US couple transform abandoned Italian home into dream home with elevator – CNN | Gmx Pharm

(CNN) — Buyers from around the world have been buying up dilapidated Italian homes at rock-bottom prices in recent years as numerous depopulated towns and villages seek to revitalize their dwindling communities by offering real estate bargains.

While the prospect of significant structural improvements, combined with the red tape often associated with buying a home in a foreign country, may deter some, others jumped at the chance.

Of course, every buyer has a different idea of ​​their new renovation project. Some choose to keep things as simple as possible and focus on making the home livable again while keeping costs down.

And there are also those who choose to go all out.

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 in 2019.

Silvia Marchetti

The couple, from Montgomery County, Maryland, were among those who snatched up a historic apartment building in Sambuca, deep in the heart of Sicily, after local authorities auctioned off 16 abandoned houses for a symbolic price of one euro – around $1.

Ahmadi and Spencer were already interested in buying a property in Italy and had been considering exploring the Sicilian region when they read about the plan on CNN in 2019.

“It was love at first sight,” Spencer tells CNN. “Sambuca is very clean, with beautiful old stone paving reminiscent of those in [Washington, D.C. neighborhood] Georgetown and the streetlights at night are very romantic.”

Delighted to learn that their €10,150 (roughly $10,372) bid for a 100-square-foot palazzo had been accepted, they quickly set about giving the property a dramatic facelift.

Two years later, and well ahead of the three-year deadline imposed by local authorities, their Italian retreat is complete.

Ahmadi and Spencer, who both work on global development projects, spent around $250,000 to convert the run-down property into a lavish home that they say “looks like a Renaissance home.”

They plan to split their time between the US and Italy, spending about half the year together with their daughter and grandchildren in their two-bedroom home.

The renovated home has beautiful marble bathrooms, but its standout feature is undoubtedly an indoor elevator that the couple uses to zip up and down the three levels.

So what made you decide to install an elevator with security camera and telephone in the property?

elevator addition

The couple had an indoor elevator installed in their 100 square meter palazzo.

The couple had an indoor elevator installed in their 100 square meter palazzo.

Massoud Ahmadi

“We want to grow older here, do yoga every day and have coffee on the patio overlooking the misty lake,” Spencer explains.

“So we thought it would be great to be as comfortable as possible by avoiding all those narrow steps and not having to go up and down four windy flights of stairs several times a day.”

While a quarter of a million dollars may seem like a hefty sum for a project of this nature, they believe it’s actually less than what they would have spent on something similar in the US.

However, an indoor elevator is definitely not a typical feature of homes in this tiny town, and its glamorous interior design has caused quite a stir among locals.

The couple say they have received visits from various residents who have come to see the conversion of what was once a derelict home.

“The locals greet us with cakes and come to my house curiously to see what we’ve done with the ruins,” says Spencer, before revealing that they were recently gifted a “nice bottle of wine” at the local bar to have.

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 overlooking the hills and Lake Arancio, located near the ruined Arab fortress of Fortino di Mazzallakkar.

According to Ahmadi and Spencer, the deposit of 5,000 euros that they originally deposited as part of the purchase agreement has already been refunded.

Idyllic lifestyle

They spent $250,000 renovating the home, which features a living area with an open kitchen.

They spent $250,000 renovating the home, which features a living area with an open kitchen.

Massoud Ahmadi

The couple are currently enjoying a rather idyllic summer in Sambuca. In the morning they take the elevator down to the ground floor for a morning cappuccino and pastry at the local bar. They then take a walk before returning indoors for a day of remote work.

“It’s a smarter home than what we have in the US with an alarm system and security cameras,” adds Spencer, explaining that they are able to manage the alarms and devices in their US home from Sambuca .

After buying their new home, they bought a 100 square meter unused part of their neighbor’s house for 5,000 euros, which they have since renovated and connected to their property.

“We love the quiet in Sambuca,” says Ahmadi. “Our street is very quiet and we enjoy the city’s slow-paced philosophy of life, symbolized by a snail sculpture on the main square.”

While some travelers choose to use Sicily as a base to explore more of Italy and the rest of Europe, the couple is focused on exploring the region.

They have already visited the city of Marsala in the province of Trapani and the Trapani Salt Pans and love to take long drives along the narrow country roads to visit local food markets and taste different delicacies including snails

New adventures

“There are highways everywhere in the USA. But there is no rush here,” says Massoud. “By traveling slowly we can enjoy the magnificent views.

“It takes us almost two hours to drive just nine kilometers and drive through the hills, but that’s what makes the adventure so special.”

Although they were able to complete the renovation in a relatively short period of time, which is particularly impressive given the various issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, there were some minor hiccups along the way.

Squeezing her furniture through the narrow doors and windows of her 300-year-old palazzo proved to be one of the biggest challenges (the sofa went up in the elevator) and finding suitable furniture was also time-consuming.

“As Americans, we have access to a lot of stores across the States where we can buy things at all kinds of prices,” says Spencer.

“But it might be a problem to find nice, good quality furniture here in Sicily that you really like. You need to know where the right place is for top quality traditional wood pieces, antiques and second hand shops. Also, some pieces can be found in catalogs but are not available.”

Although the structure of the building has been renovated, they chose to keep the original windows along with the gold colored jagged stone walls, majolica tiled floors and vaulted ceilings to preserve some of the house’s historical elements.

Massoud and Spencer also chose to keep some items left behind by previous owners that they discovered on their first visit, including a 1967 calendar still hanging on the walls.

Her home is one of several in the Saracen neighborhood that were abandoned after a catastrophic 1968 earthquake struck Sicily’s Belice Valley and devastated the area.

The town hall was inundated with interest from hundreds of foreign buyers after bidding 16 of the houses in 2019 and auctioned 10 more buildings in 2021, this time for a symbolic €2 each.

While some of the participants in the second auction bought their home unseen due to Covid-19-related restrictions in place at the time, Massoud was able to fly to Italy with his brother in 2019 to tour the property and check out the Sicilian city ahead of their bid.

“I sent my brother-in-law along with my husband on a reconnaissance mission to see what the city looked like,” says Spencer.

“He is an engineer and said the foundations of the village and houses in Sambuca are very solid despite the quake.”

Dramatic Transformation

It took the couple just two years to transform the run-down property into a luxurious home.

It took the couple just two years to transform the run-down property into a luxurious home.

Silvia Marchetti

Massoud is very grateful that both the sale and the renovation went so smoothly and explains that the town hall assisted with the paperwork and legal issues and helped them overcome the language barrier.

While he points out that before buying the house, they had to apply for an Italian tax number or social security number and open a bank account in the country, which meant the process wasn’t entirely “painless,” he’s happy with how things went overall.

“In the US, I have to take care of the subcontractors myself, but in Sambuca it was much easier,” says Massoud, who oversaw all the work with the architect.

“I was fortunate to find a good architect and I contributed to the electrical work by designing the location of the lighting fixtures.”

The couple were impressed with the quality of work by local tradesmen and builders and said they found it far superior to anything they had experienced in the United States.

“Italian artisans are incredible,” says Spencer. “How they transformed this space into something new is amazing. It was a shell, now it looks like a Renaissance house.”

However, the final bill came as a shock to them, because they had not known that 10% VAT would be added to the construction costs.

Before they began renovating their Italian home, Massoud and Spencer were often warned about the risks involved in buying and improving a large home abroad.

But they said they have full confidence in the Sambuca housing program, which aims to support local economic development, and are delighted with the end result.

“I could pinch myself,” says Spencer. “We were really lucky. I could tell you a lot of nightmares but I’m not because it all worked out pretty well. Much better than a small town in the States.”

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