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Living in the City

18th May, 2013
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In recent years, Frank Salt Real Estate Limited has been awarded the top title for various prestigious awards such as Best Real Estate Agency In Malta. In addition it was also awarded for Best Marketing, Best Website and Best Lettings Agency. The company was also awarded as Best Lettings Agency in Europe. Rather than finding out why the Group has been accorded these accolades, we focus our lens on the company’s involvement in the property rise in Valletta.

Dotted with quaint cafés and wine bars, Valletta is today one of Malta’s main tourist attractions, hosting majestic palaces, imposing bastions and a treasure of priceless buildings. It also provides stunning views of Malta’s Grand Harbour, and the city’s unique setting nowadays plays host to a series of cultural events. A hive of business activity during the day, the city switches to a slower gear for the night. Besides taking a stroll to admire the magic of the fortified capital amplified by the awe-inspiring lighting, one can use it to his own advantage and grab the opportunity to invest in some of the amazing property on offer in the dense clusters of worn limestone buildings, the timber balconies, and imposing Churches.

TEU: What is your core business and what is its primary focus?

GS: First of all when you talk about Frank Salt Real Estate you are discussing a group of companies, with the core business being Frank Salt Real Estate – the Estate Agency, including a network of fourteen offices throughout Malta and Gozo, with a staff complement of 115 employees. We have fully fledged divisions catering for commercial properties and for residential lettings making up our core competency. The residential letting department has more than doubled in the last year.

Homes of Quality is another company within the group catering for a niche within the local market, promoting a selection of the best quality properties from its database. We have four dedicated consultants who are specialized in dealing with clients that are looking for that type of property.

Then there is Berkeley Investments which is the development arm of the group, where currently we have three developments running, namely a luxury development on Tower Road, the building of ten villas in St. Andrews and another block in Sliema.

There is an after-sales division which assists clients with the interior design and furnishing of their homes. We also have a projects division which takes care of larger projects such as, if someone requires construction work or finishing a property from shell. And finally, we have a property management department.

TEU: How do you correlate having a diversified real estate set-up combined and Frank Salt Real Estate’s consistent leadership in the market with your involvement, association and services when it comes to finding property in Valletta?

GV: Valletta has been left on the back burner of the real estate market for a very long time. There is a lot of abandoned property. Slowly, slowly we are seeing an increase in demand for Valletta and we are seeing a lot of scope. With the investments made in Valletta in the past years, the city has become a more attractive place to invest and live. When prices hit rock bottom in the last couple of years, there was no real incentive for owners of these properties to get them restored or to sell or rent. Today this has changed.

Our type of clientele has also changed over the years and Valletta’s location is an important factor besides price, accommodation and views. We have a high demand from cultured North Europeans and people wishing to re-live history, discover and enjoy culture.

GS: We see huge potential in Valletta, which is becoming a cosmopolitan city. As a company, Frank Salt Real Estate is always on the lookout for areas where there is great potential. More than half of the properties in Valletta have been empty for years. Valletta has been a commercial centre not a residential city for too long. Now there is a lot of focus on Valletta, even though there are parking concerns and other accessibility problems.

We have highly educated and cultured clients from France and Italy for example who are mesmerized by the beauty of the city’s architecture and surroundings.

TEU: What type of properties are you offering?

GV: We offer a mixture of properties. From very small apartments which are suitable for short-let markets to townhouses and palazzinos. Customers also find the close proximty of restaurants in a historical setting alluring and the fact that they can find everything within a stone’s throw is an attractive factor.

The rental market is also in demand. Valletta offers a unique and diverse market. Property which was overlooked is suddenly in demand and property which nobody wanted is suddenly a great investment. Before, only properties with a view were sought after. Today, foreigners and locals are looking at investing in something which renders a return and also gives personal satisfaction in many ways. Whether it’s a penthouse, a harbour view apartment or a palazzo, we are able to find the right property at a good price.

GS: Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage City built in the16th century during the rule of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and offers old houses of character, which we can also re-decorate. Added to this, one also has immediate access on foot to several gardens, museums and theatres as well as hundred large selection of restaurants and cafes offering a variety of cuisines at different prices. Valletta is a very safe city by day and by night. The notion that our Capital City is dead at night is changing. Besides the restaurants, we have recently seen many trendy wine bars proving to be very popular. We are talking about potential here and what we think is that by 2018 Valletta is going to change a lot. Now is the right time to buy a property, since in four to five year’s time the city will be booming with life.

GV: I walk with clients through Valletta and if you walk down Valletta looking through their eyes you would realise the immense wealth the city offers – the architecture, the museums, the palaces, the government buildings and old auberges, the parliament buildings, Castille, Barakka Gardens, the cafeterias, shops, restaurants and offices, the cathedral, the spectacular lights at night and the hidden treasures that such a cultural and historical place holds. It is nothing short of an open-air museum. It is a living experience of Baroque architecture, a monument donated by the Knights of St John nearly five centuries ago. Throughout the years, Valletta has welcomed emperors, heads of state, artists and poets and is now the permanent seat of the Maltese government.

So it’s no wonder that Valletta, despite its small size, is now one of the hottest tickets in the real estate market.

TEU: Tell us about your involvement in some of the properties available in Valletta and the impact of urban dwelling vs demand. How is the perception of working and living in Valletta changing, and what is the potential in terms of rental investment?

GV: To answer the first part of your question we have been seeing for a number of years many young professionals based in Valletta; an architect or somebody in law for example, might want a base camp in Valletta, whether it’s an apartment with a terrace or a palazzino. They can walk to work and have everything around them so they don’t need to leave.

GS: This is a demand we have experienced and it’s fashionable. People living there find it extremely convenient there. They can dine, they can work there and they can shop and rest there. It is usually a young professional that seeks such property. But the rental potential is in high order and I can tell you there isn’t enough property for rental. Plus demand for living in Valletta is not limited only to people working or regularly commuting to Valletta.

Foreign demand is on the increase and the market prices are still moderate. Foreigners mostly want to buy a good palazzo which they can convert and which makes them feel like they own part of the city. For rentals, there is demand for everything. Many people who come to Malta for the first time, have only ever heard of Valletta. Hotels in Valletta benefit from this and this now is having the same effect on demand for short-let apartments. When clients finally come here they love what they find.

Source: Malta Economic Update by Martin Vella

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