Imagine being offered a free home and at the end getting something close to a palace.

An Aussie millennial recently flew to Italy hoping to buy a crumbly house for just €1 ($A1.62) but instead grabbed a well-preserved mansion. For the same price.

It’s not a joke.

Mark Kopun, a 32-year-old health coach and renovator from Adelaide has snatched a historic stone building in the picturesque, idyllic town of Mussomeli in deep Sicily, surrounded by sheep-grazing fields and olive groves, for the cost of an espresso.

“A friend of mine called me a few months ago with this awesome, incredible news he saw online that Mussomeli was giving away so many buildings practically for free, I just couldn’t wait. I contacted the town hall and hopped on the first plane to Sicily, rushing there”, Kopun told

In a desperate attempt to lure newcomers, Mussomeli’s authorities have already sold over 100 empty homes for €1 and another 400 are on the market. They liaise between old owners who want to get rid of dusty family houses and new buyers looking for a cozy place in gorgeous Italy to call home.

“First thought was: too good to be true. But it wasn’t. Since my first visit I’ve been there several times already to admire my new house, I hope to move in as soon as possible”, says Kopun, who has Italian blood running in his veins.

Selling abandoned houses in depopulating Italian towns for €1 has become a fad, drawing enthusiastic buyers from across the world.

Mussomeli has made things easier by setting-up a real estate agency to handle the project and an online platform showcasing available properties.

In February Kopun met with a town councillor and was given an exclusive tour of the €1 dwellings. After seeing a couple of houses he picked a lovely, 3 storey golden-coloured mansion in the historical centre’s labyrinth of narrow cobbled alleys, sunny piazzas and stone portals.

“It’s in a very good shape and I plan to do a great part of the renovation myself, live the pleasure of seeing my house being brought back to life again”, he says.

Mark got lucky.

Several buildings, abandoned decades ago when families migrated elsewhere in search of a brighter future, are in desperate need of repair. But his requires just minimal work, mostly repaint the walls, fix the windows and bathrooms.

The catch is the renovation must be carried-out within 3 years from the purchase and buyers must cough up a €5.000 (approximately $8,000 AUD) security deposit which will be given back once completed.

His building, dating back to the 1700s, is 200 square metres wide and features marble staircases and white majolica flowery floor and wall tiles. It has a double entrance on different streets, tall windows with ancient, thick iron bars and several balconies.

There’s a panoramic terrace overlooking the rooftops and valley, and even a garage which is a luxury especially during summer when the village is jammed with tourist cars.

Renovation works in his case should be no more than €20.000 (approximately $32,000 AUD).

The house comes with many plus points, including a unique location and gourmet food.

Mussomeli is a heavenly retreat. Lavish Baroque palazzos are juxtaposed to Arab-style courtyards and humble farmer dwellings. The town sits on a hill renown for its delicious honey and stunning, eerie fortress. Silence rules in the surrounding plains. Etna volcano can be spotted in the distance. Pristine beaches and the Valley of the Temples are a stone’s throw away.

But there’s a rub: the hassle of Italy’s hellish red tape and long, complex procedures that leave outsiders like Mark baffled and delay the dream-come-true. And which, yes, have a cost: total administration fees are between €2.500 and €4.000 (approximately $4,000 and $6,400 AUD).

“I have not started the renovation yet, the real estate company had problems organising my paperwork so I will finalise next time I go back” this summer, he says.

Mark has so far paid just €400 ($646 AUD) because the property boundary map was missing when he last visited in April, hoping to get over with the bureaucratic knots. The map did not exist when the house was first built and is required for the purchase deed, which must be signed in the presence of a notary and a translator given he’s a foreigner.

But in the meantime the former owners have already handed over the house keys so Mark is free to come and go as he pleases.

“I fell in love with the town at first sight. What struck me about Mussomeli is how open and welcoming residents are. They showed me around, we’ve spent evenings together talking at bars, they introduced me to other people. It’s like a big family, everyone knows each other”, says Kopun.

He keeps his own car parked in a friend’s garage to use whenever he drops by.

“Here you have everything: shops, bars, clubs, it’s a lively place. A small town, but not that small when compared to other Sicilian ones that are really isolated.”

As soon as his new residence is fully refurbished — hopefully by next year — he plans to settle down for good and start working in Mussomeli.

“My dream is to export my healthy lifestyle, teach locals how to eat green and exercise more to keep fit. I’d like to open a holistic shop on the ground floor of my home”.

— Silvia Marchetti is a Rome-based freelance reporter. She covers finance, economics, travel and culture for a wide range of media including Politico and CNN.