Rural Italy is full of abandoned properties in need of renovation.
Every morning for the past month, Brian has woken up to the profound peace of the Italian countryside and a distant view among the olive trees of a hilltop village.
It’s a very different start to the day than her previous routine when she lived in Oregon. Together with his wife Beth, Brian is realizing a dream he has been waiting for for a long time.
The retired couple purchased a property in rural Sicily and got to work turning it into their future home.
It’s only been two months since they began their renovation project, but it’s already been eventful.
If you’ve been daydreaming about snapping up one of Italy’s one-euro homes or even buying an entire abandoned village, here’s a little taste of what’s involved.
Fall in love with rural Italy
New Hampshire natives Brian and Beth Wilbur are unabashedly in love with their new home Sicily. “Everything was just perfect when we saw it,” Beth says.
But this is not the first time they have attempted a restoration project and relocation in Europe. “Our story isn’t as romantic as you might hope,” says Brian.
Five years ago, the couple bought a 12-room hotel in the countryside Francebut after only a few years they were forced to abandon what they thought would be a dream.
Despite speaking French and trying to integrate into the community, the couple has never felt at home.
“People just wouldn’t let us in,” Brian says, “and by the end we felt really alone.”
Undeterred, a couple of years ago they started looking for an alternative destination. Even though I have never visited it Sicily before that, the couple spent six weeks on the island and fell in love.
“The people are amazing, the island is beautiful, everything is perfect,” Beth says. “There’s a joy of living that doesn’t exist in other places.”
The language was also much less of a problem than in France. “In Italy, if you don’t communicate well in Italian, they take out the phone and translate,” she says.
How to buy properties in Sicily
The property Beth and Brian settled on also seemed like love at first sight. “We looked around a bit, but it was perfect for us,” Brian says.
As with many properties in Rural Italy, it was also convenient. The couple obtained a 60 m2 house, 30,000 m2 of land and an olive grove for 65,000 euros.
It is ten minutes from Palazzolo Acreide, a city equipped with all the necessary services, less than an hour away Catania Airport and half an hour from the beach. It’s also half an hour from Noto, a city of baroque architectural splendor recently featured in the second season of the hit HBO show The White Lotus.
“I just know I like waking up in the morning there,” says Brian, speaking from the United States where they have returned for a few weeks to help their son and daughter-in-law with their new baby.
He too has already made friends with his neighbor Massimo. “In two months I was invited to his house more than we had been in five years in France,” he says. “He comes once or twice a day just to see how I’m doing. Things don’t work like that in the United States.”
Renovating a property in rural Sicily
Beth and Brian have ambitious plans for their new home. They are considering the possibility of turning the current building into a ‘farmhouse’ or rental property and build another house to live in with an outdoor kitchen.
They are doing almost all the work themselves. Brian has experience renovating homes across the US, but Beth adds that YouTube has been invaluable.
Accompanied by Massimo, Brian visited the hardware store in the nearby town and used photos and translation apps to communicate what he needed.
“You just need time, and we have plenty of it,” he says.
Outside they want to plant more trees and even something screws. “We want to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient,” Beth says. “You get a lot more power growing in Southern Italy.”
Is it difficult to renovate a house in Italy?
The project is not always as idyllic as the effect under the Tuscan sun might suggest. Brian had to deal with an infestation of mice and numerous resident insects.
The house also had a lot of water damage and had been abandoned for about six or seven years.
Buying the house took six months but was not a difficult process. However, residency is proving to be a problem.
“We’re already running into obstacles with income requirements, for example,” Brian says. The couple wishes to move permanently to island so they ask for long-term retirement leave. “It’s wasting my time and energy on things I don’t want to spend it on.”
The couple has come to accept that ‘little by little’ – slowly slowly – is the way things work in Italy: “As US citizens we expect things to happen quickly and efficiently, but that’s not the case here,” says Beth, “he will.” happen when it happens.”
But it’s clear that the positives definitely outweigh the negatives for the couple. “There are problems everywhere, from the non-existent postal service to bad roads, but somehow it doesn’t matter,” Brian says. “It’s a special place.”
“Everything in the US is go-go-go,” Beth adds. “You work there, but in here Sicily you learn to really live.
You can follow Beth and Brian’s restoration journey on their Youtube channel.