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Buyers from around the world are snapping up charming old homes in isolated Italian villages. They are all motivated by different goals, but they have one thing in common: they are all looking for a retreat, a place to escape and experience the rural idyll.

Chicago-based saxophonist Joshua Shapiro, 48, embarked on a search for the sweet life as the first step towards a life change. His long-term goal is to distance himself from the United States, a country that, in his opinion, is taking a broad political turn that worries him.

In 2022, he bought a small abandoned apartment in the village of Latronico, deep in the southern Basilicata region, for 22,000 euros (approximately $23,600), after reading CNN Travel’s article about the clever housing program launched to attract immigrants and stop depopulation.

For now, he’s in and out as he finishes remodeling his house. In the future, she sees herself taking the big step of moving permanently.

“I am ready for the next chapter of my life. Being an independent saxophonist, who plays mainly jazz and commercial, is not without its challenges, and as the taste and demand for what I do is noticeably declining (in the US), I could be in much greater demand in Europe.” Shapiro tells CNN Travel.

For him, buying a dilapidated property in an unusual location in Italy is also political.

“I don’t like the political situation in the United States: the turn to the right. A large part of the electorate believes in another version of democracy, and how this could all work is a big problem,” she says.

Shapiro played saxophone on his first trip to Latronico.  -MC Newman

Shapiro played saxophone on his first trip to Latronico. -MC Newman

Shapiro visited Latronico on a trip to Italy after the pandemic — his third time traveling to the country and his first in 20 years. He took his saxophone, which he played in a house he rented while they worked on the house he had just bought. Villagers have fond memories of listening to jazz tunes in the winding alleys at night.

What drew him to Italy was a “tenuous link” that he wanted to revive: his grandfather had been stationed in Florence during World War II.

However, Latronico is not Florence: it is a five-hour drive from Rome and three from the nearest international airport, Bari. Shapiro admits that the remote location “weighed heavily” as he traveled to this pristine corner of Basilicata. He never expected it to be in such a remote place, with no direct train connection.

“My goal was to look around, see what was affordable and what was on offer in terms of properties. With the help of Deputy Mayor Vincenzo Castellano, who manages the housing program, I chose the easiest option for me,” he states.

Twists and turns

His apartment is on the second floor with a separate entrance.  - Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

His apartment is on the second floor with a separate entrance. – Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

Their second-floor apartment, which has its own exterior staircase and separate entrance, is 800 square feet, two bedrooms, and a panoramic balcony. It needed a thorough renovation, on which Shapiro has so far spent about 10,000 euros (about $10,730).

Despite the excitement of buying a cheap house, the adventure he embarked on had a series of unexpected turns.

He had to put in new windows, re-tile and repair cracks in the walls. It also had to be furnished: Shapiro says there were initially “problems” determining what furniture would be included in the sale of the house.

Shapiro remembers the “initial culture shocks over the strange furniture” he found inside.

I was hoping the house would come with the furniture that was in the listing photos, so I would have one less thing to worry about at the beginning. But he says “there was a lack of communication or misunderstanding on this issue” with the owners.

In the United States, he says, the purchase contract would have stipulated what furniture would be included in the apartment, but in Latronico it was never entirely clear.

It was never clear what furniture would fit.  - Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

It was never clear what furniture would fit. – Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

As it was, they left him some furniture, but it was “worn out or not really usable,” so he eventually had to get rid of most of it.

“I didn’t expect some things I found, like the bed being so old and decrepit. This became a contentious issue at the time, but we have resolved this situation very amicably while learning valuable lessons along the way,” she says.

Many empty homes that appear on the local website where owners meet buyers are sold or rented with furniture, but what ends up left inside is usually negotiated between the parties.

Having seen it briefly before purchasing it, Shapiro hoped the house would be in better condition.

“It needed a new roof, that was a big surprise. The kitchen was completely exposed to the sky, I had to put a downspout and inside the house there was some junk that had to be thrown away.”

Latronico is located in a remote and unspoilt area of ​​Italy.  - Gianniblues/Alamy Stock Photo

Latronico is located in a remote and unspoilt area of ​​Italy. – Gianniblues/Alamy Stock Photo

Shapiro also repainted and patched some walls, and there was more work to be done to make it fully habitable.

“There were a number of surprises and things I wasn’t expecting, like having to redo the bathroom, add a new water heater and fix a moisture problem inside a room.

“I was a little surprised at the work that needed to be done, mainly due to the assumptions I made about the condition simply due to the fact that it was being lived in prior to my purchase. I later discovered that the former occupants tolerated quite a few of the place’s deficiencies.”

A difficult habit

Shapiro was questioned by the deputy mayor.  - Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

Shapiro was questioned by the deputy mayor. – Courtesy of Joshua Shapiro

There was also a strange encounter when he first went to take a look inside the house he had just bought.

Accompanied by Castellano, the deputy mayor, Shapiro says he was surprised to discover there were tenants inside: a group of elderly nuns.

“There were these three nuns who had lived there for some time; They were tenants of the former owners. When I arrived, they wouldn’t let me in, surprised by the idea that an American could walk through his house.”

Luckily everything was resolved. The nuns, who Castellano assured would not end up homeless, eventually left. The city council provided them with alternative housing.

Despite these initial obstacles, Shapiro says he immediately fell in love with Latronico’s relaxed, slower-paced lifestyle, the opposite of what he was accustomed to in the United States.

“The town is small and located in a remote mountainous area. I live in a big city of millions of people. Latronico is a place where I can imagine myself being very creative, playing and writing music,” she says.

He says everyone has “done their best to be kind” and welcoming, save for “a few sidelong glances at the stranger in our midst,” although he believes that is mainly due to the language barrier. It hasn’t been easy for him not knowing Italian, he says.

Shapiro, like all other foreign buyers in Latronico, is exempt from paying property and waste disposal taxes for five years, a measure recently introduced by the city council to attract new buyers from abroad.

And despite the unexpected construction costs he has incurred, he is ecstatic to have had the opportunity to purchase a home for what he considers a bargain price. In Chicago, he says, a condo costs $200,000, plus property taxes.

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By Sam