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House Hunting in … Sicily | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Media ID: 55381087

Susan Wright for The New York Times

New York- This condominium, with three bedrooms and four bathrooms, is on the second floor of a historic building in the heart of Palermo, the capital of Sicily. The neo-Classical stone building was constructed in the late 1800s for a noble Sicilian family, said Elisa Macaluso, an agent with the local office of Engel & Völkers, which is listing the property.

The building is in “one of the most prestigious” neighborhoods in Palermo, Ms. Macaluso said. It is a short walk to the city’s most important theaters, restaurants and shopping streets, which is why the area is known as “the lounge of Palermo,” she said.

The six-story building features a lobby with granite columns in a classical style, and a large interior courtyard. This apartment can be reached by either an elevator or stairs; it is one of two apartments on the second floor.

The main portion of the 3,014-square-foot apartment is laid out on a rectangular floor plan, with the living room and a formal dining room on one end, the kitchen in the middle and two bedrooms on the other end. From the kitchen, a hallway connects to stairs that lead to a mezzanine area with a bedroom, a living room, a small kitchen and a bathroom. The mezzanine area has its own entrance and can be used as a separate apartment or a professional studio, Ms. Macaluso says.

The main rooms of the condo have tall ceilings, period frescoes and parquet floors. Many original details remain, including carved wooden doors. There are six wrought-iron balconies off different rooms. The kitchen has modern appliances, but the floor is vintage tile with a floral design. There is enough room for a dining table.

The master bedroom has a balcony and stairs to a small loft, which is used as a closet. The floor in the bedroom is made of the colorful tiles. There are two bathrooms adjacent to the bedrooms in the main portion of the apartment, one with a whirlpool tub and one of Verona marble.

The sale price does not include the furniture, but the owners are open to selling some pieces, Ms. Macaluso says.

The apartment is within walking distance of Via della Libertà, one of the best-known shopping areas in the city. The Giardino Inglese, a popular park, is also a short walk from the building. The international airport is within a 30-minute drive, and a bus to the airport stops in front of the building every half-hour during the day, Ms. Macaluso said.

Market Overview

Palermo’s property market has been slow to rebound from Italy’s economic struggles. Prices are down about 20 percent from 2012, said Diletta Giorgolo Spinola, the head of sales in Southern Italy for Sotheby’s International Realty.

But the market has “stabilized,” she said. Price drops have slowed and the number of sales has been steadily increasing.

“More sales have been done this year, but still lower than before 2012,” Ms. Spinola said.

Many buyers are looking for bargains in the center of the city, agents say. The increase in sales in recent months can be attributed to “the reduction of prices, affordable mortgages, the willingness of sellers to accept lower offers and a good inventory of properties on market for sale,” said Danilo Ruvituso, an agent with RE/MAX Hunters, a real estate agency.

The city’s historic districts are among the most popular neighborhoods, according to agents. At the high end of the market, defined as properties above 200,000 euros (about $235,000), sales are up 15 percent in 2017 from a year earlier, said Alessandro Calì, a partner in Engel & Völkers’s Palermo office.

“Our market is a healthy one, despite the crisis of recent years,” Mr. Calì says. Prices at the high end have increased by 2 to 4 percent in the last year, outpacing the overall market, he said.

“The sales in the residential market are growing, slowly but constantly,” Mr. Calì said. “Of course, we are still far away from the prices of 2005 to 2007, but as far as I am concerned, they were unrealistic prices.”

Engel & Völkers predicts the number of sales in Palermo will increase by another 10 percent in 2017, with prices starting to rise 3 to 6 percent in the next two years, Mr. Calì said.

Who Buys in Palermo

Most buyers are Italians looking for a primary residence. Homeownership in Italy is traditionally higher than in many European countries, according to European Union data.

International buyers looking for second homes in Sicily tend to prefer the countryside and small coastal towns, agents say. Older, historic properties are particularly popular.

Buyers “renovate them and put them on the market as a B & B or tourist rentals,” Ms. Spinola said.

In recent months, international interest has increased, agents say. About 40 percent of Engel & Völkers’s clients in Sicily are international, primarily from the United States, Germany, Britain, Austria and France, Mr. Calì said.

“They are looking for the Italian way of life,” Mr. Calì said.

Buying Basics

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Sicily. The prospective buyer must set up a codice fiscale, a tax account, Mr. Calì said. Foreign buyers can apply for a renewable elective residence visa, if they can show they are self-supporting and won’t be working in Italy.

The buying process is centered on a notary, who is hired to research the title deed and confirm ownership. After the contract is signed, the buyer typically pays a deposit of 20 to 30 percent of the sale price.

The New York Times