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Getting the big deal right

Prospective buyers should think long-term and how their life and needs will change in the foreseeable future.

Prospective buyers should think long-term and how their life and needs will change in the foreseeable future.

Buying your first property is one of the biggest purchases you will ever make. David Schembri speaks to two architects who point out the potential pitfalls when purchasing property.

The biggest deal – literally and figuratively – many people will go through in their lives is buying property; so big a deal that they will probably spend the majority of their lives paying it off.

“The seller’s cliché of ‘don’t sleep on it as there are other people who are interested in buying this’ should be ignored. Any important decision should be well thought out,” says Christopher Mintoff, director of Building & Design Consultants.

Prospective buyers should think long-term and how their life and needs will change in the foreseeable future. They should ask whether a property can accommodate an increase in family size, whether it could be easily sold if needs be, and many other important questions that many buyers, Mintoff says, ignore in the euphoria of chasing retail.

Some buyers also tend to overlook their daily living needs when looking at property, like storage space and space to wash and dry their laundry. “When I enquire how they plan to carry out these basic tasks in a pokey borrow of an apartment the reaction tends to be that they didn’t think of that,” Mintoff says.

One vital thing to consider before buying property is to see what your reasons for buying are. “If one is buying to invest, one needs to look at the market trends, possible future developments,” Daniel Darmanin, a freelance architect says.

“One would want to recover the money spent together with a margin of profit in the future. In the case of someone who intends to live in the property, more personal choices might come into play. For instance, being closer to one’s place of work or some relative might be an important aspect. In the latter case, one would be willing to pay more for something which might have no investment value, in general, but which has a subjective value,” Darmanin says.

When looking at property, it is advisable to seek out the expertise of a architect. “One needs a professional who is able to give objective advice to the client, based on sound knowledge of Maltese legislation, sector policies, building practices and the structural integrity of a building,” Darmanin says.

“Certain owners or developers would have a vested interest in convincing a prospective buyer not to get professional assistance for a multitude of reasons,” Mintoff notes. What could appear to be a small issue might seriously jeopardise the potential buyer’s vision of a property.

“Remember that an agent’s ultimate aim to close a sale; an architect has no agenda beyond offering a professional service. An uninformed move in this industry could cost very dear indeed.”

Furthermore, an architect can give advice on the investment value of a property, possible development and also how a property could be modified to better suit the needs of a client.

“I’ve had clients come up to me with ideas after they buy a property only to realise that there are policies which stop them from carrying out their envisioned project,” Mintoff says.

There are also a number of potential issues to look out for when viewing property, some of which tend to be common in local buildings.

“The first thing I ask for when seeing a property is the Mepa permit. Unfortunately, a lot of buildings in Malta are not built according to the approved plans. The issue may not be a big one, unless the sanitary laws haven’t been followed. These rules regulate, amongst others, the size of yards and floor to ceiling height, which if not followed may render a property not fit for habitable use,” Darmanin says.

Any important decision should be well thought out

“It is not uncommon for someone to discover that the home he bought 20 years ago has no residential permit but should, in fact, be a garage or a washroom as opposed to a legal penthouse,” Mintoff points out. “Moreover, very old properties in urban conservation areas tend to have hidden structural issues on look out for. While not usually a deal-breaker, these tend to increase costs.”

Major sanitary or structural issues can be a deal-breaker, as can be issues regarding current ownership of the property.

When considering whether to buy property, there may be hidden costs involved which need to be taken into account. These include bank charges, repayments, agent’s fees and notarial fees – they add up.

“It is also important to appreciate that certain alterations which sound simple like moving walls or opening up certain spaces do have a cost applicable to them, which could end up being substantial as they add up,” Mintoff says.

“In a wider sense, the major hidden cost of properties in Malta is the cost of energy,” Darmanin says. “Despite a number of attempts, this cost is still widely ignored in the Maltese market. There are a number of aspects that if integrated in the construction of a new property will greatly affect the energy performance of a building and hence future energy bills.”

Renovation could be another stumbling block towards keeping to your budget. Firstly, one has to check what is permissible and what not, Darmanin says. “Some properties, for example scheduled properties, can have a number of limitations as to what could be done.”

“In cases of renovations I always advise my clients to list them in order of priority and estimate each item’s cost. An architect can provide market rates for each modification, and also assist in the sourcing of more accurate estimates in the form of quotes or bills of quantities from contractors,” Darmanin says.

As for the price: it is an open secret that sellers often ask for an inflated figure which eventually could come down.

“There is a tendency for property owners to ask for absurdly high property prices,” Mintoff says. “An uninformed owner would come up with an unsubstantiated figure of how much a property is worth, irrespective of the actual value. Our market is littered with such properties,” he says, warning potential buyers to take property descriptions with a pinch – or two – of salt.

“As a final note, haste is not your friend when buying property,” Mintoff says. “It is far more disappointing to end up with a property you’re not completely happy with rather than missing out on buying a property which could have worked.”

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