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

If you’re considering a move to rural southern Italy there are pros and cons to be aware of, writes Silvia Marchetti.

The Covid-19 pandemic stands as a growth opportunity for Italy’s poorer southern regions, eager to lure foreigners with fewer crowds, super cheap homes, great food, cozy beaches and pristine natural settings. 

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

Social distancing is particularly guaranteed in offbeat rural villages and towns where old traditions survive alongside an idyllic, pre-industrialization vibe and superb scenery. 

The south still offers a glimpse of genuine, authentic Italy which particularly appeals to tourists looking for under-the-radar destinations and to people willing to relocate in quiet, picturesque spots. 

In the past two years several villages have introduced incentives to attract foreigners longing for year-round sunshine. And it’s not just about offering homes for the cost of an espresso, even if the number of towns selling crumbling buildings for one euro has increased since the pandemic outbreak.

In Sicily the towns of Laurenzana, Troina and Castiglione di Sicilia recently joined the one-euro club, also offering low local taxes for buyers and renovation funds. 

Last year Cinquefrondi, in Calabria, promised one.euro homes in a ‘Covid-free’ safe haven with zero contagion cases.  

Photo: Alberto Bigoni/Unsplash

This year Taranto, one of Puglia’s main coastal cities, replicated the one-euro houses project following the success of the first operation launched in 2019. There are currently 50 empty buildings on sale in the picturesque old district, waiting for new owners. 

And the good news for non-Italian buyers is that you don’t need to take up residency in order to buy a one euro or cheap home. 

Other places have come up with different, perhaps more appealing offers in an attempt to invert the negative depopulation trend which plagues the south. 

Latronico in Basilicata and Biccari in Puglia have placed on the market cheap redone (turnkey) homes for as little as 10.000 euros, in no need of a restyle and often also refurbished. A few available properties are stone villas that come with orchards and olive groves. Rentals in Latronico are also very low, roughly 200 euros per month. 

READ ALSO:

Life tends to be cheaper in villages far from the main cities of Palermo (Sicily), Bari (Puglia) and Reggio Calabria (Calabria). The food is locally grown, pasta is still handmade by grannies and you can spot grazing sheep from balconies. Such bucolic locations offer peacefulness and are ideal for detox, unplugged long stays. 

But there are also the cons of relocating to Italy’s deep south. The ‘Mezzogiorno’, as Italians call the southern end of their peninsula, has been lagging behind the richer north ever since before the birth of the Italian republic, when Italy was a patchwork of fragmented, bickering states.

The fact that in the past two centuries local families and youth have fled in search of a brighter future in the rest of Italy or abroad – and many still do – speaks for itself. Even though since the end of the second world war the economic outlook has improved, some vulnerabilities persist.

Photo: Gianluca Carenza/Unsplash

The average income in the southern regions is half that in the northern ones, and the development gap embraces all sectors, from infrastructure to health services and labor market opportunities. 

Hospitals in the south are generally far away from small towns, and are fewer than in northern areas. There are roughly 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people versus 3.5 beds in the north, compared to a European average of 5 beds 

READ ALSO: The ups and downs of buying a property for retirement in an Italian hilltop town

And in the south it takes you much more time to get from one place to another due to the smaller network of railway and highways, while many country roads are old and in need of upgrading.

What can be fascinating for an outsider – desolate roads with hairpin curves and unique panoramas – is also penalizing for the region.

Mobile coverage and high-speed internet connections are other major negatives in the south when compared to other parts of the country. In Molise, even though it’s one of Italy’s smallest regions, just 9 percent of the entire population has access to high-speed internet.

READ ALSO:

The deeper and more off-the-grid you go, the weaker ICT development is. In many remote rural spots you’re lucky if your phone captures a GPRS signal and you are able to place an international call. 

But the pandemic is triggering a tiny revolution.

Many southern towns have grasped the potentials of remote working – re-branded ‘south working’ – to lure newcomers and teleworkers. Investments in broadband connection have been boosted while there are new digital labs equipped with everything a remote worker could need.

And there are more plus points. Castelbuono in Sicily for example offers remote workers long-stay accommodation discounts and restaurant vouchers alongside co-working spaces in beautiful old medieval lodgings.

Life in the sunny rural south might be great for retired people, maybe a bit less for younger couples or singles unless they’re looking to open an activity or a B&B. It depends on your expectations and dreams.

I have considered buying a cheap property in Sicily or somewhere close to the sea, to stay just a couple of months per year, mainly in spring and summer, surely not year-round. 

But I wouldn’t buy a one euro house – the only reason being I’m just too lazy to deal with the renovation. They are, however, a real bargain.

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MONEY

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

Solar panels are an understandably popular choice in Italy, and if you're thinking of installing them on your own home there's funding available to help lower the cost. Here's what you need to know.

How to get a discount on the cost of solar panels for your Italian property

As utility bills rise, more home and business owners in Italy are looking at installing solar panels as a possible way to reduce costs in the long term.

