The ever-increasing demand for houses of character in Malta
Houses of character are a part of Malta’s cultural and architectural history. These charming and sought-after homes often have intricate pasts, tightly interwoven with the historic line of its previous owners and past illustrious visitors. In many cases those that graced their interiors were responsible for changing the entire course of history in this country.
The Covid-19 effect
With the importance of home life re-envisaged, re-valued and reinvented after the past two years, the popularity of houses of character have soared to new heights for several reasons: these homes are reminders of a gentler time, a slower pace of life and they are often full of quirky features, a legacy of its former owners. The renewed interest by the buying public of all things heritage is not only prevalent in Malta; it is truly a global phenomenon with artefacts being returned to their countries of origin by former ruling governments and wealthy buyers snapping up rare heritage pieces offered for sale by well-known and popular global auction houses. As in the case of irreplaceable and valuable art, houses of character never lose their value for several reasons: there’s a limited supply, they have more space, most are of historical importance and every single one of them oozes undeniable charm.
Defining Historic homes in Malta
Because Malta has so many properties that are of a good age and may even look similar, people often ask: “What is the difference between a house of character, a farmhouse, a town house and a palazzino?”
- Townhouses are always set on a street in a village or town near the core of similar homes and are often duplicates in design, size and square meterage to that of their neighbours. View Townhouses.
- Farmhouses are mostly found on the outskirts of villages and towns or obviously in the countryside, as they once were all in remote locations before the expansion of the urban landscapes that may now surround most of them. View Farmhouses.
- Palazzinos – may also be of a good age, but few are as old as the oldest houses of character and they were purpose-built for affluent families, are also big in size but were always meticulously designed and decorated by leading architects and builders of the day, often at great expense. Unlike the houses of character, they were the homes of the rich ruling classes, merchants and political leaders of the day. These imposing palaces were to act as a sign of the wealth and success of its owners and its main function was to impress and exude power and status. View Palazzinos.
- Houses of character – were built one simple reason: living. But it had a dual purpose and had to accommodate co-habitation of the owners with livestock, the latter usually occupying the bottom part of the house and the occupants the upper floors. Houses of character are usually built around a central courtyard with stairs on the outside leading to the upper floors. These are some of the reasons why houses of character often incorporate wells, mangers, storage pits and cellars, drinking troughs, wide barn doors and many other quirky features that were quickly chiselled out of a wall or built when and as needed. Houses of character were seldom meticulously planned on paper and additional spaces, rooms and structures were added over hundreds of years and several generations, as and where they were needed. View Houses of Characters.
Typical Houses of Character Features
Typically houses of character often have ceilings constructed of stone slabs which are called xorok and the arches that protrude from either side of expansive room’s walls to meet in the middle – supporting the roof – are individually called a kileb. These are all ancient methods of building and construction that is evident in most houses of character and these unique features are something buyers find irresistible…it is a tie to the distant past of inventive master stonemasons and practical craftsmen.
Converted or unconverted Houses of character?
Today, many owners of houses of character have successfully renovated and updated these millennia-old homes, bringing them right into the 21st century. Originally these homes had no plumbing or electricity to start with, so those in an original state will require an investor to start updating them from scratch. However, many buyers cherish the thought of starting out with a home that is still in its pure and original state, undiluted by the passing of time.
Buying an unrenovated house of character is not for the faint-hearted and requires one to have deep pockets and a lot of patience, but you will have the satisfaction of shaping a lot of the home around your tastes and requirements. Other buyers prefer to snap up homes that are already fully renovated and refurbished and obviously going this route is more expensive as all the work has already been done, but nothing beats the gratification of having your own perfect piece of Malta’s history. Successful upgrades and renovations are truly stunning and many of these homes have graced the pages of prestigious international interior design and decorating magazines. Being an owner of a house of character is belonging to a very elite and exclusive club and membership is absolutely limited!
Goverment Property Grants
Recognising the importance of preserving these unique homes for future generations, the government has decreed several incentives to bolster their revival, renovation and ultimately the chances of them being saved, especially those ones that are in a precarious state and thus warrants immediate intervention in order to survive.
First-time buyers are eligible for a grant of €15,000 when they purchase a property in an urban conservation area (UCA) in Malta and this is doubled to €30,000 when buying in Gozo. The same applies to properties that have been standing vacant for more than seven years, were built more than twenty years ago or simply for homes that are built in the traditional and classic Maltese architectural style. All these measures have been introduced to encourage awareness of Malta’s cultural heritage and this is especially true in the case of houses of character as almost all of them qualify under this new dispensation. As a final nudge to encourage investment in traditional homes such as houses of character, restoring these homes will see owners qualifying for grants on the value of the VAT, paid up to a maximum of €54,000 for the first €300,000 spent on their restoration.
Buying your very own House of Character
The demand for houses of character will only increase and any estate agent can testify to this fact. This has seen a sharp rise in prices but due to their nearly cult status, price has never been an issue for the scores of eager buyers. Houses of character are arguably Malta’s most sought-after homes and everyone wants one. Sadly the numbers of “move-in ready” ones that people are willing to part with,
are becoming finite as more and more owners are holding on to their beloved houses of character. Soon the only option will be to take the plunge and go for an unrenovated one…and we advise anyone to do this sooner than later, as even these last unpolished gems’ days of lying in wait is numbered!
If you are in the market for buying a house of character, we have some points to consider to narrow down your list of candidates quickly:
- make an appointment with an agent in your area of choice and go and see both renovated and unrenovated options.
- some of the houses are in remote locations and others are in the middle of villages and towns
- see exactly what lifestyle you are after or have in mind for you and your family as
- many are renovated but others may be in an unrenovated and original condition, so this will influence price greatly
- decide whether you are up for taking on a project when buying unrenovated or whether you
- have the budget when looking at unrenovated houses of character as an option, as modernizing and upgrading them can be expensive and will take time before you can move in
- investigate the complexity of current ownership as the simpler it is, the better
- if you have set your heart on an unrenovated property, get an expert such as a surveyor, structural engineer or architect in to do a full report on the house and its boundaries
- lastly, once you have a clear idea of the house of character you want to own, make an offer and ensure to stipulate any conditions you have as part of the offer being accepted.
If you are interested in owning one of Malta’s limited number houses of character, visit our website franksalt.com.mt for a look at the variety of options that are available at present.