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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

Why Buy a House in Sicily?

For a decade, Marco and I talked about buying a house in Sicily someday, specifically in Melilli where his father grew up and where much of Marco's debut novel is set. We decorated our apartment with photos Marco took on a visit there with his father.

We imagined retiring in the Sicilian sun, spending half our time in Sicily and half our time out in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, where my family has an off-the-grid cabin in the woods. (Obviously we have a thing for islands.)

In that version of our future, we would spend 15 more years working in NYC and maybe take a couple extended vacations in Sicily during that time to get the lay of the land. Until retirement, Sicily would be a place we dreamed about.

Sicily would be our future, not our present.

The pandemic changed our thinking

Almost as soon as we returned from the West Coast tour for Marco's novel, the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit NYC. Within a couple weeks, we went from planning book events to hunkering inside, scouring corner stores for toilet paper, and worrying about sick family members and friends.

Marco and I are both huge fans of post-apocalyptic books and movies. But all of a sudden, we found ourselves living inside one.

We were lucky. Our jobs could be done remotely. We weren't front-line workers—pharmacists, grocery store clerks, cab drivers, healthcare workers. We could stay at home and isolate, though not all of our family members could.

I've often heard that you shouldn't make big life decisions when you're grieving or in the middle of a crisis. But those early days of the pandemic made us reevaluate our lives and our choices. If we only had one more day, week, or month left, how would we want to have spent it?

As we sat in our two-room apartment, listening to the sounds of sirens and tracking the devastating spread of the virus in our city, we knew we could no longer count on someday.

And one of the biggest dreams we kept circling back to was Sicily.

Why buy a house? Why not just take a long trip?

For nearly 20 years, I've lived with chronic migraines. My chronic illness has shaped nearly every aspect of my life.

But one particular downside made planning a vacation abroad unfeasible: I get terrible migraines when I fly. This started happening 10 years ago. So, for a decade, we spent our vacations at home writing or traveling by train to see family.

For Marco's book tour, we decided to revisit flying and see if my migraine triggers had changed. We combined train and car travel with a couple flights. Unfortunately, our flight home from Colorado in February 2020 landed me in the ER—the first time I'd ever had to seek emergency care due to a migraine.

The harsh reality was that, even if we planned the most magical two-week visit to Sicily, there was a very high likelihood I would end up sick for at least half of the trip.

Here we were, faced with several opposing forces:

  • a dream of Sicily

  • my physical limitations due to chronic illness

  • the pandemic-driven realization that if we waited 15 years for our dreams, we may never see them

When my sister started cruising Zillow as an escape from pandemic news, I discovered Just for fun, I started checking out listings for houses in Melilli, Sicily. Then I found one I liked.

A house I could imagine us living in. A house that we could afford. I showed it to Marco. He agreed it was amazing.

And so, we came up with a ridiculous, wild, completely impractical idea. Let's buy a house in Sicily NOW.

Why our plan was ridiculous

There are maybe too many reasons to list why our plan was ridiculous. But here are a few:

  • I had never been to Sicily, much less Melilli

  • Houses in Sicily are extremely affordable compared to NYC, but even so a home in good shape—one that doesn't require extensive renovation—would still cut into our hard-earned savings

  • We were in the first devastating wave of a global pandemic

  • Which meant we couldn't travel to Italy anytime soon

  • Which meant we might buy a house without having seen it in person first

In summary: Who spends their precious savings to buy a house in another country without having gone there—and during a pandemic no less?

Apparently, Marco and I do.

Why our plan was brilliant

While there are many reasons why our plan was foolish, there was one single reason that it was brilliant: we had an opportunity to make one of our long-held dreams come true.

After my flight-induced trip to the ER, the idea of a vacation to Sicily felt unattainable. But with a house, we could stay there for three months at a time if we wanted (until my dual citizenship goes through). If we had three months, who cared if I spent the first week sick? I didn't. At least once a quarter I spend a week in bed with an intractable migraine anyway.

With a house, I could be comfortable while sick. Marco could work and take care of me, because everything would be familiar. I could have my special pillow, a comfortable mattress, a doctor on call, a place where I felt safe and comfortable. I wouldn't have to worry about my chronic illness ruining a vacation we'd spent years saving up for.

And more, on the days I wasn't sick, we could explore Sicily by bus, car, or train—all modes of transportation that wouldn't land me in the ER with a migraine. If we wanted, we could even explore the rest of Italy and Europe.

For me, the idea of a house in Sicily was the key to rediscovering another dream I'd long ago given up: travel outside the U.S.

For Marco, the idea of a house in Sicily was about going back to the place and the people that had inspired him to write the novel that launched his writing career. It was about going home to a place full of myths, legends, and family stories.

For us both, the idea of a house in Sicily was a hope for the future.

Okay, but HOW do you buy a house in Sicily?

We knew absolutely nothing about buying property in Italy. Zero. Nada. Niente.

But, as friends and family will tell you, I am persistent. If something needs to be figured out—medical bills, mortgage refinancing, tax returns—I will leave no stone unturned.

So I put those skills to use.

Since we couldn't travel, our first step was finding someone who could go to Sicily for us—someone we could trust, someone who could give us honest evaluations of properties, someone who could guide us through the process.

And wow, did we find that someone. But that's a post for another day!

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Connie Milano
Connie Milano
Jun 20, 2022

you guys are very brave :)


Jun 20, 2022

Just started reading your blog. My husband and I are thinking of moving to Sicily also. We vacation in Taormina every year and his immediate family lives in Messina. And we live in Tacoma WA! I have had some medical issues lately and it’s really making me feel like our time here truly is limited and now may be the time to take the plunge.

Camellia Phillips
Camellia Phillips
Jun 20, 2022
Replying to

I love connecting with fellow Washingtonians! Taormina is on our list of places we're itching to visit. I've heard it's gorgeous. I really understand the feeling of having medical issues and rethinking how you want to spend your time. So far, taking this leap has been one of the best things I've ever done. I'd love to hear more about your journey!

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