Need for upmarket properties in Gozo

There is a dire need for upmarket properties in Gozo, with demand picking up again after a few slow years, according to the manager of Frank Salt Real Estate’s Gozo branch, Marie Grech.

There are very few villas in Gozo with a tumolo of gardens, and of those very few are – or ever will be – on the market, she said.

“One solution would be to have more villas at Ta’ Ċenċ – if 20 or 30 more were added to the existing 11 they would be snapped up. I think it would be very easy to design them so that they are contained within gardens and not intrusive.”

Ms Grech, who set up the Gozo branch 25 years ago, said that both sales and letting were picking up again on the sister island, especially at the upper end, after five fairly lean years since the 2008 global meltdown – particularly for foreigners. “In the 1960s and 1970s there were a lot of wealthy foreigners living here, virtually without anyone knowing about it. They have made a huge impact on the economy of Gozo and this is hopefully where we should be going again,” she said.

The upturn is due to a number of factors, including the general economic environment and stronger sterling, which is boosting the British market – still the strongest one in Gozo.

“However, we are seeing other nationalities too apart from Europeans, like South Africans,” she said. One market that has defied efforts is the Russian one, which seems more suited to Malta with its vibrant nightlife than Gozo. “However, the perception that Gozo is a quiet retirement place is quite wrong. We are getting people of all ages moving here, and not just to retire but also to set up businesses,” she said.

“It is true that Gozo does not offer nightlife during the week, but on the weekends there is plenty to do, with good restaurants, pubs and nightclubs. “There are also many cultural events, ranging from exhibitions to concerts, thanks to the many artists and people from the entertainment business living here. There is a very active expatriate community.”

The lean years forced owners to take a more realistic approach towards prices, she added. “Some properties were overpriced five years ago and they are now back at more realistic levels,” she said. The return on investment over the past five years is not indicative, she warned, but over the longer term view, there has been a capital appreciation of eight per cent per year – with rental income over and above that.

Rentals tend to be lower than in Malta – you can get a farmhouse with a pool for around €1,500 – and there is still considerable seasonality, in spite of the natural beauty of Gozo outside the summer months. She noted, however, that a number of entities are trying to attract off-season tourism through packages built around art and sculpture lessons, yoga and agrotourism. Ms Grech believes that the slowdown has also influenced new construction. “Developers were very badly hit. They will now be much more careful about what they produce,” she said.

Taste has also changed drastically over the past decades and the trend has switched from rustic to ultramodern chic, from quaint farmhouses with traditional colours and patterned tiles to mini -malistic decor with mono – chromatic schemes. Apart from providing more upmarket properties with the right decor, what more could be done to boost sales and rentals? Ms Grech said a permanent link would have a positive impact on foreigners.

“Crossing with the ferry is definitely part of the experience but there are times when the 2.5 hours from the airport are seen as ‘extra’, especially for those who arrive late at night. It is a long time – almost as long as the flight itself. It is a big drawback…

“We believe that there would be a lot more people who would live in Gozo and work in Malta – including many more Maltese – if the commuting time were shorter.”