Where to live like In­spec­tor Mon­tal­bano

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don and mod­ern roads on this part of the is­land make driv­ing from Cata­nia easy (less so once you’re well off the beaten path, where stone roads pre­vail). For­eign buy­ers opt for vil­las near the un­spoilt coast or pe­riod apart­ments in well-pre­served cen­tres like Cata­nia, Ra­gusa or stun­ning Or­ti­gia, the tiny and well-pre­served ur­ban is­land that is linked to Syracuse town by two bridges.

Ex­cep­tional pe­riod houses in south­ern Si­cily can top £1mil­lion, but a mod­ern villa with a pool close to the beaches of the east coast is likely to be less than £300,000. Small stone houses in vil­lages, al­most all of which re­quire ren­o­va­tion, can be picked up for a mere £5,000 to £30,000. A few re­mote ham­lets top­ping steep hills in­land even have schemes sell­ing old and hith­er­toderelict cot­tages for lit­er­ally one euro a piece (around 90p). But buy­ers must com­mit to us­ing lo­cal builders when ren­o­vat­ing the prop­erty, so the op­por­tu­nity may not be quite as tempt­ing as it sounds.

Yet even the higher value open-mar­ket prop­er­ties are cheap by over­seas hol­i­day home stan­dards. “The place oozes a sim­i­lar Mediter­ranean feel to Puglia in Italy, but the homes of­fer more bang for your buck when it comes to square footage,” says Annabel Smith of agent Jackson-Stops.

This is be­cause Si­cil­ian prices are 35 per cent down from their 2008 peak (the Ital­ian mar­ket suf­fered badly in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis), and are only just start­ing to re­cover. In a lo­ca­tion where house prices are low any­way, this means homes now of­fer strik­ingly good value, es­pe­cially to British buy­ers suf­fer­ing from the weak value of ster­ling.

“Since the Brexit vote the num­ber of Bri­tons buy­ing has de­creased 30 per cent but there’s an in­crease in Ital­ians who’ve lived in the UK and want to in­vest in Italy again,” ex­plains Fabrizio Vitellino, owner of the Buy In Si­cily agency, which han­dles a lot of this re­gion’s in­ter­na­tional pur­chasers.

There’s also scope for sub­stan­tial in­come for own­ers who let out their prop­er­ties. “There are high re­turns be­cause of the Airbnb boom and the huge in­crease in tourists,” says En­gel & Völk­ers’ Car­nazza.

So for those pur­chasers want­ing sun, sand, scenery, and per­haps a lit­tle in­come from rentals, buy­ing a hol­i­day or per­ma­nent home in south­east­ern Si­cily sounds per­fect. But the Ital­ian house pur­chase process is not for the faint-hearted. The keys to suc­cess are hir­ing trusted pro­fes­sion­als and be­ing very, very pa­tient.

Scant prop­erty de­tails are up­loaded to many agents’ web­sites for fear of buy­ers mak­ing di­rect ap­proaches to sell­ers and thus avoid­ing agents’ fees (a com­mon oc­cur­rence in Italy), and for the same rea­son view­ings tend to be ac­com­pa­nied by the agent.

Pur­chasers pay a de­posit of up to 20 per cent early on in the buy­ing process, and if the deal is con­cluded both seller and buyer pays com­mis­sion to the es­tate agent. As pur­chasers in­herit some of the ven­dor’s un­paid prop­erty tax debts, good le­gal re­search is vi­tal be­fore you com­mit. The con­di­tion of the old­est prop­er­ties – and some of the newer ones too – can be poor, so a thor­ough sur­vey is a must.

As a con­so­la­tion, the cost of liv­ing in Si­cily is as cheap as the scenery is gor­geous. Even tiny vil­lages have mar­kets weekly (some­times three times a week) while as soon as you step away from tra­di­tional tourist routes it’s pos­si­ble to get a meal with wine for €15, and an es­presso and break­fast pas­try for just a euro. There’s no won­der In­spec­tor Mon­tal­bano chooses to spend so much time fre­quent­ing the lo­cal cof­fee shops and restau­rants.

An es­tate near Cata­nia with a vine­yard, main, bot­tom and right, €1.95m with Christie’s In­ter­na­tional Real Es­tate

Cap­tion box italic cap­tion

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