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Patience and perseverance: a real estate agent’s journey

22nd April, 2020
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The journey started back in 2003 at a time when Malta was in the middle of a ‘construction boom’; albeit very different from what we have experienced in these last years. Still, for those who lived through it, this was a period of great changes spurred forward by an amnesty issued by the government of the time to repatriate Maltese-owned foreign deposits to be invested locally. It was a time when those agents who had good roots in the industry took the opportunity and secured a better income.

Some of these agents eventually started different businesses of their own; some stayed on as estate agents and today are considered leaders and mentors in what they do. Then there were those that, throughout that opportune period, still did not manage to create opportunities for themselves and decided to move on to other regular jobs or retire entirely.

Being an estate agent is not always as glamourous as the public believes it to be. It is more about the opportunities that the agent is able to create for himself/herself through hard work. Only a very small percentage possess an innate ability to see opportunities at every turn.

The reality is that the absolute majority of estate agents must learn to survive the trade in the harshest way possible.

Reverse back time to 1984 and you will find an eight-year-old boy placed at the helm of a recently-opened Club Bar & Restaurant in the middle of St Paul’s Bay. It was more like being in the middle of a field without a road where various plots of land were being taken and developed by different people all around us. It was a time of super development in an area of St Paul’s Bay that would eventually turn out to be a non-planning zone.

It was the famous 1980s period whereby entrepreneurs took advantage of opportunities within the development industry and sought to build something for themselves. It was a time when an individual with some money and courage could take control of their future and St Paul’s Bay was one of the main locations for such development.

Hailing from a typical, rural-village family practising different trades which varied from agriculture to mechanics, from village social club owners to limestone cutters/suppliers, my upbringing was as colourful as it could have been. Eventually, my family did what others also did at the time and built a restaurant and some apartments above to rent out. To maintain cash flow, my father would still do three other jobs while I was to run the restaurant in his absence ‒ this while I was still at school.

Fast-forward to the 1990s and the initially small hospitality business developed into two restaurants, a 100-bed guest house, a car hire fleet of 20 cars and a 24/7 taxi service.

To reach this milestone, all six family members were involved seven days a week without knowing what a wage, leave or sick leave were; it was a ‘work all hours’ scenario for all the family for over a decade.

With no change in mentality in sight, cracks emerged and the family fragmented, leaving my father to run the business with the hands-on operations left to me.

Throughout this business expansion, I completed my primary, secondary and tertiary education and eventually entered the tourism studies school as a part-time student, achieving enough certification to manage hotels. Eventually, in the year 2000, I was placed at the helm of the family business and sought to make the changes I wanted in order to achieve further growth.

Unfortunately, mentalities are the hardest part to change. Therefore, after all those years and having helped to build a business enterprise that for the first time had employees on regular employment and substantial business growth, I took one of my hardest decisions ever and changed industry.

It was late summer of 2003 when I decided to apply with a real estate agency to become an estate agent. It was something so different from what I had learned and trained for, so different in pace, so different in all operations. This was coupled with a not-so-favourable public opinion that was terrifying. Still, it was all those factors that made it a most exciting challenge and an opportunity to change my lifestyle and I took it head-on with the aim of succeeding.

Choosing the real estate agency I wanted to join was the starting point. At the time, every real estate agency on the island was recruiting, with all of them running adverts in the newspapers. I looked for a company that had standards, ethics, sound policies, a solid operational structure, a proud history and reputation, integrity, honesty, a professional training programme and, above all, was an example to follow within the industry.

On a personal level, I sought freedom for myself and from out-dated, limiting mentalities; the opportunity to meet more diverse people from different backgrounds and with different stories to tell; to be part of an idea that was a dream for me; to learn and educate myself further; to have no day like the previous one; to have the freedom to work as much as I wanted with no income restrictions and the possibility to keep carving my own path in life while being attached to a reputable company.

I wanted to finally have a job that would be very exciting, constantly challenging, full of achievement and where rewards reflect one’s efforts.

Today, here I stand with a love for the job.  I have a solid reputation and hold the position of a manager within that real estate agency – Frank Salt Real Estate. I obtained a Malta University diploma in business management and I have a full team complement I consider as family.

Yet getting here was not all rosy.  To reach the level of a professional real estate agent, every newcomer must contend with the true realities of the job. As I discovered, the myths and the public’s understanding of the job were nowhere near reality.

Becoming a professional real estate agent in Malta is very much a mindset and not a feat of education alone. We were never a licensed profession and, as such, we are often seen as usurpers in our trade, with many professionals trying to look down on us as if we are nobodies.

I still remember vividly the odd occasion where I was rudely kicked out of a notary’s, lawyer’s or architect’s office simply because I was an estate agent who, according to them, had no reason to be present for any talks between parties to an agreement I worked hard to put together.

Little did these professionals know that a new estate agent within the company must undergo a rigorous initial training period, with topics covered such as property law, property tax, basic architectural knowledge covering the understanding of possible structural problems, planning policies, sanitary rules and regulations, real estate evaluations’ workings, client relations, industrial ethics, property marketing, photography, AML (anti-money laundering) compliance and regulations.

Accountability, integrity and, above all, honesty in all dealings and in every circumstance, with every client, are the order of the day. And following this training comes the shadowed field training with experienced consultants.

One of the biggest myths is that for agents, sales fall out of the sky. The reality is that an estate agent has to rely initially on his own saved funds until the time that a contract, NOT konvenju, is finalised and only then is he paid his share. This process could take many months, even over a year, during which time, there are many possible conflicting scenarios that could emerge and potentially cancel the sale.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to listen to honest and diligent estate agents being called sharks, dishonest, crooks, thieves and even uneducated cowboys. All because a few individuals would have had ONE bad experience with one ‘wannabe’ estate agent working with some estate agency where standards mattered less.

An estate agent’s job is to be proactive and to constantly seek business. The role varies with the main priority being to seek out and list new properties that the agent can market in order to attract potential buyers.

When listing properties, the estate agent offers consultancy to vendors about the different facets of selling or renting a property ‒ from checking permits, EPC (engineering, procurement and construction), staging, marketing, market value and correct pricing. All decisions regarding pricing are ultimately taken by the owner/s. An estate agent is engaged by a contract of service, which contract defines the parameters of this engagement.

Then, of course, there is the buyers’ side, whereby we listen to requirements and consult them on which property best suits their needs, we guide them throughout the different stages of the buying process and we take that step back when they require assistance from different professionals.

We seek out the business. This is the role of an estate agent from morning to evening, all days of the week as we offer our service to our clients. A bad day will carry no financial reward and, as such, we must work hard and ensure that no day goes to waste in generating honest business activity that will eventually result in a sale or a rental. Nothing is guaranteed or taken for granted; each long-standing agent fights every day for his or her family’s survival without compromising on standards.

Is it rewarding? Of course, it is and in more ways than one ‒ especially for those professionals who put their heart into their work and do this as a career.

It is always our pleasure to see vendors and buyers shake hands on the signing of every agreement. It makes us proud to see the dreams of our clients become a reality and it gives us the greatest satisfaction to see the people that used our services come back again and refer us to their families, friends and colleagues. The true professional estate agent lives and breathes in this industry for such moments.

What we still seek is the regulation and recognition at law for our trade and profession and this is finally coming into fruition this year. In this way, the public may realise that they cannot place everyone in the same hat because of a bad experience they have had with one individual. And my wish is that people may realise that to become a professional real estate agent takes years of constant learning, hard work, diligence and dedication.

Stanley Bonello, Manager at Frank Salt Real Estate Ltd

Do you have what it takes to be an estate agent? Check out our careers page to learn more.

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