I bought a house for one euro and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. When I sit on the balcony in Sicily, I feel like I’ve won the lottery of life. Here’s how you can do it too…

‘Where in the world can I buy a house for under £5,000?’ Not expecting a great deal, that was the question I idly typed into the Google search engine a couple of years ago.

To my surprise, the answer was quite a few places. But amid the myriad adverts suggesting cheap apartments everywhere from Bulgaria and Albania to — surprisingly — parts of the US, I stumbled on one particular link that caught my eye.

It was called the 1 Euro Houses project and, as the name suggests, it offered the chance for house-hunters to get the keys to their own property in rural Italy for less than a pound.

Yes, the property would take hard work and require extensive renovation as well as legal fees and expenses. Yet in return I could own my own Dolce Vita home.

Too good to be true? That’s certainly what a lot of my friends thought. More than one suggested it must be some kind of scam.

Viewers of BBC1 show Amanda And Alan’s Italian Job, of course, will know that it most certainly isn’t. The show focuses on Amanda Holden and Alan Carr’s successful efforts to turn €1 houses into harmonious homes.

The €1 residence in question – an old, three-bedroom cottage sitting in the hilltop Sicilian village of Mussomeli

George Laing, 31, pictured, said he was inspired by the BBC1 show Amanda And Alan's Italian Job, where Amanda Holden and Alan Carr successfully turned ¿1 houses into lovely homes

George Laing, 31, pictured, said he was inspired by the BBC1 show Amanda And Alan’s Italian Job, where Amanda Holden and Alan Carr successfully turned €1 houses into lovely homes

But I can also personally put to bed any suggestion that the scheme isn’t above board: I’m writing this today from the quaint balcony of my own €1 home, a three-bedroom cottage in the hilltop Sicilian village of Mussomeli.

To my left is a vista of mountains, to my right a beautiful church. Five minutes’ walk away, meanwhile, is the thriving village centre, where I can buy an excellent cappuccino for €1.50 (admittedly more than my house cost), and an even more delicious pizza for a fiver.

I don’t speak a word of Italian (yet), and my hands are callused. But I can honestly say that at 31, I am happier than I have ever been.

So what led this former public school boy to put down roots in Sicily, an island I had visited only once before on a school trip? The answer is simple: I wanted to own a property without a mortgage, learn new skills by renovating it, and enjoy the sunshine and lifestyle on a beautiful island.

Moreover, my paternal grandfather was the maverick psychiatrist RD Laing, and I hail from a family that always encouraged entrepreneurial spirit.

From the age of eight, I started attending school fairs and jumble sales selling Pokémon cards.

I wasn’t academic, but I was always highly creative and thrived in sports. So, while I enrolled at Brighton University to study business economics, it took a matter of months before I realised it was a huge waste of time and money. I dropped out and focused on my thriving sideline of buying and selling vintage clothing.

After that, the rest of my 20s unfolded in typically chaotic style, as I lurched from one job to another, finally working at a job where, after tax, my net pay was £1,500 a month. At the time, the rent on my tiny one-bedroom flat cost me £1,000 a month, leaving me with barely enough to keep my head above water.

When after a year I was let go from that role — as a night time concierge at Battersea power station against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic — I vowed to never work for someone else again. So I invested my last pay cheque in starting a small jewellery business with one of my brothers.

I never looked back, but the pressing issue of where to live still loomed large. Like a lot of people with a 30th birthday on the horizon, my mind had drifted towards buying my own place, but every time I even remotely considered it, I was reminded that trying to put down roots in the city in which I was born was practically impossible.

With even decent one-bedroom flats selling for north of £500,000, the required 10 per cent deposit meant I needed at least £50,000 in the bank — money I didn’t have and had no way of getting.

Which is why, one winter evening around two years ago, I found myself asking the internet how else I could become a property owner — and how, within minutes, I found myself staring at a three-bedroom tumbledown home in Mussomeli, a small town located 765 metres above sea level in the very heart of Sicily.

