We have made an offer on a house! Joe Guida, our British-Ciancianese realtor, very patiently drove us around Cianciana on a dizzying tour of at least a dozen houses here and one in the nearby town of Burgio over the space of two days. All of the houses blended together with the exception of three.
Casa Stephano (asking price €28,000)
Casa Stephano is situated right next to one of the 4 churches in Cianciana and is on the main street of Corso Cinquemano Arcuri. Three stories tall, it has perhaps the largest garage in the old part of Cianciana. Two bedrooms and one bathroom – it has the potential to be made into a three bedroom two full bathroom home. It has some lovely detail in the house however it has two downsides:
1. While it does have a balcony, the view is limited – in a town with such a spectacular view, it does seem to be a waste to buy something that doesn’t make the most of it.
2. Because it is on the main street and only 2 blocks from the main piazza, it is very noisy. Cars, trucks and tractors go by at all hours of the day and night. I should explain what I mean by tractors. Imagine a typical John Deere type tractor from about 50 years ago. Now, strip everything off it except the internal workings, the seat and the wheels. Oh, and the muffler, especially strip off the muffler. These tractors drive along this main street with regularity sounding much like how I would imagine a tank would sound travelling down the same street. And the people. Sicilians, it seems to me, have two volumes when they speak – normal and loud. Certainly this is an exaggeration but not much of one. As they walk back and forth along this main road to the piazza at night, they call “Buona sera!” to each other and have conversations that may be between someone on the street and another person on a balcony two stories up. Loud is a necessity, especially when a tractor goes by. Also, did I mention the church? Twice a day, the bells chime insistently, calling the faithful to mass. Each time the bell does not ring just once but several times at 9am and 9:15 and then again at 5:30 and 5:45pm. You would imagine the sound of church bells to be musical and lovely – and they are, the first two or three times you hear them. After several days of church bells they become somewhat less appealing (pun absolutely and entirely intended.)
Casa Cusumano (asking price €28,000)
It took us a couple of days to get into Casa Cusumano as the renters were in the process of moving out. It sits at the top of the hill on the road to Palermo. It is a three-story house with the back facing the hills and with a view of the sea from the top floor window and with the front facing the town. As I mentioned, the house had been rented out and, sadly, had been looked after neither by the tenants nor the landlord, yet we could see so much potential in this house. With some work (or rather a great deal of work as our British contractor Scott told us) it could be phenomenal. A rooftop terrace added on would give 360-degree views. It has a massive master bedroom with a balcony but the ensuite (could you really call the hole that is the bathroom an ensuite?) needed to be completely ripped out and started over. The first floor has a double sized bedroom and a sitting room also with a balcony. The kitchen would have to be ripped out and redone. This, actually, isn’t really all that uncommon in Italy. Homes are often sold with absolutely nothing left in them short of bathroom fixtures. All kitchen appliances, countertops, cabinets, etc. are taken and the buyer is required to fit a new kitchen. This is not such a costly undertaking as it would be in Canada as a new kitchen in Cianciana including appliances could cost as little as €2000. It is a lot of work – about €27,000 including the VAT (value added tax). The house itself would be stunning when finished but we would have paid probably €10,000 more than the house would be worth in the end. Still, this house has caught our attention and we can’t completely dismiss it.
Casa Giordano is a 4-story (5 if you include the top terrace) house in the old part of Cianciana about 4 blocks from the main piazza. Even though it is close to the piazza, it is on a quiet street and, much to our delight, we found that a very kindly older couple live next door. The ground floor is not officially a garage, but the neighbours have told us that the current owner has used it that way, albeit with a very small car. Once the car is inside the ground floor, it goes back far enough that another very small car could likely fit in behind it. This house has bedrooms and sitting rooms and full bathrooms on the first and second floors and a huge kitchen on the third floor. (Keep in mind that in Italy the floors are counted from the bottom as ground, first, second, third whereas in Canada we would say first, second, third, fourth). There is some structural work that would have to be done but Scott assures us that it is not an expensive or difficult repair. A kitchen would again have to be added and the roof on the storage room on the top terrazza would have to be replaced immediately as it is made of asbestos. In fact, there is very little work that would have to be done as the house is in quite good shape. What truly sells this house, however, are the two terrazza. Yes, two. There is a medium sized terrazza off the kitchen with a lovely view and some shade so even in the heat of the summer, it will be possible to sit outside and eat our meals. From the kitchen’s terrazza there is a metal spiral staircase that goes up to the top terrazza. Joe could not have orchestrated a better way to show this house if he had planned it himself. The house itself has many nice features: high ceilings with lovely detailing, large bedrooms each with its own sitting room, bathrooms on every floor, garage, and massive kitchen with a terrazza. All of these things make the house a nice choice, but climbing that last spiral staircase to the jaw-dropping 200-degree vista of Cianciana nestled in the surrounding green and golden hills gives this house something truly special. Scott came through this house with us, as he did with the others, and gave us a rough estimate of about €8500 to complete all the work needing to be done.
Just a note on Joe and Scott:
Nick and I feel we really have fallen on our feet here. We met Joe, electronically at first, by searching for real estate in Sicily. Joe has done such a good job at advertising Ciancianese real estate on English language websites, that when you search in English for inexpensive houses in Sicily you find, almost exclusively, property in Cianciana. We contacted Joe about one of the houses he had listed (interestingly, it turned out to be not one of our top three). We emailed back and forth a few times and I began to check to see if I could find information on Joe and the agency he works for, My House. With just a little searching I discovered that My House is licensed and that every comment about Joe and My House on every expat forum I read was glowing and referred to how honest Joe is. Finding a licensed realtor is extremely important when buying property in Italy as the unlicensed ones may not actually know the ins and outs of buying real estate when you are not a resident of Italy or not proficient in Italian. Purchasing property in Italy can be fraught with pitfalls – houses may have numerous owners as they may have been passed down from the grandparents to the children and then to the grandchildren. Every owner has to sign either in person or by proxy to agree to the sale. If even one has not signed, the sale is not legal. Yikes! Joe has been wonderful so far. He is knowledgeable and patient and has answered every question we have had. He has also put us in touch with other Canadians in town, a nice perk. His Sicilian is impeccable (or at least sounds so to my very untrained ears) and moves smoothly back and forth between English and Sicilian.
Scott is a licensed and British trained tradesman/project manager. He came to Cianciana five years ago to buy a house in order to renovate and then sell it. He fell in love with Cianciana and has never left. His work is done according to British standards, which is a real bonus as the Sicilian tradesmen here work according to Sicilian regulations. These regulations are considerable more lax that one would find in Canada or northern Europe. Scott introduced us to Thomas and Lillian, a Danish couple who plan to retire here for good. They kindly invited us into their home to see the work Scott had done. It was absolutely impeccable. Their house, bright and airy, is the stuff of Better Homes and Gardens. Thomas assured us that we couldn’t find a more trustworthy person to work on our home than Scott and this is certainly the impression he has given us. After looking at these three houses, Scott sat down with us at Bar Antico Trieste for an espresso and to discuss our options. Casa Stephano we discounted right away because of the noise. Scott walked us through the work and costs and the pros and cons of the final two houses. He did not at all try to steer us towards the house that would give him the most work. Instead he gave us a very unbiased look at both.
We were truly torn between Casa Giordano and Casa Cusumano. Finally, we decided to make an offer on Casa Giordano with the plan that if we couldn’t get Casa Giordano then we would try for Casa Cusumano. Thus, yesterday morning we went to Joe’s office and made an offer of €25,000. And now we wait.