How We Bought a House in Sicily - Part 4
Updated: Oct 3, 2022
When last we left this tale, Marco and I had worked with Angelo Campagna to make offers on two properties near Melilli. One offer was declined (it was a very low-ball offer) and one purchase agreement fell through due to issues with the property records.
Meaning, we were back to square one.
It was late January 2021. With the pandemic still raging, we put our dream of buying a house in Sicily on hold for a few months.
Throughout the first half of 2021, we kept in touch with Angelo and his wife Ayan. We traded stories of getting our COVID vaccines and marveled at photos of Etna's eruptions. In May, I ended up unexpectedly going in for hip surgery, then embarking on what would be a year-long recovery.
But my 18 months of mobility issues only made us more determined to find our house in Sicily. As we shared in one of our first posts, before the pandemic we'd always imagined buying a house in Sicily when we retired. The pandemic helped us realize that if we waited to go after our dreams, we might never have the chance to catch them.
Now, I also had first-hand experience of what it was like to not be able to walk more than a couple blocks without extreme pain. After surgery, I fought for months to gain strength back. I had tendon injuries that just wouldn't heal. I went up and down stairs like I was 80 years old. I had multiple setbacks, even having to get back on crutches at one point. In justifying cutting off physical therapy, health insurance evaluators stated that I simply wouldn't get any better. Of course, that only made me more determined.
There I was, in my early 40s, in generally good physical shape and still my body would not heal fully. Not to mention my other chronic conditions.
My physical therapist asked me what I wanted to be able to accomplish—what was my recovery dream? I didn't hesitate even a second in answering:
I wanted to hike with my family in Colorado. And I wanted to explore Sicily.
An Impossible Wish List?
My mobility issues made us realize that buying a house in Melilli's historic center might be more practical long-term, and much less work to maintain, compared to buying a property outside the village.
In July and August 2021, we went back and forth with Angelo and Ayan over email, refining a list of exactly what we were looking for in a property.
Let's be honest. Our wish list was a tall order, particularly on a low budget.
Habitable (ideally in good condition so we could start staying there right away, even as we might make some smaller improvements down the line)
At least two bedrooms, ideally three (so we have space to work and for guests)
Outdoor space or an enclosed terrace (ideally with some sort of nice view; a sliver of water and/or Mount Etna would be especially welcome)
Either walking distance to the village or within the village
A usable layout and enough windows so that the interior of the home is not totally dark
Not on a busy street
With our list in hand, in mid-August Angelo and Ayan headed to Melilli.
The Sicilian Property Hunt
After the roller coaster of emotions from our two failed offers, Marco and I weren't nervous again, at least not yet. Perhaps it was because we were back at the beginning. This time, we were more prepared though.
We knew the property hunt could take weeks, months, or years. We might feel anxious at various stages. Things inevitably wouldn't go according to any plan. But somehow, we kept after this ridiculous dream of a house in Sicily. I felt in my gut that we had to try.
While Marco and I awaited news, still cooped in our Brooklyn apartment, across the Atlantic in Melilli, Angelo and Ayan met up with Concetta Crucitti, from RE/MAX Platinum. Together, they toured multiple properties throughout the historic center.
A few days later, Ayan began sending detailed summaries about each potential property she and Angelo had viewed. Honestly, this part was thrilling. We felt like we were right there, stepping inside each house, considering it against our wish list.
Ayan's emails included photos along with descriptions of each property's layout and size, repairs needed, and pros and cons, as well as unique opportunities the property might present. For example, solar panels for electricity or a particularly attractive price per square meter. Ayan and Angelo also indicated how much wiggle room there might be for price negotiations.
Marco and I reviewed each property carefully, then wrote back with our thoughts. Of the first four properties, we all agreed to eliminate three.
Then Ayan sent the final property.
That's It. That's Our House!
Later, Angelo told us that Ayan knew the second she walked into the house that this was the one for us. She was right.
What's funny, is that Marco and I had looked at the listing online and not been wowed. But the photos and videos Ayan and Angelo sent changed everything.
So, what was so special about this house?
In excellent condition, the property nestled on a quiet street near the top of the village, backed up against an ancient retaining wall and terraced gardens.
With two good-sized bedrooms on the second floor, the first floor had a dining/kitchen area, and a living room we could use for guests—all we needed was a pull-out sofa.
In all the photos, light flooded into the house, even on the ground floor.
Each second floor bedroom had full french doors that opened onto a balcony with space for a small bistro table.
There were two full bathrooms.
The rooftop terrace, which had recently been retiled, offered a panoramic view of the village and the sea and Mount Etna in the distance!
