What could be more enticing than a new life in a scenic Alpine village, all cowbells and ski runs and fondue with a view?
Well, someone could pay you to live there.
The idea sounds absurd in countries where averagely-paid folk struggle for years to save a house deposit. But despite that, such cash-for-relocation offers have cropped up repeatedly in Switzerland and Italy this year.
Albinen, a beautiful mountain enclave overlooking the Rhone valley, will decide by vote on 30 November whether to pay outsiders 25,000 Swiss Francs (£19,130; $25,445) per adult and 10,000 per child if they buy or build a house there.
Are these promises just a way to raise tourist interest, or do people really move and claim five-figure sums? Let’s review the evidence…
Case 1: ‘Have 2,000 Euros! Oh no, wait…’
Bormida, a charming Italian hamlet in mountainous Liguria, has just 400 full-time inhabitants. It also has a proactive mayor, Daniele Galliano, who’s spent three years boosting the dwindling population with super-cheap rent deals. The lure of municipal housing for 50 -120 euros a month has brought 50 newcomers to the little commune.
Then in May, the mayor wondered aloud on Facebook: why shouldn’t “small village funds” be set up so endangered communities could offer a 2,000 euro relocation bonus?
The idea went viral. And while early reports said it was just a suggestion, the story grew in the telling – and flew round the world.
More than 17,000 interested parties contacted the village council in four days.
Mayor Daniele Galliano was driven back to Facebook to explain himself. “The news has been reported incorrectly and reached a worldwide audience,” he rued.
“Italy is a wonderful country but, like others, it is in economic crisis… Unfortunately it is not possible to find help for everyone. Thanks anyway for your interest.”
Verdict: Nobody’s up 2,000 euros, but that could change. A post on the local authority website said in May: “As far as the bonus … is concerned, it is a project that we hope to achieve in 2018 with the help of the Liguria Region.”
Case 2: Jackpot in Puglia (after two years)
If your heart’s set on Italy, there’s definitely hope.
Candela, a sun-drenched, whitewashed Medieval town of 2,700 in Puglia – (think the heel of the boot) – is also losing its families and young people to busier spots – so it has launched a bonus scheme to bring in new ones.
“This is how it works: 800 euros for singles, 1,200 euros for couples, 1,500 to 1,800 euros for three-member families, and over 2,000 euros for families of four to five people,” local official Stefano Bascianelli said last month.
Then there are possible tax credits on city waste disposal, bills and nurseries.
To qualify, you must register as a resident of Candela by 31 December 2017, rent a house, and have a job with a minimum 7,500 euro salary.
Reasonable goals, surely? Well, according to CNN, six families from northern Italy have already met the criteria. The local school caretaker reportedly used the cash to have his family join him in Candela. Requests to relocate have come in from as far as New Zealand.
Verdict: They’re serious enough to put the application form on their website. It says (in Italian) that successful applicants will get 50% of the money after their first year of residence, and 50% at the end of their second year.
Case 3: A Swiss chalet and 25,000 Swiss Francs
Albinen in Valais, our Swiss example, is a bastion of tranquillity – because only 240 people live there. Commune President Beat Jost says three families have moved away in recent years, and with them eight children.
The village school has closed, and the community is fighting for survival.
When the vote takes place, residents are likely to back a scheme offering cash incentives to attract incomers. Some 94 people have already signed the initial proposal.
Interested parties must agree to live in the village for 10 years, and be aged under 45. They must also build or buy a house worth at least 200,000 Swiss Francs – and second homes are banned. Foreigners must have secured a C permit for permanent Swiss settlement.
For a family of four the bonus is an impressive 70,000 francs, which should cover the 20% housing deposit many Swiss banks ask for.
The village plans to pay for the scheme by putting 100,000 francs a year into a fund, and explained the proposal in depth online (in German).
With a figure of 25,000 francs per adult, the council estimates it can afford to pay five to 10 families over the next five years, at most. But for those lucky few who meet the conditions, it’s free money – and a truly spectacular view over breakfast.