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Answering all those burning questions you didn’t know you had about home ownership.

A Beach House in Sunny Sicily

Picture of Jessica Dabkowski

Jessica Dabkowski

Helping you with all things homeownership!

Over the summer, my real estate partner, Paul Barraco, did something phenomenal. Okay, yeah, the title was a little bit of a spoiler. Paul purchased a beach house in Sicily this past July.

As I pieced together snippets of the process he shared with me, I thought the entire process was fascinatingly different than how we do it here. It took a hot minute, but I finally pinned Paul down on meeting up so I could interview him about the experience (I even somehow conned him into buying me lunch at Ma Cherie Crepes in Canton – Delish!!)

This article is a little bit longer than I usually write, but I found the content so fascinating I let it run. Like Rolling Stone, I am editing the interview for content and clarity. Let’s face it, when Paul and I get into a conversation, at least 10% is not appropriate to be captured in writing.

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Dabs: Tell me about your connection to Sicily.

Paul: About ninety percent of my family lives in Sicily. My mother was born in the U.S. in Arkansas and I have relatives spread around the U.S., but the mass amount of my relatives live in Sicily. I feel more connected and closer to those, than the ones here.

Dabs: And you used to spend summers there, right?

Paul: Yes, the first time I went I was twelve years old. Wait, seven years old.

Dabs: (Laughs) That’s a little bit of a difference!

Paul making pizza in Sicily.

Paul: I went with my grandmother for three months. I grew up speaking Sicilian at home because my grandma, grandpa and dad spoke Sicilian, as well as my aunts and uncles that were here. Almost as my first language, because my grandma and grandpa babysat while my parents worked. When I went to Sicily for the first time, I was forced to speak Sicilian because I was living there with my family. From that point, every other summer, I went to Sicily either with my grandmother or by myself when I was older.

Dabs: Okay, so tell me about the events that lead to you to deciding to purchase a house in Sicily. Did you think that at some point in time you would own a house in Italy? Was that possibility on your radar?

(Pause in the conversation as Paul discusses a future listing with his photographer.)

Paul: It became more on my radar over the last 10 years. This particular house has been in our family for 45 years. I grew up in this house on the beach, and have always wanted to own a house on the Mediterranean.

In the last three years of visiting, my uncle had told me he was going to sell the house in the next few years. My uncle was unmarried with no children. The house needed a little renovation so my other cousins, his nephews and nieces, weren’t interested in purchasing it. And actually, this house is in the middle, so the house on the left and the house on the right of me are all Barraco homes. From my front door to the water is a 2.5 minute walk.

The house is three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, huge outdoor kitchen and an indoor kitchen, which makes it usable year round.

Paul’s house in Sicily . . . conveniently located on Barraco Row.😂

Dabs: What is the weather like there? What are the seasons like?

Paul: The seasons are — July and August are wicked hot. (Laughter from both of us.) I mean, 100 degrees or more. Today, October 25, it’s 80 degrees with a low in the 60s. Beach season starts around May, and September is the best month to hit the beach. In the winter, it can get down into the 30s/40s. It rarely snows, and if it does, it’s a big deal. It will snow up in the mountains, but not down there on the beach. Mostly 70/80s though.

Dabs: Once you decided ‘I’m going to buy this house’, what are the logistics of that? Can just anybody buy a house in Italy?

Paul: Yes, anyone can buy a house in Italy – if you purchase with cash. It’s really difficult to get a loan if you are not an Italian citizen. I purchased cash. Unlike in the U.S., they do not do home inspections over there.

(Nervous laughter from me as I try not to freak out about people buying homes without inspecting them.)

Dabs: You do a walk through and you either want it – or you don’t?

Paul: Right. I, of course, knew the house. I knew there wasn’t any fundamental issues with the foundation or the plumbing or the roof. You could hire a private person to inspect, but it’s not protocol. When I started asking about the sewer lines, it was like a deer in headlights. I contacted a professional real estate agent there – who is a relative.

(More laughter, because Paul has about 3,000 cousins and even if he’s not related by blood, he still refers to people as “my cousin”. This occurs to the point where I meet people, and they say “Oh, you’re Paul’s cousin?”)

And he said it’s not done and they just take it the way it is.

You hire a real estate notary, sort of like a title company in the U.S., and they pull all the documents, deeds, history for you to make sure the deed is valid. This process, in Italian time, can take 2-6 weeks. Nothing is fast.

The seller signs a document with the notary stating he’s willing to sell the house at the agreed upon price, and it’s really that simple. We went in, he had all the documents together, showed us that there were no liens, showed me the property line and all that good stuff. That’s the local notary.

From there you go to the regional notary/surveyer. That took 4 weeks to get the appointment for that gentleman. It was an hour and a half appointment because he read verbatim every line from when the house was built to now on the history of the home.

