Frank Salt Real Estate branch manager Marie Grech has spearheaded the Gozo office for over 25 years. Here she steps back in time to recall the early years of the housing boom, and looks to the future to explain why Gozo still makes the ideal property investment.
These days Marie Grech is a stalwart of the Gozo property industry. Having worked her way up over the years, she has overseen countless sales and purchases, and even helped to encourage the sector’s general development.
“This job was definitely meant for me!” smiles Marie, a busy mum who joined the team in 1989. “I had just returned to Gozo from Australia and was looking forward to a relaxing summer; I had no intention of working.
“However, a friend knew that the new Gozo office was looking for a secretary and convinced me I should put myself forward. In the end, I went along for the interview and found myself absolutely hooked! A year or so later I was offered the management position there and I haven’t looked back since.”
The FSRE Gozo office was actually the first of its kind on the island. “We weren’t a development company so we had to change perceptions along the way,” Marie explains. “It required people to shift away from the ‘sensar’ mentality that prevailed at the time which took some encouragement, but they soon adapted to the idea.”
Back then it was mostly foreigners on the list of property clients in Gozo. “People regularly fell in love with Gozo while on holiday and they would be eager to see their options for purchasing a property. Prices then were low when compared to the UK so sales came easily. It was very exciting.”
Back in those early days there was a large selection of properties available – including new apartment complexes with incredible views, and large famous houses or houses of character with pools and gardens.
“The market has gone through all sorts of highs and lows since then. In the early 90s there was a surge of Maltese wanting to purchase holiday homes on Gozo, which helped to tide over the dip in foreigners because of the Gulf War and the European recession. Meanwhile new markets emerged too, including from Hong Kong and South Africa.”
In the years that followed, the FSRE Gozo office has kept its head in the game so as to best serve its customers. It built a huge database of both developer and private properties, and has maintained a very good share of the market both in sales and letting.
“Even though other agencies have opened up, we have always prided ourselves on giving a good, honest service and this has set us apart. It’s always great to see customers coming back to us whenever they need a property service. As a result, Gozitan property owners are always eager to give us their properties to place on the market and they trust our advice on everything from valuations to marketing. We’re always happy to help.”
And it’s that desire to go the extra mile that helps to set the Gozo branch apart. “We offer a whole range of supplementary services, including pool servicing, and property finishing and furnishing,” says Marie. “The office is constantly buzzing with the array of jobs waiting to be done, and the whole team works together brilliantly.”
Naturally Marie has had the odd challenge along the way. “What I didn’t realise, was that I had landed straight into a predominantly man’s world,” she quips. “At first I was frowned upon by both workmen and professionals alike, but they soon got used to me. In fact, they started asking for my unique perspective and woman’s opinion!”
Marie loves so much about the industry, including the fact that no two days are ever the same. “You meet so many different people and get to do so many different things. There’s the joy of finding the right home for a client, and helping to put the finishing touches on a rental property.
“There are numerous challenges too, such as the ever-changing laws on taxation or problems with MEPA. But I am a great believer that nothing comes easy, and the good days always outnumber the bad ones.”
As a successful long-term branch manager Marie is driven by watching the office prosper and seeing each department do well. “I may not be the easiest of people to work with as I constantly expect the whole team to give their all, but I am happy with what we have achieved. Despite the challenges of the five-year recession we have pulled through, and property is moving far faster in 2014 than it was several months back.
“Today we have clients from all over the world and Gozo continues to charm them. We’re also attracting quite an upmarket clientele, which is fantastic – as long as we have the right properties for them!
“In relation to that, I think it is vital that MEPA and the other relevant authorities join forces to create a plan for the island’s property industry – it’s pointless having an endless supply of apartments available if the market wants houses with gardens. Gozo is only small and we must ensure that we only build what is needed and in demand.”
Marie is also adamant that now is the right time to invest in property on Gozo. “I have always believed in the property market here, even when it had reached its lowest point. Now prices have been stagnant for a while, so they are bound to shoot up soon, which makes this the ideal opportunity. Good properties are limited though, so buy well to ensure your investment is secure,” she adds.