It was pretty much the very first property I looked at, and something about it made me feel there was no need to carry on clicking.

The glorious town of Mussomeli is draped by a vista of mountains and has a beautiful church, a thriving village centre and many cafes to buy an excellent cappuccino

The glorious town of Mussomeli is draped by a vista of mountains and has a beautiful church, a thriving village centre and many cafes to buy an excellent cappuccino

George's hasty purchase came with a crumbling facade, a hole in the roof, no running water and no electricity

George’s hasty purchase came with a crumbling facade, a hole in the roof, no running water and no electricity

Yes, it was in dire need of an overhaul, with a crumbling facade and a hole in the roof, no running water and no electricity.

What it did have, though, was three storeys, a balcony, and its original marble stairs. It was also five minutes from a surprisingly busy village centre — not to mention a Lidl ten minutes’ walk out of town.

When I discovered its street number was 11 — my lucky number — it felt fated.

I emailed the agent expressing interest and started to research if converting this property myself — the only way I could afford to do it — was remotely possible for a man who just about knew how to hang a picture.

The answer, I quickly decided, was yes. While others who have embarked on the scheme spent between €50,000 and €60,000 (£43,000 to £51,000) to renovate their homes, they were hiring local labour to source the materials and do the work. I worked out that if I did it myself, I could do it for around £15,000.

And so, around 18 months ago, I found myself at the small rural train station of Acquaviva-Casteltermini for my first viewing. I had flown to Palermo, capital of the Sicily region, from London Stansted and hopped onboard a train taking me into the island’s rural heartland, past rolling hills, lakes, and fields of grazing sheep.

The estate agent had offered to drive me the last 10km of the journey to Mussomeli, but instead I opted to walk through picturesque rural villages, past farmers and the odd donkey or two.

Right away, it felt like a little slice of heaven.

The journey, navigating a near 2,000ft incline, finally brought me into Mussomeli.

I had little idea of what to expect. It did occur to me that, in keeping with many estate agent photos, the house might look far worse than it did in the pictures.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived on my cobbled street, dappled with sunlight, I was already enchanted, and when I finally crossed the threshold of number 11, I was determined that whatever I found inside I would not be daunted.

It was just as well: what I hadn’t realised is that by buying the house, I would be taking on all the previous owner’s possessions as well. I could barely see the walls because every single inch was covered with a lifetime’s worth of stuff, accumulated by the old lady whose son had neither the time nor inclination to sort through it.

Everything from furniture to old corsets and wine bottles, quilts, and religious statues — all lay there abandoned and in need of attention.

That was nothing compared to the structure, however. There was a gaping hole in the roof, a number of large cracks in different rooms, a couple of beams were rotting, and the ancient bathroom was so tiny I could barely stand up in it.

George, a former public school boy, can be seen getting his hands dirty with his own, much-needed restorations

George, a former public school boy, can be seen getting his hands dirty with his own, much-needed restorations

As for the kitchen — well, there wasn’t one. Instead, a metal stove connected to a propane tank did the job.

I was under no illusions that it was a mammoth project. But I also knew it had vast potential. At around 250 square feet, the rooms were big, and while the marble stairs and borders were in dire need of some TLC, they were intact.

The deal was sealed when I stepped on to my 150 square foot balcony — around the same size as my bedroom at home — to take in the breathtaking view and the chime of village bells.

It wasn’t difficult to picture myself there each morning, drinking my first coffee of the day. What’s more, I had a vision of the house as it could be: a three-bedroom home — two of them en suite — with a living room and kitchen on the top floor and a self-contained one-bedroom flat in the basement, which was — and still is — a big derelict hole.

And so, six months later, after some legal back and forth, I sat in the estate agent’s office signing the document which would give me the freehold of number 11 for the princely sum of 85 British pence.

