that’s true. But the local council regeneration officer, Signor Soro, assures me that it has a solid roof, floors, an electricity supply and running water. And potential…
Still – how much is it really going to cost? That is a fair question. For the answer I call Maurizio Berti. He’s written a book about Italy’s one-euro houses.
He congratulates me on my choice of Sardinia, explaining that houses are also available for one euro each in villages across Sicily and the mainland.
“Sardinian people are not like typical Italians. They are more reserved, closed. It’s not easy to befriend them,” he explains. “But when you buy a house there, they will treat you like a queen. In Sicily, the local people will be very friendly at first. But then later, the trouble comes.” He does not say the word Mafia, but it hovers in the air between us.
Quickly, I change the subject and quiz him about the costs, and the potential income. I foolishly mention that I have in the past achieved an Airbnb Superhost badge, and enjoy offering accommodation to travellers and holidaymakers.
The point of the one-euro house project is not to turn the whole Italian countryside into a gigantic Airbnb, he snaps. It is to bring new life into abandoned villages, to provide employment. To give a new meaning to the village…
Of course Maurizio, sitting in his office on the mainland, cannot possibly estimate how much it would cost for me to renovate my three-storey house in Bonnanaro. Still, some prices must be fixed. What about the legal fees – how much would he estimate for conveyancing?
I imagine I would have to hire lawyers and notaries from Sassari, the nearest large town, and pay them to drive up the motorway through the sun-scorched mountainous landscape. Possibly they might need to make several visits. Do they charge by the hour, as in England?
Well, explains Maurizio, people in the old days lived off the land. The house stayed in the family, handed down. They would sleep on the first floor, all together, and that would be the kitchen and living room too. Downstairs, they kept the animals – donkeys, sheep, maybe a cow. Like the Nativity, he explains. The birth of Jesus Christ.
My days of re-enacting the Nativity ended when I left infants school several decades ago, and I don’t follow his train of thought here….
When a baby was born in the family, he continues, they would simply add a new room to the house for the next generation to have their own space. These additions were not registered as part of the original house… And many people could not read or write. They signed the documents with an X.
Now I begin to understand. The whole property with all its rooms might have more than one owner. They might be difficult to trace, since Maurizio informs me that after the second world war, 24 million people left Italy and only six million returned.
Crestfallen, seeing the dark clouds of bureaucracy massing on my sunny Sardinian horizon, I ask him to guess how much might I have to pay in legal fees? Two thousand, maybe three thousand euros, he replies.
The new price for my one euro house – three thousand and one.