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The property market - Frank Salt

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The other day I was asked to speak at a conference organised by the local Guardian of Future Generations, a very important organisation that, at least, is trying to make our islands a better and more acceptable place in which to live and visit.

I agreed and gave a 20-minute talk about many things that I thought were happening in the property market and which, in my opinion, were wrong.

The Times of Malta published a synopsis of my talk, centring on my opinion that St Paul’s Bay area, Buġibba and Qawra were almost slums.  Quite a hard edit of my complete speech, but never mind.

Some parts of St Paul’s Bay, Qawra and Buġibba are better than others, but the general impression to visitors unfortunately, is one of neglect. The feature did, however, bring out the usual malicious comments.

There are always many people, who write very vicious and uncomplimentary comments regarding estate agents whenever a story or article is featured about the local property market. Normally I just ignore them and carry on with my business, but I now feel that it is about time that someone replies to these comments and answers them in a very plain and simple way.

The local property market is doing very well at the moment.  It is doing so well that many people are making a lot of money. A lot of people are entering the property market to get rich quickly and a lot of things are happening that do not please everybody including myself. I have spent so long trying to help the property market, at least the real estate section, to run along ethical lines, but market forces sometimes create uncomfortable situations.

Who is to blame for all the excessive buildings? Who is to blame for all the ugly buildings being built? Who is to blame for the high prices being asked, for all the mess left around from building sites? Who is to blame for all the lack of maintenance on buildings, roads, pavements, walls etc.?

To read these comments on estate agents, you would think that the buck stops with us and the blame rests firmly on our greedy feet. We are the cause of all the problems in the property market and the eyesores that abound in Malta and Gozo.

Well, let us think for a moment about how an estate agency works, and how an estate agency can assure that it will earn a reasonable living.

First, an estate agency has no say in the design and architecture of buildings. That is the prerogative of the owner and the architect. 

We sell what we are given and we try to sell them as best as we can. I can definitely state this of our company. We do our best to sell to clients the properties that we feel are well priced and well built.

The prices of the buildings on our registers are given to us by the owners. We try to get the selling price to be as accurate and reasonable as possible but the final say rests with the owner.  We therefore have very little blame for the rising prices and the expensive property market.

A lot of properties are good, but a lot are not. They are ugly and built and designed in such a way so as to incur the minimum costs

A lot of properties, houses or apartments are good, but a lot are not. They are ugly and built and designed in such a way so as to incur the minimum costs when developing and finishing them. Hence all the ugly tall boxes with square windows we see today.

Estate agents have very little if any say in the design or layout of these new developments. We just sell what we are given. Estate agents are certainly not to blame for the ugly buildings and areas that are spread over our island.  In most cases, some of the blame goes to those architects who design the properties.

Some local architects have won awards for designing and being creative with their property designs.  So we do have excellent local architects, but these could be restricted and restrained by forces beyond their control. The rest goes to those developers, who want to cut corners, and lastly the Planning Authority, that grants permits for such properties to be built in the first place.

If I were the Planning Authority, I wouldn’t allow any property to be built that wasn’t attractive, wasn’t built well and no property that did not have some Maltese characteristic in the design. But we have no say in the matter. We just seem to get the blame when things are done badly.

Most properties in Buġibba are in a real mess, badly maintained and overpriced. There are however some properties that are well priced and well looked after.  There are rules and regulations to ensure that properties are kept to a certain standard, but these rules, like so many others, are ignored. The result: a mess.

The value of a property is what someone is prepared to pay for it. Today, there is a great demand especially for investment properties to rent out. This great demand, and believe it or not, not a great supply, causes prices to go up. Is this the fault of estate agents?

The biggest reason that property prices go up is that the owners of the land want higher and higher prices. Developers transfer the higher cost of land to the purchaser. If we refuse a property because we feel it is too high, the owner will just sell it himself or give it to another agent.

The main problem at the moment is the lack of supply of affordable properties in all areas of Malta for low-income Maltese families. We, estate agents, are doing all we can to solve this problem and there are many suggestions put forward that seem to be very interesting and could work very well.

An estate agent’s job is to sell or rent properties that belong to people, who give those properties to the estate agency to sell or rent. Full stop. That is our job.

Our job is to try and find among all the properties offered to us those that we can sell or rent to our clients at a good and fair price. We also try to advise all property developers that they must build properties that are attractive.They must offer them at fair prices. But that is all we can do. Advise. 

Our company has been in business for nearly 50 years. We have grown from a company of two persons to a company employing almost 200 persons.

During the 50 years in the property market, there have been good times and bad times. We have seen it all. We have seen desperation. We have seen greed. We have seen prices going up and prices remaining static.

We have seen good people in the property business and we have seen bad ones. But never have we been able to control the market. The market is controlled by economic forces that may be aided or not by the authorities.

So please, when you read something about the property market, don’t just assume who are the villains and possibly reach wrong conclusions. Think and realise that we must all take a share of the blame. All of us.  Some for doing something and others for doing nothing.

But do not always blame the people who are at least trying.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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