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Chicago Woman Buys Abandoned Villa In Italy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It was an unconventional item on her do-before-40 list - buy a centuries-old Italian villa. And she did it. A financial adviser from Chicago named Meredith Tabbone is the proud owner of a house in Sicily. The address is No. 5, her favorite number, and she won it at auction for a bid of just over $6,000.

MEREDITH TABBONE: The house was built kind of one room at a time. So all six rooms are at different floor levels. There's two main floors - a ground floor and a second floor. But every room in the entire home is at a different floor level because it was kind of built into the side of other homes.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Tabbone had heard that the town of Sambuca in southwestern Sicily was auctioning off abandoned buildings to try and get people to move in. The town's population was shrinking. But they were auctioning them off sight unseen, so it was a month before she actually saw her new house.

TABBONE: When you go up the stairs, it kind of curves around so you can't really see ahead of time what you're getting yourself into. But those initial steps, I was, you know, very excited but also very scared, but very pleasantly surprised when I got to the top of the steps and saw the condition and the size of the rooms and the ceiling height and just the uniqueness of the space.

MARTIN: But it's kind of a fixer-upper. The 18th-century building, which sat abandoned for more than 100 years, doesn't have electricity; it doesn't have running water. It does have horse stables, though, conveniently situated in the basement. Tabbone plans to put another $50,000 into restoration.

TABBONE: There is beautiful floor tile - that's still in good condition. And there's vaulted ceilings throughout.

KING: Tabbone says she's always dreamed of owning a house in Italy, and she wants to get dual citizenship eventually. She also has a special connection to this town where she bought the abandoned house.

TABBONE: A few visits ago, I got to see where my great grandfather grew up, and it happens to be about two blocks from where I purchased my home. I also found out that I still have family that live on that block in the same area that my family has lived for centuries.

MARTIN: Now, that is serendipity. Eventually, she plans to retire in Italy and live in her house at No. 5. For now, though, she says she will use her villa as a vacation home.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEMTRAIL'S "SAFE PASSAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.