Rome: Stephanie Synclair was on her own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey in 2012 when she first visited the place that would become her second home.
Synclair was newly into her entrepreneur era, having quit a 10-year corporate marketing career to become a consultant and work for herself. “I knew it was time to quit corporate America when I was sick of people telling me when to take a lunch break,” she says. “I wish it was deeper than that.”
Starting her own consulting business meant Synclair could work from anywhere, including while traveling the world.
She looked for the cheapest flights for her first trip out of the country — “It was Palermo, Sicily, and that’s how we ended up here,” she tells CNBC Make It. For a roughly $250 plane ticket, Synclair set off to Sicily with her then 6-year-old son, Caden.
She immediately found Sicilians welcoming, and “I knew from the moment I landed that I loved it here, and it was almost like home for me.”
Synclair, who lives in Atlanta, made Sicily her home away from home in 2022 when she bought a house there for 59,000 euros, or about $62,000.
She now runs her own tea company, LaRue 1680, and pays herself $80,000 per year. Here’s how she spends her time, and money, across her home base of Atlanta and her second home in Sicily.
If the promise of good food and beautiful vistas drew Synclair to Sicily, it was the friendliness of the locals that made her want to stay.
She first felt it when she arrived in Sicily and committed the “cardinal sin” of taking a nap after landing, she says. She woke up in the middle of the town’s siesta, when many shops and restaurants are closed for the afternoon.
Synclair remembers wandering the streets with Caden looking for a place to eat, when she came across a woman who didn’t speak English.
Even through a language barrier, the woman recognized Synclair’s need. “She grabbed me by one hand and grabbed my little baby by the other hand and walked us to the store that she had just left from,” Synclair says. “I felt like that was one of the most hospitable things anyone could have done, instead of just leaving me to be lost in the streets of Sicily.”
Those neighborly interactions motivated Synclair to spend more time in Sicily. She figures she knows more about her neighbors in Sicily than she’s ever known about her neighbors in the U.S.
“Once people know you’re in their community, they do take you in as family,” she says.
Another welcome difference is the Sicilian approach to leisure, she says: “My favorite thing about living in Sicily is you actually get to live. I do find that in the United States, it’s more work focused for me. And so here I’m able to really relax and spend time doing things that I love doing.”
“I always said I could see myself living here, but it was more so in a dream way,” she adds. “I never actually saw myself buying a house here. I don’t know that I really thought it was possible at the time.”
Like many Americans, Synclair got serious about buying a home early in the pandemic when mortgage rates dropped throughout 2020. But it wasn’t long before home prices shot up.
She noticed houses in her desired neighborhoods around Atlanta that sold for $300,000 in 2019 were going for upwards of $800,000 by 2021. She was priced out of her budget of $450,000 — until she expanded her search. If the U.S. housing market was so bad, was it better anywhere else in the world?
“I started looking outside the country for just what was available,” Synclair says. “It really was more so just curiosity, just looking. I don’t think in that moment that I knew it would actually lead to a purchase.”
Stephanie Synclair bought her home in Sicily for 59,000 euros, or roughly $62,000 in 2022.
One day, she saw a message in a Facebook group for American expats in Europe, where one person brought up inexpensive houses for sale in Sicily. That’s how she learned about Mussomeli, the Sicilian town that went viral for selling off crumbling homes for 1 euro. Through some research, Synclair connected with a real estate agency that also sells properties in less need of repair but still at an affordable price.
Synclair began looking for houses in September 2021, found hers in November and closed on it by March 2022. The grand total for her three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 4,000-square-foot house: 59,000 euros, or roughly $62,000 based on conversion rates as of October 2023.
Like many foreigners who buy in Mussomeli, Synclair is in the process of renovating her new home. She’s budgeted 20,000 euros — around $21,000 — worth of repairs, including transforming the home’s garage on the ground floor into a living room and bar area, adding a bedroom and bathroom, and knocking down some walls in the kitchen.
Preservation is also top of mind. “It was very important for me to keep the architectural details in this house, like the historic floors, and to not try to change the walls or the arches,” Synclair says. “This house is at least 500 years old that we know of. It was remodeled maybe 100 years ago, and the floors are at least 100 years old, and they’re still kicking.”