Couple Bought an ‘Uninhabitable’ 18th-Century Italian Townhouse and Transformed It Into a Renaissance Holiday Home
A couple bought an Italian townhouse at an auction with a starting bid of one euro (US$1.10) and has managed to transform it into a stunning $250,000 Renaissance-style palazzo.
The council in Sambuca di Sicilia auctioned 16 abandoned homes in the sun-drenched mountain village of Sicilia with prices starting at a symbolic one euro.
In January 2019, Massoud Ahmadi, 70, and his wife Shelley, 60, who hail from rural Montgomery County, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., bought an abandoned 18th-century townhouse for just $10,500.
“When I first arrived I really liked the village. It’s a beautiful small village. I love the baroque architecture of the buildings and I liked the location,” Massoud said.
However, the abandoned house, according to the couple, had crumbling internal walls that were stained brown and the rooms were packed full of old junk, including a retro pram.
“The house was uninhabitable and I couldn’t really fathom handling the project because it was beyond my pay grade,” Massoud said.
The couple also faced another challenge which included renovating the property within a three-year deadline imposed by the council but pulled it off thanks to the help of local architects and artisans.
“My architect did a fantastic job and when I walked in for the first time I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Massoud said. “It takes a lot of patience but the end result is something I’ll enjoy for years. It’s a Renaissance house.”
Spending $200,000 on the once “uninhabitable” three-story property, they re-designed every part of the two-bedroom, 250-square-meter (820-square-foot) house but decided to retain and maintain the historic elements including its original wooden windows, majolica tiled floor, and vaulted double-barreled ceilings.
The 350-year-old property features three bathrooms, a living room, and an open-plan marble kitchen, plus a roof terrace with mountain views.
“[T]he balance of the house is basically re-done and it gives you a mix of modern and historic,” Massoud said. “You see a glimmer of the past but also have the modern amenities, including an elevator.”
To maximize the economic impact, everything from the kitchen cabinets to the marble floors was sourced locally from businesses in the village.
“For the $200,000 we spent you couldn’t find anything comparable with the vista, the tranquillity of the village, all the amenities and the proximity to the sea,” Massoud said.
The whole process was painless but the only main issue, according to the couple, was the pandemic, which shut down the project for a few months.
Sambuca di Sicilia enjoys average summer temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) and boasts an array of medieval plazas and a ruined ninth-century Arab fortress, the Fortino di Mazzallakkar.
Massoud is now looking to extend the house after buying a neighboring property, which could provide four more bedrooms, a garage, and a garden.
He and his wife have been blown away by the quality of the food and wine on offer in the village’s restaurants, as well as the thriving community spirit.
“My house back in the States has a country feel because I live in an agricultural area. The properties there are humongous but I don’t really see my neighbors,” Massoud said. “But here I can walk down the street to a bakery and to a cafe and get a cappuccino or an espresso.”
He also praised the people and described them as being really “nice.”
“I was very impressed by how hospitable the villagers are,” Massoud said. “They welcomed us with open arms. I made a lot of friends, literally everyone in the village knows us by name.”
“There are a large number of expats here in Sambuca and we get together often and have parties,” he said. “There are dozens of vineyards nearby that are internationally renowned and they’re the perfect setting for wine-tasting experiences, and they serve you great food with the wine.”
Massoud has never had the opportunity to live in a small village so, for him, the experience has been “exhilarating.”
Apart from the warmth of the community and the access to quality food and bars, Massoud said Sicilia is close to Palermo and historic sites such as the Valley of the Temples are only an hour away.
“It’s really easy for travelling around Europe. I drive to Palermo, stick my car in long-term parking, and then I can fly to Rome, Paris, Venice, and London,” Massoud said.
Massoud’s house renovations were completed in January 2022 and he believes the property is now worth at least $250,000.
“I’d definitely recommend doing what we’ve done,” Massoud said. “Be patient, take your time, and work with the locals.
Epoch Times Staff contributed to this report.
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