Want a Free Home in Sicily?

Gangi_Etna_Sicily_Italy_houses_30713131Gangi_Etna_Sicily_Italy_houses_30713131
Juergen Schonnop/Dreamstime

Gangi, Sicily (pictured here, with Mount Etna in the backgroun), has too many empty houses on its hands. So it's giving them away to people who'll commit to fixing them up.

In the market for a new vacation home? How about an Italian vacation home? Well, the town of Gangi, Sicily, is offering a price that's right: Free. Does free work for you?

There are, of course, a few quid pro quos and provisos. Namely, you've got to have the funds and/or the home-improvement skills to turn an empty, likely rundown Sicilian house into a thriving home, vacation rental, or hotel. You have four years to do so.

Why all the empty houses? The New York Times quotes Gangi's mayor, Giuseppe Ferrarello, as noting that the town, located between Palermo and Catania, has traditionally been regarded as "too far from the sea" to be a magnet for tourists. Generations ago, thousands left Gangi for the promise of a better life in the United States or Aregentina, and these days young people pack up and leave for opportunities on the mainland more often than they stay.

To date, more than 100 homes have been given away or sold at a steep discount. The town government coordinates the sale and has made significant strides in cutting through Italy's dizzying gauntlet of red tape where buying, selling, and improving real estate properties is concerned. (Still, we'd like to echo the Times's suggestion that prospective owners seek English-speaking legal counsel before signing on the dotted line.)

Some Gangi houses have been successfully converted into vacation homes, rentals, and hotel units. The town is looking for future owners who have the money and know-how to elevate the dilapidated properties into vibrant entities that will contribute to the local economy. Successful "buyers" have included Sicilians, mainland Italians, other Europeans, and businesspeople from the United Arab Emirates.

There are about 200 towns left, the waiting list is growing, and competition will tighten as supply dwindles.

If you take the plunge, we'd love to hear about your experience acquiring and upgrading your very own home in Sicily. Talk to us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or email at info@BudgetTravel.com.

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