We both basically signed in the margins of the document sideways.

(Paul showed me a picture of their signatures just hanging out in the margin of this document.)

He said, “Congratulations! You own a house.”

Dabs: How did you move the money?

Paul: Prior to signing, I had to have transferred in the money from my account in the United States to my uncle’s account. I had to secure an affidavit from the bank that the money was in the account to the agreed upon price to give the notary. Which is scary – in the States we sign the documents and then we wire the funds! The regional notary then files the deed on the national level. That takes six weeks to file, and I actually just received confirmation that it was processed.

Dabs: And you started this process in June?

Paul: End of May. It was crazy. I was on pins and needles the whole time.

Dabs: But, we’re on Italian time! So what’s the plan for this house?

Paul: I’m doing some renovations. Windows, air conditioning. Air conditioning is typically nonexistent in Italy. I’ve had to hire an electrician to update all the electrical outlets because Italy has changed currents a few times so there are 3 different types of outlets in the house. Also, if I add three air conditioning units and they run all three at once, the electrical will trip and shut down the whole house.

There’s no heating in most Italian homes.

Dabs: It gets down to the 30s and there’s no heat?!?

Paul: Yeah, well, it’s technically a summer home, a beach house. Many Italians will have their home up in their city and then a beach house, which they may share with 3-4 other families. In Sicily, the weekends are at the beach. It doesn’t matter who you are, that’s where you’re at.

Dolphins swimming in the Mediterranean
Dolphins!

Dabs: That’s THE SPOT.

Paul: That’s your reward for working hard all week. I’m also going to renovate the inside kitchen, because it’s pretty rustic. And then, eventually renovate the outdoor kitchen as well. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s 1600 square feet; it’s a decent size.

Dabs: That’s a decent size, bigger than my first house!

Paul: It’s in a really prime location. It’s open to the public, but it’s not a tourist beach. Everybody knows everybody who goes there.

Paul with his family at a local festival.

Dabs: And the plan is to eventually rent it out?

Paul: Yes, once the renovations are finished. It has been rented; my uncle was yielding $2,000/month renting it “as is” to local Italians. My end goal is for this to be my retirement home. This is where I want to retire and end up.

Dabs: Take me through – can you just go and live in Italy?

Paul: Just because you purchase a home doesn’t guarantee you citizenship. Americans can go up to 3 months without a visa. As a resident, you can apply for the extended visa and stay up to 12 months at a time. If you do that for 5 years, you get your equivalent of the U.S. green card.

Dabs: How is the lifestyle different?

Paul: It’s slow. (laughter from both of us) The lifestyle for me is tremendous, a wonderful experience. The family is centered around a meal. The entire country stops working, stops functioning between one and three o’clock, except the tourist spots. Everybody comes home from work and school and the entire family unit eats between one and three. You can’t go to a bank, a store – things are just closed.

A typical day in the life of a Sicilian, you get up in the morning. You have a cup of coffee, an espresso, maybe a biscuit, between 6 and 7 in the morning. You go to school or work.

Around 1:30pm, you come home and there’s typically a five-course meal ready to go. From about 3-4:30, everybody naps and then they get up and go back to work or school.

School ends around 6 pm, the kids come home. Whoever is working, typically comes home between 8 and 9 pm. Then you shower, and get cleaned up. Then there’s the dinner meal, typically between 9 and midnight.

Dabs: Then they get up a six in the morning? But I guess they had a nap.

Paul: The food is fresh, no preservatives. The seafood is right off the boat. Any meat has been butchered that week. You’re eating well, even though you’re eating a lot of bread. Sicilians are constantly active, constantly doing something. For me, that lifestyle – I was not born in the right place.

Paul eating pasta off a wood table top
Paul participates in a tradition dating back to pre-utensils.

The evening meal will be very light — frittata, some seafood, maybe some leftovers. You’re not eating a huge meal at 6, 7 o’clock like we do here. Over there, pasta is a side dish. They would look at our pasta bowls here and then look at us like we had three heads!

Dabs: It’s not an Olive Garden portion.

Paul: Yes, and typically, the midday meal is for the core intimate family. The evening meal is shared with friends, extended family and neighbors. And the wine is always flowing. Everything you see on TV is exactly how it is over there.

What else can we talk about? Driving is a nightmare. (laughter from Dabs) There are no rules. You drive where you want, you go where you want, you do what you want. That’s all I can tell you. You park how you want to park. There are some towns I won’t even drive in.

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I just cannot imagine wiring funds to the seller before I sign the paperwork! And no home inspection! What an awesome adventure.

I hope you found this foray into home ownership in Sicily as fascinating as I did. As always, I’m here to help with all your home ownership questions, concerns, goals AND dreams! See you next week.

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