NewsWorldAn American couple transformed an abandoned Italian house into...

An American couple transformed an abandoned Italian house into a dream home with an elevator


(CNN) — In recent years, buyers around the world have snapped up dilapidated Italian homes at rock-bottom prices, as many depopulated cities and towns try to revive their declining communities by offering real estate bargains.
While the prospect of major structural improvements, coupled with the red tape that often comes with buying a home in a foreign country, may put some off, others have jumped at the chance. Of course, each buyer will have a different view of their new renovation project. Some choose to keep things as simple as possible, focusing on making the house livable again while keeping costs down. And there are also those who decide to throw the house out the window. Massoud Ahmadi and Shelley Spencer, the first to complete the renovation of an abandoned house in the Italian town of Sambuca di Sicilia, fall into the latter category. Italian hideout Massoud Ahmadi and Shelley Spencer bought an abandoned house in the Italian town of Sambuca di Sicilia back in 2019. Credit: Silvia Marchetti The couple, from Montgomery County, in the US state of Maryland, was one of those who took advantage and bought a historic house in Sambuca, located deep in Sicily, after local authorities put up for auction 16 abandoned houses with prices starting from a symbolic euro, approximately one dollar. Ahmadi and Spencer were already interested in buying property in Italy, and had been considering looking in the Sicilian region when they read about the plan on CNN back in 2019. “It was love at first sight,” Spencer tells CNN. “Sambuca is very clean, with nice old stone pavements reminiscent of those in [el barrio de Washington, D.C.] Georgetown and the street lights at night are very romantic.” They were delighted when they learned that their offer of 10,150 euros (about $10,372) for a 100-square-meter palace had been accepted, and they quickly got to work to give the property a dramatic makeover. Two years later, and well before the three-year deadline set by local authorities, their Italian retreat is complete. Ahmadi and Spencer, who work on global development projects, spent about $250,000 on transforming the dilapidated property into a lavish home, which they say looks like “a Renaissance house.”The couple plan to split their time between the US and Italy, spending about half the year in their two-bedroom home along with their daughter and grandchildren.The renovated home boasts beautiful marble bathrooms, but its most standout feature is undoubtedly an interior elevator that the couple uses to go up and down its three levels.What made them decide? going to install an elevator, with security camera and telephone, in the property? The elevator addition The couple had an interior elevator installed in their 100-square-meter palace. Credit: Massoud Ahmadi “We want to grow old here, do yoga every day and have coffee on the terrace overlooking the misty lake,” explains Spencer. “So we thought it would be great to be as comfortable as possible by skipping all those narrow steps, and not having to go up and down four stairs several times a day.” Although a quarter of a million dollars may seem like a considerable sum for such a project, they believe it is actually less than the amount they would have spent on something similar in the United States. However, an interior elevator is not a typical feature of homes in this small town, and its glamorous interior design has caused quite a stir among the locals. The couple say they have received visits from several residents eager to see up close the transformation of this previously dilapidated house. “The locals greet us with cakes and come to my house curious to see what we’ve done with the ruin,” says Spencer, before revealing that they were recently given a “nice bottle of wine” at the local bar. In addition to the elevator, the house has a relaxation area, a guest suite, a master bedroom and a living area with a modern open kitchen. There are also several balconies, as well as a panoramic terrace with views of the hills and Lake Arancio, located near the ruined Moorish fort Fortino di Mazzallakkar. Ahmadi and Spencer say the 5,000-euro (about $5,100) deposit they initially gave as part of the purchase agreement, which stipulated that the renovation work be completed in three years, has already been returned. Idyllic lifestyle $250,000 was spent renovating the house, which features a living area with an open kitchen. Credit: Massoud Ahmadi The couple are currently enjoying a pretty idyllic summer in Sambuca. In the mornings, they take the elevator down to the ground floor for a morning cappuccino and cupcake at the local bar. They then go out for a walk, before heading back home for a day of remote work. “It’s a smarter house than we have in the US, with an alarm system and surveillance cameras,” adds Spencer, explaining that they can manage their US-owned devices and alarms from Sambuca. After buying their new house, they bought an unused 100 square meter section of their neighbor’s