"Lost Eden" project to revive depopulated Georgian countryside gets boost from pandemic, says founder Lesko Charkviani
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By Umberto Bacchi
MILAN, Aug 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - They might have rotting doors and squeaky floors but abandoned homes have become an instant seller in Georgia as coronavirus has boosted demand for out-of-town retreats, according to a man on a mission to revive forsaken villages.
Moved by the plight of his own village, whose population has shrunk to a few families, Lekso Charkviani roams mountain roads in the former Soviet republic searching for deserted houses with character and a bit of land - and finds new owners for them.
"This is what I love to do when I have time," said the 45-year-old engineer, who has sold more than 70 properties in the Racha-Lechkhumi region in the last two years via his Facebook page "The Lost Eden". He does not make any money from the sales.
"I can't stop - like a man who loves fishing and hunting."
Business has picked up with coronavirus, which has boosted interest in suburban living around the globe as people look for larger homes suitable for remote working in cheaper, less crowded locations where they feel less at risk of infection.
When Charkviani finds a suitable property, he tracks down the owners and if they are willing to sell, he posts their contact details online along with a video of the property.
"After the pandemic, many people from the city realised they need a village house as shelter, a place where you are always welcome to escape to in case of necessity," he said, adding that he spends a lot of time fielding queries from potential buyers.
"Before I used to get 150 to 200 messages a day; now I get about 500," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Charkviani said the houses have sold for 2,000 lari ($654) to $17,000, with the most popular houses selling before his livestream tour of the property ends.
Eliso Kaviladze, a community care worker in the hard-hit northern Italian city of Milan, said the anxieties created by the virus hastened her plans to relocate to the Georgian house she bought through "The Lost Eden" in November.
"These things are felt less in the countryside, life is more peaceful there," said the 31-year-old who plans to move there in the next few months and turn the property into a holiday farm.
($1 = 3.0580 laris)
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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