Solar panels are already hugely popular in Italy, with the nation ranking top worldwide for solar-powered electricity consumption.

READ ALSO: Who can claim a discount on energy bills in Italy?

And no wonder: it’s a solid bet in a country where there is sunshine in abundance. But what about the costs of installation?

The good news is that there’s financial help available from Italy’s national government aimed at encouraging uptake of solar energy, as well as other incentives from regional authorities in many parts of the country.

It’s in the government’s interest to incentivise solar power, as Italy has vowed to transition to greener energy with its National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate (Piano Nazionale Integrato per l’Energia e il Clima 2030 or PNIEC).

So how could this benefit you? Here’s a look at what you can claim at both a national and a regional level.

Regional funding for installing solar panels

As well as the national government subsidies available for covering the cost of solar panel installation, some regions have introduced their own bonuses or discount schemes.

The sunny southern region of Puglia and the wealthy northern region of Lombardy have seen the highest number of residential photovoltaic systems installed, according to market research.

it’s not surprising, then, that these two regions’ governments are offering cash incentives to help cover the cost of installing solar panels.

Depending on the type of system you opt for, you could expect to pay between around €5,000 and €13,000 for installation, design, labour and paperwork.

To contribute to this initial outlay, the local authority in Puglia has created a pot to help homeowners on lower incomes move towards renewable energy.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about installing solar panels on your home in Italy

Newly introduced in 2022, the so-called Reddito energetico (energy income) offers households with an annual income below €20,000 a bonus of up to €8,500 for installing photovoltaic, solar thermal or micro-wind systems in their homes.

The bonus is intended for residents who have citizenship of an EU country or, if you are a citizen of a non-EU country, you can still claim the bonus if you have been resident for at least one year in a municipality in Puglia.

The €20,000 annual income refers to a household’s ISEE – an indicator of household wealth calculated based on earnings and other factors.

A worker fixes solar panels. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

For this particular scheme, if you claim this bonus from the authorities in Puglia, it precludes you from also claiming funds at national level concurrently – such as through the popular superbonus 110 home renovation fund (see below for more on this).

Although there are other government bonuses, such as the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione) that offers a much higher maximum total expenditure of €96,000, it can only be claimed as a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return.

For lower income families in Puglia, this may not be as cost effective as the grant from the regional authorities, which may equate to more money towards the cost and supply of solar panels.

For more information and to apply for Puglia’s renewable energy bonus, see here.

Lombardy is also stumping up funds to continue the solar power momentum experienced in the region.

While the coffers for private properties are currently closed, the region has made funds available for those with small and medium-sized businesses – again, in a move designed to lessen the impact of rising energy costs.

Business owners can claim a 30 percent grant for the installation of solar panels. There are more funds available to cover the cost of consultancy during the process too.

For more details on applying for this energy bonus in Lombardy, see here.

Other regions have also taken the initiative with encouraging more homes and businesses to change to solar-powered energy.

The region of Tuscany is offering an incentive on installing solar panels to residents in the form of tax deductions spread out over several years.

Works permitted include installing winter and summer air conditioning and hot water systems using renewable sources. This covers heat pumps, solar panels or high-efficiency biomass boilers.

For further details and information on how to apply, see here.

Each region may have its own solar panel bonus, either in the form of grants or tax deductions, available to private residents and/or businesses.

Check your regional government’s website to find out what may be currently on offer.

Solar panels are an increasingly popular option for those renovating homes in Italy. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

National subsidies for installing solar panels

If your region isn’t offering any cash incentive to install solar panels on your property, there are government funds available, which cover all 20 regions.

The authorities introduced and extended a package of building bonuses in order to galvanise the construction industry following the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

While there is no single, separate package of incentives for installing solar panels in 2022, you can take advantage of other government bonuses that include the cost of solar panel installation and supply.

As noted, you could use the renovation bonus (bonus ristrutturazione), which amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction spread over 10 years in your tax return – or through the superbonus 110, a scheme that promises homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110% on expenses related to property renovation and making energy efficiency measures.

READ ALSO:

The property must make at least a double jump in energy class or reach the highest efficiency rating when accessing these bonuses.

There’s a substantial amount of funds on offer to install your solar panels.

Using the renovation bonus, there is a maximum total expenditure of €96,000 (per single housing, including condominiums). Remember this amounts to a 50 percent tax deduction, so the maximum saving you would make is €48,000.

The renovation bonus has been extended until 2024 and, where solar panel installation is concerned, you can claim for the costs of labour, design, surveys and inspections, as well as VAT and stamp duty.

You must tell Italy’s energy and technology authority, ENEA, that you’ve done the works within 90 days in order to access the state aid for solar panel installation.

If you choose to use the superbonus route to claim funds for your solar panels, however, you can spread out the tax deduction costs over five years. Alternatively, you can apply for it as a discount on the invoice (sconto in fattura) or through the transfer of credit (cessione del credito).

The limit when using this bonus is €48,000, which can now be accessed for a while longer as the government extended the deadline for single family homes.

See HERE for details on how to claim it.

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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