From Sunny Retreat to Forever Home

Scott Thompson first arrived in Sicily in 2007 in search of a warm and sunny holiday escape from rainy Manchester, UK. A home builder by profession, he purchased a small house in Cianciana for €5,000 and planned to come for three months to work on it. 

Unfortunately, Scott did not purchase his house through either a comune or a licensed realtor. The resulting problems caused him to spend the next 10 years trying to make sure nobody else made the same mistake – including writing a book about the experience! 

But, he says, nowadays things in Italy are very different. The process is more secure, and the towns more adept at welcoming newcomers.

Cianciana, Sicily

Despite the challenges from his first Italian home purchase, he couldn’t help but fall in love with Sicily. 

In 2013, he bought another house for €15,000 and the one next door for €6,000 – for a combined 350 sq.m (3,767 sq.ft). In total, he has spent around €100k renovating the two properties into his ‘forever home,’ doing all the design and building work himself. 

Over his nearly 15 year tenure in Sicily, he has launched his own building company, become fluent not only in Italian but also Sicilian, and built a wide network of friends across the island, most of whom are native Sicilians.

 

From Visitor to Resident

When asked about how he obtained his visa, he replied “I did [the visa process] all by myself at the comune. It is a bit of a faff, but if you speak the language it’s no great problem. Fortunately, I got my long-term residency before Brexit, and it was easy. Now not so much, I think. But as long as you speak the language and don’t mind jumping through a few hoops, it’s definitely something you can do yourself.

He describes Cianciana as being incredibly welcoming to foreign buyers and appreciative of the boost to the economy. “The people are great and make a lot of effort, however, I would recommend to anyone thinking of moving to Sicily to learn the language. It makes the experience so much deeper and more fulfilling. I didn’t speak the language when I first arrived, but I worked incredibly hard to learn it as quickly as possible.”

Scott admits that setting up a business can be both challenging and expensive. “It’s definitely something you want an accountant for and one with whom you can communicate. Finding the right one isn’t easy, but it is a necessity.”

Home renovation in Italy

While properties in Sicily are relatively cheap, renovation costs aren’t always the same. If someone renovates using traditional methods and materials, then it can be relatively inexpensive. However, if you want a house that performs all year round, built to northern European standards, the costs are similar to what you would find in the UK, if not a little more. He advises that it is vital to plan well and get quotes beforehand. 

Before and after photos of Scott's house in Cianciana.

Scott says that actual builders in Sicily are paid less than in the UK, but the costs of employing them for the company are higher, so the total labor cost is similar. And as there are no large building stores like B&Q or Home Depot, modern materials (plasterboard, insulation, doors and windows, lighting, and furniture) are, on average, more expensive. 

For his house, he made all the furniture himself or bought and refurbished antique or quirky items from flea markets around the island. He prefers this to bringing things in from overseas as each piece has a story, which he loves. 

Cost of living in Sicily

Coffee at a bar in Cianciana, Sicily

When questioned about the average costs to maintain a property, he says that it depends on the size of the property. As his is larger than the average holiday home, and he lives and works there year-round, his costs are slightly higher. He says he spends around €800 to €1,000 a month, which includes spending weekends either in Palermo or out and about exploring Sicily. 

Scott has a car and believes it is vital to have one. He feels they are more expensive to buy in Italy in comparison to the UK, as are the costs of insurance. However, to make the most of living on the beautiful island of Sicily, a car is a must.

Small town Sicilian life

On day-to-day life in Cianciana, he says there are a few things to do in town such as gyms, football pitches, parks, and lovely walks. The bars and restaurants are great, though options are limited given that the town population is only around four thousand. But he feels that Cianciana is in a great spot from which to go and explore the island. There are several places such as Eraclea Minoa, crystal clear beaches, the Valley of the Temples, Sciacca port and medieval town, palazzos, castles, vineyards, and many art exhibitions.

Holiday lights in Cianciana, Sicily

“Life in Cianciana is about the people and community (another reason it’s vital to learn the language!). My working day is pretty much like anywhere else in the world, followed by a walk into the piazza to meet up with friends and chat with whoever is around.

I have an art studio, music room,  and workshop where I make furniture all in my house, so I am always busy with one art project or another. This love for art and creativity I discovered in Cianciana. Partly because it became a way to fill my time. But more accurately, it started because when I renovated my first home, a bucket of plaster set quickly, and I decided I would try and turn it into a sculpture. From there, I guess I found my passion for art.

There are many artists and musicians in Cianciana. I would say far higher than any place I’ve been in the UK. This probably stems from the lack of distractions and the abundance of free time combined with a strong artistic heritage all in an inspiring setting of rolling mountains and nature.”

Advice to others

On what advice Scott would have for someone embarking on a journey to purchase a home in Sicily, he responded, 

I would recommend that anyone thinking of buying come out and visit first. Sicily is really an incredible place, but it is not for everyone and can be a culture shock, especially outside of the holiday season. Buying through a comune or proper estate agent (like MyHouse) is the safest way and comes with some security and organization.” He advises again not to buy directly through the seller without significant local support to help manage the process. 

After all these years, he says no single aha moment made him decide to remain in Cianciana. Instead, he attributes his desire to stay to the thousands of great little experiences that still happen 15 years into his Italian adventure.

If you are interested, you can check out some of Scott’s art pieces on Instagram here.

You can also browse house listings in Cianciana here. 

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