Real estate investors' spending ability may have been restricted thanks to the difficult economic times, but the appeal of real estate in Italy is still undimmed.
Hence rising numbers of foreign purchasers in Italy are opting to renovate properties or even build anew as opposed to going for resale property. The top attraction is glaring - finance. Ditch any notions of unearthing ruins for Euro 1, a PR gimmick initiated a couple of years ago by one Sicilian town.
Yet in parts of Italy such as Basilicata, Molise and Sicily a rustic ruin can be snapped up from a trifling Euro 11,000. Factor in a bill for renovation that can begin from just Euro 800 a sq m and is it possible to convert a mound of rocks and stones into a 90sq m longed-for holiday house for just Euro 90,000 - a mere fraction of the cost otherwise. In addition, beyond the initial purchase price, construction expenses can be split over the length of the building project, which can take as long as the you prefer.
Stef Russo, from Italian real estate search firm The Property Organiser, explains: "The credit crunch has seen greater numbers of buyers going down the restoration path. Restoration costs in places such as Abruzzo are about Euro 900 per sq metre - about half what you would face in Tuscany. And rather than buyers having to come up with finance up front, restoration permits them to spread expenses over months or even years.
"In addition, buyers get the opportunity to put their personality on their homes, which is easier to do through renovation than if they buy a resale and then try to change it." The country's long history means it is replete with buildings up to 400 years old, merely awaiting some TLC to make them into welcoming modern dwellings.
Italy also has a rich supply of farmhouses - always popular with foreign investors - in large part because of the mass migration of swathes of people who, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, deserted Italy's villages for towns and cities or even a new life in the US and Latin America.
By the by, if you are tempted to try something a little more unorthodox, the answer to your prayers may lie in the approximately 6,000 religious buildings available to be converted into apartments and houses.
Once you have chosen a property, the next step is engaging the right professionals to bring your dream into reality. Although some are happy to do the legwork themselves, the most advisable route is to find a reputable geometra/surveyor (your realtor ought to be able to put you in touch with one).
They will be able to source good workmen for you as well as negotiate with local authorities for the necessary building permits. Be aware that many ancient rustic homes are built in stone and therefore sprucing up such homes will need constructors used to dealing in stone. A constant danger with projects such as this is that your outlay can fly beyond control, often by up to 25%.
Common moneypits include pools which can cost up to Euro 20,000); upgrading access roads budget up to Euro 35 a metre); and upgrading landscaping. But your surveyor can thrash out a contract with your builders outlining a maximum budget and a deadline, with penalties applicable if they are not stuck to. Although surveyors design homes to a certain level, their expertise is limited and it is wise to also seek out an architect to take charge of design.
It is vital from the get-go that you are crystal clear what you envisage and that you convey this to the architect. Brand-new ideas after your workmen have begun takes up valuable time, is expensive and demoralising for everyone else concerned. Face up to the likely timescales involved.
The purchasing process can take up to 12 weeks and obtaining building permits another six months depending on the Commune involved. One last thing, unless you intend being on-site almost continually, you should also have an independent project manager to oversee everything and help keep the project on track. Your architect or geometra can also step into this role.
One project manager says: "By popping up on site frequently, more often than not with no advance notice, we keep the purchaser clued in on progress with the help of detailed notes and photographs. So any issues can be sorted out straight away. We maintain everything going to plan and, even more crucially, ensure the buyer receives no unpleasant shocks."