Tourism keeps Taormina’s property market buoyant

The town commands the highest prices in Sicily Mazzarò Bay, Taormina, Sicily © Alessandro Saffo/4Corners Link Save Save to myFT Hannah Roberts YESTERDAY Print this page0 Taormina’s ancient ruins, framed by sweeping views of the smoking crown of Mount Etna, and cliffs that nose-dive into the Ionian Sea, have stirred the imagination of artists and intellectuals since the Grand Tour. Generations of writers, including Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams, set up home in Sicily in the villas hugging the steep slopes of Mount Tauro. Truman Capote, who rented DH Lawrence’s former house in 1950, wrote: “It is very like living in an airplane, or a ship trembling on the peak of a tidal wave: there is a momentous feeling each time one looks from the window, steps on to the terrace, a feeling of being suspended, like the white reeling doves, between the mountains and above the sea.”
 Today, tourism has kept Taormina’s property market among the most buoyant in Italy — even as the country awakes from a period of political upheaval to the uncertainty of its new populist government. Since 2015, local agents report that the rising popularity of short-term rental platforms has been rapidly driving sales. “We have seen an Airbnb explosion,” says Antonio Carnazza, local agent for Engel & Völkers. Today, he says, one- or two-bedroom apartments with a sea view sell “almost immediately, with prices up about 5 per cent in the past three years”. Across Italy, prime prices fell by around 30 per cent between 2008 and 2017, according to Savills, and growth remains stagnant.
 In part, Taormina has managed to buck the trend because the town “is a brand”, says Carnazza. “It is the first place that international buyers look in Sicily,” says Diletta Spinola of Sotheby’s International Realty. “There has been more investment in international hotels and top-end attractions,” she says. “And, after the Amalfi coast, people are bringing their yachts down.” Five-bedroom villa, €3.95m The town now commands the highest prices in Sicily — as much as €7,000 per square metre last year — and is home to designer shops and exclusive restaurants. The G7 summit, held there last summer, helped to boost its profile as a high-end destination. But while the cost of living in Taormina is far higher than the rest of Sicily, it is still cheaper than more jet-set destinations such as Portofino and St Tropez, and caters to a slightly different kind of buyer, says Spinola. Taormina offers year-round cultural events such as opera, theatre, music and a film festival.
There are vineyard tours on nearby Etna. “It’s not just a seaside place. People who buy here are interested in food, wine, art, archaeology and history.” The most prestigious area is the town centre on the boulevard of Corso Umberto. E&V is selling a two-bedroom restored villa with terrace near Corso Umberto for €580,000. It’s not just a seaside place. People who buy here are interested in food, wine, art, archaeology and history Parking in the town centre’s narrow streets can be very difficult so for many buyers a parking space is a prerequisite and will add a premium to the price. A three-bedroom early 20th-century villa with double garage and a wine cellar is on the market with Prestige Property Group for €2.1m. A sea view will add a further premium, perhaps up to 25-30 per cent. A three-bedroom penthouse duplex apartment with panoramic views is on the market for €2.5m with Lionard Luxury Real Estate. On the coast, Sotheby’s International Realty is selling a five-bedroom villa with pool, sauna and steam room for €3.95m. Despite the slow economic recovery in Italy potential buyers may be encouraged by signs of a modest uptick in the property market, with prices beginning to level out and transactions increasing in 2017 for the fourth year in a row (by 4.9 per cent year-on-year, according to the Agenzia delle Entrate).
The previous government tried its hand at enticing international buyers. Last year, it introduced a flat tax of €100,000 for non-Italians who transferred their tax residency to the country, but only 160 wealthy individuals applied in the first round. But the Eurosceptic rumblings of the incoming populist government will probably lead to greater caution. The literary ghosts may be left to their own devices for a little longer.