house for €5,000, which they have already renovated and connected to their property. “We love the tranquility of Sambuca,” says Ahmadi. “Our street is very quiet and we enjoy the city’s slow lifestyle philosophy, symbolized by a snail sculpture in the main square.” While some travelers choose to use Sicily as a base to explore more of Italy, as well as the rest of Europe, the couple focuses on exploring the region. They have already visited the city of Marsala, in the province of Trapani, and the salt pans of Trapani, and love to take long drives along the narrow country roads to visit the local food markets and try different delicacies, including snails. New Adventures “In America, highways are everywhere. But there’s no rush here,” says Massoud. “Traveling slowly allows us to revel in the magnificent views. “To drive only nine kilometers, and go through the hills, it took almost two hours, but that’s what makes the adventure so special.” Although they were able to complete the renovation in a In a relatively short space of time, which is particularly impressive considering the various problems brought about by the covid-19 pandemic, there were a few minor hiccups along the way.Moving furniture through the narrow doors and windows of his 300-year-old palace turned out to be one of the biggest challenges (the sofa went up in the elevator) and finding suitable furniture also took a long time.”As Americans we have access to many stores in the United States, where we can buy things at all kinds of prices,” says Spencer “But finding good quality fine furniture here in Sicily that you really like can be a problem. You have to know where the right place is to find traditional pieces of quality wood, antiques and second-hand stores. In addition, some pieces are in catalogs but are not available.” Although the structure of the building has been renovated, they decided to keep the original windows, along with the gold-colored torn stone walls, majolica ceramic floors and vaulted ceilings, to retain some of the historic items in the house. Massoud and Spencer also chose to retain a few items left behind by the previous owners, which they discovered during their first visit, including a 1967 calendar still hanging on the walls. Their house is one of the the several in the Sarraceno neighborhood that were abandoned after the catastrophic earthquake that shook the Belize Valley in 1968 and devastated the area.The city council was overwhelmed by the interest of hundreds of foreign buyers after offering 16 of the homes in 2019, and spent to auction 10 more buildings in 2021, this time for a symbolic price of 2 euros each, while some of those who participated e n the second auction they ended up buying their house without seeing it due to covid-19 related restrictions at the time, Massoud was able to fly to Italy with his brother in 2019 to view the property and check out the Sicilian city before his offer. “Accompanied by my husband, I sent my brother-in-law ahead on a scouting mission to see what the city was like,” says Spencer. “He is an engineer and he said that the foundations of the town and the houses of Sambuca are very solid, despite the earthquake.” Shocking transformation It took the couple just two years to transform the dilapidated property into a luxurious home. (Credit: Silvia Marchetti) Massoud is very grateful that both the sale and the renovation went so well, explaining that the council helped them with the paperwork and legal issues, helping them to overcome the language barrier. Although he notes that they had to apply for an Italian tax code, or social security number, and open a bank account in the country before buying the house, which meant the process was not entirely “pain-free,” he is pleased. with how things turned out in general. “In the US, I have to deal with the subcontractors myself, but in Sambuca it was much easier,” says Massoud, who supervised all the work, along with the architect. “I was lucky to find a good architect and I contributed to the electrical work, designing the location of the luminaires.” The couple was impressed by the quality of the work of the local craftsmen and builders, which they considered far superior to anything they had encountered in the United States. “Italian artisans are amazing,” says Spencer. “It’s amazing how they have transformed this space into something new. It was a shell, now it looks like a Renaissance house.” However, the final bill was somewhat of a shock to them, as they had not realized that 10% VAT would be added to the construction costs. Before embarking on the renovation of their home in Italy, Massoud and Spencer were often warned of the risks that come with buying and improving a large home abroad. But they say they fully trusted the Sambuca housing scheme, which aims to support local economic development, and are delighted with the end result. “I could pinch myself,” Spencer says. “We’ve been really lucky. I could be recounting a bunch of nightmares, but I’m not, because it all worked out pretty well. Much better than it would have been in a small town in America.”


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