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OPINION: Why Italians aren’t snatching up their country’s one-euro homes

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Dozens of depopulated towns and villages across Italy are placing crumbling one-euro homes on the market for less than the cost of an espresso. From the nippy Alps to scorching hot Sicily, almost all regions have come up with this alluring scheme to lure new residents and revive their dying communities.

But while foreigners are rushing to snatch up a bargain home that comes with year-round sunshine – albeit with the burden of renovating it –  Italians don’t seem to have taken the bait. 

I’m not saying that none of the new buyers are Italian, just that when compared to foreigners they’re down to a minimum. When Sambuca di Sicilia in 2019 sold its first lot of cheap houses, those who applied and eventually bought them were nearly all foreigners, and just a few Italians.  

OPINION: Bargain homes and fewer crowds – but Italy’s deep south is not for everyone

There are no official statistics on the nationalities of those who have bought a one-euro property, but I’ve talked to nearly all mayors involved in the initiative and they ended up confirming what seems to be the leading trend: Italians are much, much less interested than foreigners in buying a bargain home.

In the past five years people from all over the world have joined the so-called ‘one-euro buyers club’: from Brazil to Australia, the US, Europe, Russia and even Africa.

But when it comes to Italians, the few that I know of either come from larger but minor cities in Italy or from nearby towns and felt like simply moving to the countryside. And they’re either families or retired couples looking for a peaceful spot, not really young people willing to kickstart a new commercial activity or bring some buzz into town. 

Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP

The main reason why Italians find one-euro homes less sexy than foreigners do is that they look more at the cons than the pros – because they know how things in their country work better than outsiders. 

The potential hassle of having to renovate a dilapidated property within a limited timeframe (usually three years), dealing with excessive red tape and paperwork, and then having to look after another house in Italy aside from their main home can be discouraging.

READ ALSO: These are the Italian towns offering houses for one euro

Italians, as opposed to foreigners, aren’t easily seduced by the romanticism of buying heaps of old stone with a history or by the thrill of the renovation, which actually scares them away. There are exceptions, of course: Italians falling in love with lost, forgotten villages where time stands still either because they were taken there by friends during their university years or because they want to escape the crowds.

The truth is, many foreigners snap up these one-euro homes not just because of the bargain price but because they actually carry out the restyle themselves and are excited about the project. They love to breathe new life into an old shepherd or peasant cottage and watch it transform. 

Most Italians on the other hand tend to be lazy with DIY makeovers and basically fail to grasp the potential and adventure of such an operation.

Talking to realtors, sociologists and real estate analysts I was shocked by their underestimation of the one-euro homes business and the economic revolution it has triggered in many Sicilian villages like Gangi and Sambuca, drawing investments and new people. 

Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP

Some weren’t even aware of the huge success the scheme has had abroad and the global headlines it usually makes when one new town joins the club.

One realtor even replied: “I’m not sure it will have a future, and in any case, it will never kick off among Italians”. The last part of his observation is correct.

A Sicilian friend of mine brushed it away with a laugh. She, like many other Italians I have spoken to, says it would be “hell” to buy and renovate a one euro home. 

Among the reasons she listed not having time to follow the restyle and the nuisance of having to carry heavy water bottles and grocery bags from the car to the house. 

Logistics can be tricky. In small villages, where alleys are wide enough for donkeys and scooters only, the ancient district is accessible only on foot and during summer it’s impossible to find a parking spot (as Italians say: ‘dove la metto? me la metto in tasca’, or ‘I’ll have to put the car in my pocket’).

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Yet for foreigners this is all part of ‘living the rural adventure’. And for many, a nostalgic way to reconnect with the town of their ancestors who migrated abroad decades ago. 

In my view the ultimate reason why Italians aren’t so keen on the one-euro homes is that they’re already based in Il bel paese, aka ‘the beautiful country’ as they call their homeland. They were born and raised here so they can’t even fathom what it means for a foreigner to grab a slice of la dolce vita and be able to stay months in Italy in a very affordable way.

Spending even 50.000 euros in renovating a one-euro home is still way less than what any other type of property in Italy would cost. And it’s more than just a house. It’s a sort of ‘terminal’ or ‘launchpad’ from where you can explore not just the entire country but the rest of Europe. 

Many Americans and Russians who have snapped a one-euro home have also done it to have a ‘door’ to the Old Continent. Italy is a small country when compared to the States, distances are shorter, and you can cross several regions in a one-hour drive. From anywhere in Italy you can drive to go skiing in France, Switzerland, or Austria. From the port of Bari in Puglia you can hop on a ferry boat to visit Greece, Croatia and Slovenia, while stunning Corsica is a stone’s throw from Tuscany. Not to mention all the gorgeous, exotic Sicilian islands to discover.

Italians already have all this beauty at their disposal – in their ‘backyard’ – and such luxury, or luck, inevitably diminishes the appeal of the one-euro dwellings.



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German doctor faces charges after administering thousands of self-made vaccines

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A millionaire German doctor is facing criminal charges after vaccinating an estimated 20,000 people with a self-developed vaccine against Covid-19.

Some 200 people were queueing for a jab at the airport in the northern city of Lübeck on Sunday when police arrived and closed down the improvised vaccination centre.

A police spokesman said doctors had already administered about 50 vaccines: not from BioNTech or Moderna or another recognised producer, but a home brew by Dr Winfried Stöcker.

