Europe News

For Sale by Owner: Chateaus, Palazzos, and Barracks

Paul Ames

Europe’s crisis triggers a real estate fire sale, ranging from $1.50 homes to priceless heritage.

European real estate markets have gone on a roller-coaster ride since the global financial crisis began in 2008.

Home prices in Ireland took a vertical plunge and languish at around half the levels they reached during the mid-2000s boom. They've tumbled almost 20 percent in Spain and Greece during the past five years, while Serbia, Austria and Norway have seen prices rise.

Amid the chaos, there are opportunities aplenty for canny buyers on the lookout for bargain basement investments or knockdown vacation homes. Here are some of them.

Castles in Italy

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is speeding up the sale of state properties as part of his struggle to slash the national debt. Venetian palazzos, hilltop castles and historic army barracks are due to come under the hammer.

Plumb locations already put up for offer include a Napoleonic fortress in Liguria and an abandoned mining village on the Mediterranean island of Elba.

The government hopes to pocket $1.9 billion from the sale of a further 350 buildings expected to hit the market from next year. Among the prime spots: the 13th-Century Orsini castle, a former papal residence overlooking the village of Soriano nel Cimino north of Rome. Potential buyers will need deep pockets however: the Palazzo Bolis-Gualdo in Milan is expected to cost $38 million.

The $1.50 dream home?

If you don't have that sort of cash lying around, how about a home for just $1.50?

The city of Stoke-on-Trent aims to sell off run-down row houses for 1 pound each as part of an urban renewal scheme.

City hall will even advance you a $50,000 low-interest loan to renovate your new home, according to The Daily Mail. Sound too good? Among the drawbacks, the houses are in a neighborhood notorious for crime and deprivation and you’d have to live there for at least five years. However, the scheme may never get of the ground. A council official told GlobalPost the plan was very much in the early stages and unlikely to materialize in the form described by "factually incorrect" media reports.

It is true, however, that house prices in Britain have fallen sharply — by almost 8 percent over the past five years. Although London remains expensive, there are real bargains to be found in northern cities such as rejuvenated Manchester. Prices there are around half those in the capital and falling.