The only drawback: we'd want to move the location of the kitchen to better use a small nook space on the ground floor. And, of course, like most Italian properties, the house came without a kitchen.
We excitedly hopped on a zoom call with Angelo and Ayan to discuss. Angelo encouraged us to visit the property to see for ourselves before finalizing anything, but we still didn't want to travel with my slow surgical recovery and another COVID wave brewing.
I distinctly remember Angelo and Ayan telling us to take a night and think it over before we went forward with an offer.
But I turned to Marco and said: "What do think? Should we do it?" And Marco said: "Yes, let's do it."
And with a few words, everything shifted. We weren't just cultivating a dream anymore. Somehow all of us knew that if we put an offer on this property, it would be ours.
This Might Actually Be Happening!
When you're writing a novel, the hardest part is often what we call the "messy middle." You lose track of where your characters are going. Your plot wanders a bit off course. You write scenes and immediately suspect they need to be deleted. You're trying to get to that third act—the part where the story comes together in a dramatic climax and a satisfying resolution. But for about 100 pages of text, you forget your map.
And then, miraculously, you find your way back. That threat you introduced in chapter two comes roaring back. That subplot you weren't certain about suddenly intersects with your main character's arc. You can see the climax ahead, like a mountain in the distance. To get there, you know that all you need to do is keep writing. Keep going.
The story starts to take on a life of its own. As a writer, sometimes you feel you're simply along for the ride.
That's what happened after that day when Marco and I declined to sleep on it, and instead jumped right in. We got caught up in the story of this wild adventure.
On September 3, we sent an email to Angelo and Ayan confirming our decision and asking them to negotiate for the property on our behalves. Soon, we had a verbally agreed to offer. A couple weeks later, we submitted the formal offer paperwork and transferred the deposit, while the notaio dug into the property records to confirm everything was in order.
On September 28, we got an update from Angelo: "We have news, it would be good if we could have a quick chat today when possible."
Of course we hopped on a zoom call that same day.
I'll never forget Ayan greeting us on zoom with the news: "Congratulations! You're going to be homeowners in Sicily!"
Our offer was accepted and signed. Our deposit was deposited. If we backed out, we'd lose money.
Our excitement was only slightly dampened by a couple issues the notaio soon found that needed addressing. In this case, though, the notaio thought they would be easily corrected.
And so we began planning for a closing.
Is This Excitement or Cold Feet?
Things were moving—and fast.
The property records were quickly sorted.
We began pondering closing costs and whether to purchase as a first home (which would lower taxes on the purchase) or a second home. We chose second home, because we weren't prepared to locate to Sicily full-time yet.
We then needed to decide whose names would be on the deed. In Italy, you can't jointly own a property outright like in the U.S. Instead, each person owns a share of the property and pays annual property taxes on their share (if it's a second home). So we agreed Marco would own 50% and I would own 50%.
For both of us to be on the deed we then needed to get our respective Codice Fiscale—our Italian tax code. Luckily, we did this over email through the New York Consulate. But first Codice Fiscale numbers we received both had errors due to our middle names. So we had to ask the consulate to issue new ones.
Finally, for the closing, Angelo agreed to serve as our Power of Attorney, since we still weren't ready to travel. To make that happen, the notaio prepared a PoA agreement in Italian. We then needed to get it translated, notarized, and apostilled here in New York, then get it back to the notaio in Sicily in time for the closing date.
We were busy rushing to get everything ready and hopefully close in December 2021. But we still had time for cold feet.
And yes, we had cold feet.
We never told Angelo and Ayan this, but there was a moment where Marco and I admitted to each other that we no longer knew if buying a house in Sicily was a brilliant or a terrible idea. Were our nerves normal? Or were we making a terrible and expensive mistake?
We never had last minute cold feet when we were buying our Brooklyn apartment. Was this a sign?
But, even if it was a sign, our stubbornness won. We had come this far. We might as well see the journey through.
So we did all the paperwork. And on Wednesday, December 22, 2021, we joined a WhatsApp call to be part of the official property closing for our house in Sicily.
In the thrill of that moment—even when we still hadn't been to our house in person—most of our anxiety vanished.
Sicilian Homeowners...in Brooklyn
We rang in 2022 as Sicilian homeowners, though we were still in Brooklyn.
Angelo connected us directly with Concetta, who helped us get utilities connected in our names. Concetta also offered to be our person on the ground getting the house ready to be our home—including installing a kitchen!
And Marco and I started planning our first trip to Italy together to visit the house we'd bought without ever stepping foot in it.