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Little Wonder

20th September, 2012
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The scenic and peaceful island of Gozo is more agricultural and less populated than Malta.

Gozo lies 6km north-west of Malta and 74km south of Sicily, in the centre of the Mediterranean. The small island, 14km by 7.25km, is known as the Isle of Calypso because it is said to be the island of Ogygia, home to Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. It is also home to the Neolithic Ġgantija temples, the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

Gozo is more agricultural and less populated than Malta: it has a density of 463.5 people per square km compared with Malta’s 1,306.8. Its peaceful atmosphere is apparent as soon as you step off the ferry in Mgarr Harbour. Many Maltese have holiday homes here, as do British, Scandinavians, central Europeans, Russians and South Africans. The varied landscape and historic buildings also attract artists and painters.

“The most preferred area is the west side of Gozo and mainly the villages of San Lawrenz, Gharb and Ghasri. Since these villages are at the far end of Gozo, they are the most tranquil,” says George Vassallo of Arkadia Real Estate. The villages to the east of Victoria, where 6,400 of the 31,000 population live, tend to be busier with more cafés and restaurants.

The island has a clement climate, sandy beaches, excellent diving and sailing and, although quieter than Malta, a bustling social and cultural life, especially in the capital, Victoria, which has a theatre and opera house. There are art exhibitions held throughout the island and weekly fiestas in the summer. Shopping is good, but for a wider selection you need to pop over to Malta. Ferries run day and night, with very affordable fares.

The island has a high concentration of large churches, which dominate each village. The Xewkija church has a dome larger than St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Ta’Pinu Basilica just outside the village of Gharb, which was rebuilt and consecrated in 1932, is a shrine to which Catholics make pilgrimage every year.

With no inheritance tax or rates, no capital gains after owning a property for three years and 15 per cent income tax for overseas purchasers who register under the High Net Worth Individual scheme, moving to Gozo could be financially beneficial. Under the scheme, a home has to be bought for €400,000 plus or rented for €20,000 plus a year and a minimum of €20,000 tax, plus €2,500 per dependent must be paid per year. For pensioners, a new scheme, the Malta Retirement Programme, is soon to be launched. “This is for EU, EAA and Swiss only. The minimum tax they will have to pay annually is €7,500 plus €500 for each dependant and property on Gozo has to be bought for €250,000 plus or rented for €8,750 plus per year,” says John Huber, a tax adviser.

The housing market has been ticking along for the past couple of years, but picked up this year with August being particularly busy, especially for properties over €500,000. Gozo has a good rental market for long-term and holiday lets. A three/four-bedroom farmhouse with pool can achieve around €12,000 a year (€150 a day for the peak summer months), with the rental season stretching from Easter to the end of October. Frank Salt Real Estate is selling a four-bedroom converted farmhouse with pool in Kercem for €360,000.

As the fertile valleys are protected from development, there are hardly any villas on large plots on Gozo. Houses tend to be converted farmhouses on the outskirts of villages, many with original features. There is also a good number of new “farmhouses”. All new homes in villages have to be built in stone with a traditional façade. “Although the spirit of Gozo is in the old farmhouses, they can be expensive to maintain,” says John Abela of Gozo Prime Real Estate. “So foreigners often to prefer to buy the new houses with their damp courses and modern drainage.”

On the outskirts of St Lawrenz, Frank Salt is selling a new three-bedroom house by Baron Homes, a Gozitan developer, with marble floors, garden and pool for €1.05m, and a five-bedroom townhouse in Sannat, one of the bigger villages, with garden and pool for €750,000. Homes of Quality is marketing two houses in Gharb, which are both available for €1.75m. One is a newly built “farmhouse” with six bedrooms, pool and garden, on the edge of the village. The other is a converted, furnished farmhouse in the centre of the village with four bedrooms, pool and rear terraces.

There are several new developments on the market, too. Overlooking Mgarr Harbour on the site of a former hotel, Island Developments is building 35 upmarket three/four bedroom apartments. Prices range from €650,000 to €900,000. The developer is also building 31 apartments on the outskirts of San Lawrenz. Prices for the remaining two- and three-bedroom properties range from €200,000 to €437,500.

The most contemporary looking development in Gozo is Hal Saghtrija. It is in quite an isolated position although only 15 minutes from Victoria, overlooking agricultural land, the salt pans and the sea. It is on a plateau on the outskirts of Zebbug, the highest village in Gozo, on three acres with a communal pool, orchards, gardens and paddock. Seventy-five two and three-bedroom apartments are priced from €169,550 to €600,000. All three developments are being sold by Frank Salt, Arkadia and Gozo Prime.

Fort Chambray, the largest development, is being built in an 18th-century walled garrison with views of Malta and the island of Comino, known for its Blue Harbour and diving. The original Knights’ Barracks will be converted into a commercial centre with shops and restaurants but all the other properties are newly built. It is designed to reflect the feel of an old Medina and will be pedestrianised with an underground car park. There will also be a five-star boutique hotel. Phases one and two, which overlook a pool, are complete and a third phase is still to come. Prices range from €186,000 for a two-bedroom apartment to €1.65m for a five-bedroom villa.

To promote Malta and Gozo the agency Frank Salt, along with tax, legal and wealth management experts, is taking a roadshow around Europe. “We want to tell people about property, investing, residence and business opportunities in both islands,” says director Grahame Salt.

Mary Wilson was a guest of Frank Salt

Source: London Financial Times by Mary Wilson

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