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Outside the Raven in Mount Pleasant last week, I had a sudden urge to smoke a cigarette and I offered a smoker on the sidewalk a dollar for a smoke. He looked into his pack, counted his remaining cigarettes, and said no. Consider that for that same dollar, which apparently can’t even buy a single cigarette here in America, I could buy an entire authentic Italian house in the picturesque town of Ollolai, on the island of Sardinia. I blame the Federal Reserve. (I have no idea what the Federal Reserve is or does.)

But no, seriously, you could own a really nice Italian house in a really nice Italian island village for one dollar. But you have to act fast.

The population of the town of Ollolai, which sits on the wooded slopes of Mt. San Basilio Magno in Sardinia, has dwindled to only 1,300. With the local birth rate slowed to a trickle (so much for the mythical Italian lustiness), and the town facing imminent disappearance, the local government decided to just pay people to move there. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), it’s worked so far. They’ve received so many applications through the website, that they decided to stop taking applications on February 7th. If you want a free house, homemade pasta for every meal, and to reenact all the sunbathing scenes in “Call Me By Your Name,” you better get your paperwork together.

There are a few conditions, though. (There always are.) The 200 stone houses Ollolai are offering for sale are dilapidated and in need of serious repair; officials estimate it’ll take between twenty and thirty thousand euros to make each house habitable. Purchasers will be required to renovate the houses within three years, and won’t be allowed to sell them for five years. There’s also an income requirement, but it’s pretty low; I meet it, so you shouldn’t have anything to worry about unless you’re reading this from under a literal bridge.

But even if you don’t make the February 7th deadline for Ollolai houses, there are other Italian towns that’ll give you free houses – some of them will even pay you to move there. (Seriously, what is happening in Italy?) The town of Candela, in Puglia, will pay you up to two thousand euros to relocate there. What’s to stop someone from showing up with a suitcase, collecting their check at City Hall, and then skipping town in the middle of the night? (Asking for a friend.) As recently as the late Nineties, Candela had over 8,000 residents, but today numbers barely 2,700. As in Ollolai, there are conditions: you have to earn more than 7500 euros a year, you have to agree to become a permanent resident of the town, and you have to rent a local house. If you can meet those requirements, you’re golden. Candela’s near the spur of the Italian boot, and only an hour from the coast; the mayor of Candela says “life quality here rocks,” which is funny because isn’t this the same guy who’s literally paying people thousands of dollars to move to his empty town?

Another rural Italian town, called Bormida (population 394), made a similar offer – two grand to go live there – and have gotten eleven families to relocate so far. Bormida’s deal is actually the best one of all; on top of the cash payment, you also get super cheap rent of only fifty euros a month. According to news articles, there are four restaurants, one shop, and a library in the small village. The manager of one of the four restaurants told The Guardian that, “there’s nothing much to do here, but we have … forests, goats, and the church.” Oh, you have goats and a church? Let’s get this party started then.


Though it seems desperate, this strategy has actually succeeded in repopulating and revitalizing small villages all over Italy. Waiting lists for each town are a mile long and, more importantly, each new call for residents gets more press than its predecessor. A town in Lazio of only 12 permanent residents was so successful in rebranding itself that it now gets 800,000 visitors a year, and towns all over the country have attracted tourists, and some new residents, by using the “scattered hotel” model, by which abandoned homes are refurbished and rented out as vacation lodging.  Of course, the plan that’s worked best is the one where they just give you money to come and live there.  My new retirement plan is to play a few of these mayors against each other, and get a bidding war going.  I’ll have a villa and a check for a half-million euros in no time.

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