The controversial doctor, who is also the owner of Lübeck airport, insists his jab is 97 per cent effective against Covid-19.

Dr Stöcker was not present, did not administer vaccinations and faces no charges, according to his lawyer Wolfgang Kubicki, a leading member of Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is part of Berlin’s new coalition government.

Lübeck state prosecutors see things differently. On Monday, they announced an investigation into four doctors, aged between 61 and 81, for involvement in the unauthorised vaccination centre.

Dr Stöcker may also face legal action for running an unlicensed vaccination campaign, which is considered a criminal offence under Germany’s Medicines Act. 

Contacted by the Bild tabloid, Dr Stöcker said he had not submitted his vaccine for approval because the process would “take too long and cost millions”.

“We have a responsibility to the patients, not the state, but the police stopped everything,” said the 74-year-old.

In May 2020 Dr Stöcker claimed to have developed a traditional vaccine – without any external assistance – similar to that used against tetanus, using inactive pathogen cells to activate the body’s immune system.

The doctor says he tested the jab on himself and some 100 volunteers before rolling out the vaccinations around the country. In total, he claims some 20,000 people have received a dose of his vaccine.

“Some 2,000 of them are under observation, no side effects were noted to date,” he said. “There were virus breakthroughs in 10 people.”

‘Lubecavax’

On his website, he says his “Lubecavax”, a three-dose vaccine, has proven highly effective. Some 376 friends and colleagues were vaccinated with the substance during the summer, he wrote, and “97 per cent developed high concentrations of antibodies against coronavirus”.

“In our view the ‘Lübeck vaccine’ is safe, effective and presumably the most suitable vaccine for children,” he adds in a blog post. “Doctors have the right to mix together compounds that they believe will help people.”

In this assertion he is drawing on a 2000 German constitutional court ruling which forbade federal authorities from prohibiting an experimental treatment of two doctors using stem cells.

News of the rogue vaccination has horrified German medical authorities. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for approval of medicines and vaccines in Germany, said on Monday it had offered Dr Stöcker assistance with testing in September and December of last year, but that he had not responded to the institute’s offers.

The hurdles to vaccination licensing “are deliberately high”, the institute added, “to ensure the maximum possible security for participants in clinical trials”.

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Denmark school closes due to suspected Omicron Covid-19 case

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Odense Municipality confirmed the closure in a statement on Monday after informing parents and pupils on Sunday evening.

The Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen for Patientsikkerhed) said on Monday morning that the case is suspected of being linked to the new Omicron variant.

READ ALSO: Denmark does not rule out new travel restrictions after Omicron variant detected

The authority recommends contact tracing up to “third” contacts, or people who have been in contact with suspected close contacts to the confirmed or “first” case.

Pupils and teachers in the same class as the confirmed or “first” case are considered “second” contacts, with close contacts to the class the “third” link.

People who fall into these categories are asked to isolate at home until they have tested negative on the fourth and sixth days since the potential contact.

The school is closed as of Monday while contact tracing is undertaken.



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Trees go to pot to ensure many festive returns

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Christmas trees aren’t just for Christmas, at least for the Cork business with a pot-grown tree initiative that sees householders rent their tree in early December and bring it back to the farm in early January, to be cared for all year around.

Colm Crowley from Glanmire says his 5ft trees, which are rented out for €40 a year, are a very sustainable way to celebrate Christmas.

Customers can rent or buy a living Christmas tree in a pot from Cork Pot Grown Christmas Trees. The rented ones are then taken back to the farm in Rosscarbery, west Cork, after the festive season.

“I started off with small pot-grown trees and I started selling them for €10 or €15 and a lot of customers were coming in asking, ‘have you anything bigger?’ It got me thinking that there was a market for bigger pot-grown Christmas trees.

‘Always alive’

“With the pot-grown trees, they are never dead. They are always alive. They continue to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen as well,” he says.

“They come with a care leaflet. The water would be the big one: making sure they have enough water but not too much because too much would cause root rot,” he says.

“I found that pot-grown trees are very big in America and it has started spreading to Germany and the UK. I knew that Irish people would love it.”

It takes 12-14 years to grow a Christmas tree from seed, with a lot of work involved in pruning, shaping and making the tree perfect.

“It is only used for four weeks. With the pot growns, we get to use the tree over and over. That said, cut Christmas trees are also very environmentally friendly because when a tree is cut in November, another one or two are planted in spring. With the pot growns, between November and spring that cycle continues, so for those few months the Christmas trees continue to take the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen.”

As rental trees will continue to grow throughout the year, Crowley is anticipating customers not recognising their tree when it is returned to them the following Christmas.

‘Exact same tree’

“They send me pictures looking for the exact same tree,” he says.“With the rentals, you are getting the same Christmas tree you liked and picked out. But it will have continued to grow. There is a lovely smell – you are bringing a bit of forest in your house.”

Crowley says the real Christmas tree business has grown hugely since he first started selling, from his mother Margaret’s house in Ballinlough, Cork city, in 1998 before moving to bigger premises.

Last year was particularly buoyant for sales as families sought to create a festive atmosphere during the pandemic.

“Sales right across the country were probably up around 50 per cent. People wanted a bit of happiness. They needed cheering up.”

Customers are encouraged to name their trees, with the two most popular names being “Spruce Springsteen” and “Woody”.

The father of two adds that he couldn’t survive the December whirlwind without the hard work of wife Jacqui and mother-in-law Rose.



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