The agency fee was £418 and I later had to pay £2,500 for the transfer of the deeds and legal fees, followed by around £1,500 for an energy certificate and floor plan and assorted other fees.

All in all, becoming the proud owner of number 11 cost me around £4,500 — less than it would cost to buy a parking place in some of London’s posher postcodes.

There was just one condition: the municipio — the local authority — stipulates you have to renovate the façade within the first three years, otherwise, there’s meant to be a €5,000 (£4,260) fine.

That was eight months ago, and ever since I have embarked on what has become a regular monthly routine.

Once a month, I leave my flat in Eastbourne, East Sussex, fly to Palermo, and make my way up that steep winding hill (saving myself the €25 taxi fare) to spend several days at my Sicilian home working ten hours a day bringing it back to life.

I’m on a perilously tight budget, so after a hard day’s graft I curl up on a mahogany bed I inherited with the property, snuggled under some beautiful hand-knitted blankets which were also left behind.

My daily ablutions come courtesy of a two-litre bottle of water — purchased for 21 cents from Lidl — until, when it gets too much, I finally splash out on a nearby hotel, where I can get a room and a shower for €40.

Food is in abundant supply at the village cafes and shops where I get fed for a tenth of the price I would pay back home. I feast on 50 cent baguettes, cheese and beautifully ripe, flavoursome tomatoes for around €1 and, when I’m feeling indulgent, one of those €5 pizzas.

The first three months were dedicated to clearing out the property: it took forever to sort the possessions into what was rubbish and what could be salvaged.

There was a surprising amount in both camps — I was certainly never going to get rid of that mahogany bed frame, but there was also a huge amount I realised I could sell.

Religious paintings in ornate gilt frames, even beautiful pieces of jewellery, including a pair of vintage 12ct gold earrings which I sold for £197 after setting up an auction on my website. There’s still stuff on there, and anything I make goes straight back into the renovation.

Once I’d waded through that, I could start on the work. It was hard to know where to begin, although one of the first things I did was to scale the roof and fix some plastic sheeting to keep out the rain — there’s not much of it in the Italian summer, but come November it’s a different story.

Everything else I’m doing piecemeal — it fits my personality to have lots of different jobs on the go, so I’m doing everything from stripping back the walls and filling potholes and cracks to gutting the bathroom.

I’ve never done any of it before, but YouTube is proving a surprisingly informative tutor, and I’m taking online electrical and plumbing courses too.

Of course, it’s not without its challenges. It’s taken me six months to get the electric switched on, courtesy of an endless and frustrating back and forth with the local supplier who seems to take a leisurely view of the need for essential services. I expect I’ll go through the same palaver having the water connected, which is why I’m putting it off.

In videos posted to Instagram, miscellaneous pots, pans, bags and rubbish tarnish the floor during the building's extensive refurbishment

In videos posted to Instagram, miscellaneous pots, pans, bags and rubbish tarnish the floor during the building’s extensive refurbishment

There are occasions too, when I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, like the time I tried to remove the 150kg copper boiler fixed into the bathroom walls. I still don’t know how I managed to get it off and roll it down the stairs.

Whenever I am plagued with doubts, however, I just need to step on to my balcony or take a walk in the breathtaking Sicilian countryside, being greeted with a cheery buongiorno by the locals.

It’s the same everywhere I go: far from being angered by the presence of interlopers, the community seems grateful I am here, not just bringing a house to life but spending money in the cafes and shops. As the estate agent explained, most residents here don’t have the money to take on the fees and renovation costs, and are glad someone else is stepping up.

I’ve still got a long way to go, but my hope is that in six months’ time I’ll have a house to be proud of — as well as accumulating a set of renovation skills I can then take into another property.

The big question will be whether or not I’ll sell it. At the moment I don’t know, but I do know that this is the start of a new and fulfilling life, creating a healthy future in a charming community.

To find out more about the renovation, you can follow @george_laing_ on Instagram.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk