Foreign Buyers Scoop Up Abandoned Spanish Villages

Foreign Buyers Scoop Up Abandoned Spanish Villages

6:38pm Aug 31, 2015

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If you're keeping an eye on the real estate market, how about a Spanish village - not a villa, a village. We're going to revisit this story from reporter Lauren Frayer who found that for the price of a home in much of the United States, one of these villages could be yours.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Every August, Spain's countryside comes alive with fiestas. A jolly trombone player prances through this small town north of Madrid. But the hubbub is deceiving because hardly anyone actually lives here. They come one week a year to party in the villages of their ancestors. But the rest of the year, places like this are deserted. It took me 20 tries to find a local in the crowd.

FELIX SACRISTAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "This pueblo is dying. The only ones left are the elderly," says Felix Sacristan, who's 55 and unemployed, living in his late grandfather's house. "There are lots of abandoned homes," he says - cheap housing. In northern Europe, the industrial revolution pulled people to big cities centuries ago. But in Spain, that migration happened much later, in the mid-20th century, and it snowballed with the recent economic crisis, especially in Galicia in the northwest where summertime festivals reflect the region's Celtic roots. These green hills once supported Spain's highest population density. Half of all Spanish villages are here, but now half of them are abandoned.

MARK ADKINSON: It's beautiful just to hear the bells of the cows on the hillside - apart from that, the birdsong and nothing else - no noise, nothing.

FRAYER: Mark Adkinson is a British real estate agent trying to match empty villages with foreign buyers.

ADKINSON: We've just come down a track about one mile long to the village of O Penso. This is a village that's got a hundred acres of land, a total of six houses, two barns and a big cattle barn that'll hold 70 cattle.

FRAYER: Six miles away, green cliffs drop off onto white sand beaches and some of Europe's best surfing. The village has its own well and bakery with a stone hearth. The biggest house has hardwood floors and five bedrooms overlooking an orchard.

ADKINSON: You've got small peach trees. You've got figs. You've got walnuts. You've got chestnuts, apple trees, pear trees. At the bottom of the valley here, you've got a lovely little trout river.

FRAYER: The asking price for the whole village - $230,000. Smaller pueblos with less fertile land go for tens of thousands. The last resident here died a decade ago, leaving the village uninhabited for the first time in perhaps 500 years.

ADKINSON: When you talk to the old people, tears come into their eyes. They'd like to see these places picked up and turned around, and they don't want them to die.

FRAYER: But they also don't want to live here themselves anymore. Back out on the paved road, there's a tiny cafe where retirees gather to read the morning papers. Maria Benedicta Fernandez says she was among the last to leave her picturesque stone village for a rental apartment in a town closer to a medical center.


FRAYER: "Everyone else left too, or they've died. And the local school closed," she says. "There aren't enough children anymore."

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Galicia's birthrate is one of the lowest in Europe. The region is on track to lose a third of its population in the next 35 years. So desperate times call for desperate measures, says a local mayor Avelino Luis de Francisco Martinez. He's giving away one abandoned village.

AVELINO LUIS DE FRANCISCO MARTINEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "For free," he exclaims. Someone just has to promise to renovate the 12 ruined houses. "They're beautiful, bucolic, next to a river and an old royal procession path from the 18th century," he says. We just need to find someone to live here in this century. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Galicia, northwest Spain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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