How We Bought a House in Sicily - Part Two
Our First Virtual Visit to Sicily
In September 2020, Angelo Campagna headed to Melilli armed with two properties we had asked him to investigate for us.
Both properties were "country homes" located about a mile outside the village. Both had small houses on modest plots of land. They also had stunning views of the Sicilian countryside, with Mount Etna and the Mediterranean in the distance.
Still isolating in our two-room Brooklyn apartment, Marco and I were enamored with the idea of a house in the countryside. Trees! Fresh air! Patios! Gardens! We imagined ourselves sitting outdoors with our laptops, working away at our novels while breathing in the fresh country air and enjoying the chatter of birds.
Yes, it was a fantasy. But pretty soon we'd know whether the properties we'd spent so much time studying online would live up to that fantasy.
While awaiting Angelo's update, we reviewed the property listings for the 100th time.
Why I Love Property Listings in Italy
For American readers it's important to cover a few basics about property listings in Italy—and why I love them so much.
My family and I have been through several home sales and purchases in the U.S. In recent decades, "home staging" has become its own industry there.
Staging is the equivalent of airbrushing or Instagram filters: it's your house, but with the blemishes strategically blurred out. Similar to how glamorous magazine photos and Instagram posts present the impossibly perfect lives of the rich and famous—making the rest of us feel incredibly inadequate—staging puts a lot of pressure on sellers.
When my parents sold our family home a few years ago, they spent months anxiously preparing. They redid the front yard to achieve that ever-elusive curb appeal. They tore out the carpets and refinished the original wood floors that had been hidden for 30+ years. They agonized over choosing the right staging furniture and accessories so potential buyers would instantly feel at home. They even hired a professional photographer for our home's first photo shoot.
When it was ready to list, the house looked great. But it also didn't look like our house. It didn't show the love and laughter that had turned four walls (and my dad's notorious plumbing hacks) into a family home.
I'm a "no filter" kind of person. I like crooked teeth. I like scars. I like old houses with creaky stairs and wobbly railings and plenty of ghosts. Maybe that's why I love Italian property listings.
Except for the highest end homes, listings in Italy are not staged. Many feature only a couple grainy photos. The majority, especially those under 100,000 euros, appear as if the current residents decided one random morning to walk around the house and snap a few shots on their phone.
When cruising property listings in Italy, don't be surprised to see a pile of laundry or other household goods, frozen eternally in the moment of waiting to be put away. You can check out listings yourself on www.idealista.it or www.immobiliare.it.
There are also many Italian properties in need of repairs, from minor to major. 1 euro house schemes have gained the most attention. But plenty of affordable homes are available around the country, just waiting for restoration.
What I love about the listings in Italy, is how most photos are not airbrushed. They're real. You can literally see the layers of lives that have been lived in these homes. You can imagine the stories these thick Italian stone walls have to tell—stories I'm eager to hear.
What stories would these two properties tell when Angelo arrived?
The Property Report
While Marco and I waited eagerly, Angelo met up with Concetta Crucitti, from RE/MAX Platinum Siracusa, who arranged for him to view both properties. While there, Angelo took photos and videos of not only the houses, but also the surrounding countryside and the village center.
Upon returning home, Angelo sent us the images along with a summary and assessment of each property.
Marco and I opened the files and marveled.
First off, the homes were REAL!!! We hadn't conjured them up in some quarantine delusion. Both were true to the photos online. Best of all, the countryside was more beautiful than we imagined! And, in the videos Angelo had taken, the village of Melilli was lively, lovely, and full of charm.
Angelo promptly scheduled a Zoom call to discuss next steps. In a stroke of luck, he agreed that both properties were viable options to purchase—assuming we could negotiate for the right price.
Making an Offer (or Two)
When buying a house or pursuing a dream, there are always wrinkles. The first one was that the listing prices for both properties were above our price range. Luckily, negotiation is a normal part of the home purchase process in Italy (just as it is in the U.S. during a buyer's market).
While both properties had potential, one was more promising because the land was more desirable. It had a well-maintained olive grove on mostly flat ground, whereas the other property was on a steep terraced hill with craggy rocks, crumbling stone walls, and overgrown vegetation.
Over a Zoom call, Angelo, Marco and I decided to put in a low-ball offer on the property with the olive grove. If that didn't go through, we'd make a bid for the other property. One of them had to work out, right?
Marco and I got off the Zoom call, excited and nervous.
We were on our way! This was it! Our dream was happening!
We were certain one of these properties was meant to be ours. But of course, buying property in Italy is like a gripping romance novel: full of hopes, dreams, and more unexpected twists and turns than you can count.
A drive down the main street of Melilli, fall 2020, courtesy of Angelo.