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Leading the game

Sliema branch

It’s the Sliema Branch that’s leading the game at Frank Salt Real Estate. Of the fourteen branches that make up Malta’s longest established real estate company, which has been going strong and expanding since 1969, the Sliema Branch, headed by manager George Vassallo, notched up the highest number of sales in 2014 winning the prestigious award – again.

The office at 201 Tower Road, Sliema runs like a well-oiled machine. The ten property negotiators, who almost call this address their home, are a highly-motivated, enthusiastic team passionate about the work they are involved in. This is a tight-knit team of women and men ranging from their early 60s to late 20s who understand the market which they live and breathe in on a daily basis. Their mentor and motivator, George Vassallo, speaks extremely highly of them, claiming that they “never really switch off” and that “they carry with them a level of energy and dedication that fills the office, from early Monday mornings to late on Fridays, and weekends when necessary, with a constant buzz of activity, discussion and exchange of information, strategy and ideas.”

Of course, when we realize that 2014 has been an excellent year for property sales in Malta we understand that these are the people on the front line. They are the movers and the makers of the property market which has been steadily moving in an encouraging upward trend.

This is indeed excellent news, and it required further elaboration. George Vassallo explained that for the first time in a number of years, all aspects of the property market are moving steadily creating the current positive conditions. In 2014, for instance, the first time property buyers market boomed as a result of the First Time Buyer Scheme which effectively removed all stamp duty for this category of buyers on the first 150,000 euro as a one-year incentive. However, it has reaped such good results that it has been extended for a further six months. The removal of the usual 3.5% duty has stimulated this aspect of the market which is currently very busy.

The top end of the market has also been stimulated and is moving well. The IP Scheme (Passport scheme) has generated a new market of people who are looking to buy, as well as to rent, some of the most prestigious properties in the North-Eastern side of the island. In effect, this covers the area from Valletta, Floriana and Msida all the way to Sliema and Qui-Si-Sana, up to Madliena, High Ridge and down to Bahar ic-Caghaq – this is the geographical area covered by the Sliema Branch which corresponds to the area in which most of Malta’s higher end properties are located. The Scheme has brought people to Malta who had not previously visited and never looked to buy here before. They have the option to rent a property for at least 16,000 euro a year, or else to buy, and many of them choose to buy at above the minimum threshold stipulated in the Scheme.

In addition, and on a very positive note, the middle market, which was quite stagnant for some years, is also on the rise. These are the people who own comfortable homes but who wish to upgrade to larger houses. This group of buyers and sellers is an interesting indicator of a healthy market because they don’t have to move, they move because they want to and because they can, and in so doing they free up the valuable properties which the first-time buyers are interested in. Similarly, those people wishing to downsize because their circumstances may have changed are also putting interesting properties on the market for those expanding families on their way up the property ladder.

In 2014, all the markets were moving – and they still are. The rental market is also strong. With an influx of people moving to Malta to work in Financial Services, Gaming or other growing areas there is a steady and healthy demand for properties for rent at a range of levels but with a strong demand for the higher end properties in the this area. There is a long-standing tradition in Malta of people investing their money in property instead of depositing their savings in banks since the interest rates are so low. In the recent past many of these buildings stood empty but with the increased demand for long-term rents there are very few uninhabited properties to be found.

It is clearly an excellent moment to be involved in property with so much going on. Owners might be encouraged to have their assets valued and one of the most important decisions potential buyers and sellers must make occurs at this preliminary stage. Choosing the correct property negotiator will make a world of difference in the game of buying and selling. Issues of trust and an ethical attitude are the necessary ingredients of a fruitful relationship between negotiator and client.

Frank Salt Real Estate negotiators, with their professional experience and in-depth knowledge of the real market in Malta, are experts. In George Vassallo’s words, “we sell so much property that we are on the ball and on top of the game.” A potentially hazardous stage is that of having a property valued: price it too high and it will remain on the market for so long that buyers become suspicious of it. The old idea of aiming high to settle for a lower price tends to have a negative effect in that it puts buyers off. The best thing one can hope for is a real valuation, done by experts, which will lead to the property being sold at its proper market value in a short period of time. Nobody wants static property on their books – not agents and certainly not owners.

The Sliema branch manager explains this aspect of the profession very carefully saying that, “we take valuing property very seriously – people need to approach a serious and experienced agent to get a real price for their property. Some agents tend to suggest frivolous prices to attract people to their property lists – only to request they reduce the initial asking price when these properties don’t move.”

This is a company built on a philosophy of dedication, reputation and no get-rich-quick schemes. Hard work and knowledge of real market conditions pay off in the long term – and testament to that is that Frank Salt Real Estate is the longest serving property consultant agency in Malta, and still going strong. So strong, in fact, that the Sliema Branch, which continues to be managed by George Vassallo, who has been selling property in Malta since the age of 21, which adds up to a solid 28 years of experience, is about to double in size. Soon he will be looking to take on ten more of the best negotiators to join his team as he looks forward to a strong 2015. And he is constantly on the look-out for more properties stating, in no uncertain terms, that “it is myth that that there is too much property on the market, the truth is very much the contrary”.

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