It is seldom that one gets the chance of getting a group of ultra-busy property professionals together for their views on Malta real estate. We had the opportunity to meet with Alexia Hathout, Ritan Grima, Maryse Attard Montalto and Mandy Zaffarese from Frank Salt Real Estate around a table at the glamorous 5-Star Hilton in St. Julian’s.
Being in the real estate industry and at the top of their game, one would expect these ladies to be hard hitters and tenacious, but upon meeting them nothing could be further from the truth. Not only were they approachable, funny, caring and sensible but all of them were really happy and content that they have found the careers of their dreams in real estate.
One could sense that all the participants in this round-table discussion were completely open and eager to share their wisdom and individual experiences. This was also a group where the label of being regarded as recognised leaders in Malta’s real estate industry was received in a very humble and casual way.
Some of the characteristics this group shared was their hunger for knowledge – whether it was through formal studying or just through life experience… and more importantly being independent from a young age. It was very clear that all of them had truly found their niche, a sort of “coming home” when they entered the real estate sector.
As Ritan Grima (Manager Frank Salt Real Estate Marsascala) remarked, quoting a well-known but very apt phrase:
“find what you are happiest and most talented at doing and you will never work a day in your life again "
Their backgrounds were as varied as their personalities. Some were from the hospitality trade; others have worked for government social welfare organisations and even in consultancy.
Maryse Attard Montalto (Senior Property Sales Consultant, Frank Salt Real Estate Sliema) said: “I started being interested in real estate because I was looking for a flexible work environment with the possibilities of earning more money. At that stage I was a hotel sales manager for more than 20 years, but I wanted more so I investigated my love for real estate and here I am!
One of the surprises I found when I started out in real estate was that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, especially getting the clients and selling the properties.
Maryse Attard Montalto (Senior Property Sales Consultant)
Ritan Grima (Manager of Marsascala Branch)
Ritan Grima added: “I started out working for an architectural firm and then moved on to the travel industry, business management and consultancy prior to being in property and since I have joined Frank Salt Real Estate, I have really felt that I have exceeded my own expectations.
I really can say that I have found my place in life and have to add that one of the biggest inspirations in my life is Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. She went through and lived with challenges all her life and became an inspiration for thousands of people, including me.”
Some of the things they definitely all had in common were the will to succeed, caring about people, honesty and a love for travel. Other strong traits were independence, an interest in art and architecture and most important of all, a huge love for all things property.
When asked why they chose Frank Salt Real Estate, all of them echoed Mandy Zaffarese (HR Manager) ’s synopsis:
“The company offers a robust structure supporting agents' activities and provides a dynamic and supportive environment that enables one to flourish, reach one's goals and achieve succes. the backup of a strong brand gives anyone with a passion to succeed, a winning edge. over the past 50 years frank salt real estate became a household name in malta with an established presence in the industry and this has garnered respect and recognition from people of all ages"
When it comes to the rewards and incentives, Mandy had this to say: “Apart from being regarded as self-employed when you are an agent and the generous commission structures, the company also provides further career advancement options that ensures greater scope, added stability and future support.”
We also asked Mandy what she thought were the most important points of consideration for those that may be contemplating a career in real estate. She highlighted two major incentives – financial freedom and the flexibility that comes with the job.
Real Estate provides the ability to be in a position where your earnings are not dictated by your employer. The commission structures ensure that hard work is generously rewarded.
Mandy Zaffarese (HR Manager)
This career also presents you with the ability to manage your own time and to be in control; allows you to spend more time with loved ones or having more time for a hobby that you have always wanted to pursue. An agent has the power to structure their day as they wish and have complete control over how they manage their time. Having this flexibility enables you to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
On the philosophical side, we asked the group how their daily interactions affected them and their clients emotionally.
Alexia Hathout (Senior Letting Property Consultant, Frank Salt Real Estate Sliema) said: “Being in real estate, whether you are in sales or rentals means that you play a role in changing someone’s life in a big way, if not forever…simply by finding them the right property to rent or by selling their home.”
Maryse added: “The industry attracts people who love meeting other people and each property deal is different, that’s the beauty of it.” She continued: “Each day you meet so many people. Different characters, easy clients, difficult ones… but the difficult ones actually end up being more rewarding to deal with in terms of one’s sense of accomplishment when you have delivered more than they expected and made them happy.”
Alexia Hathout added: “Honesty is the best policy in this entire industry. Being honest and transparent wins you a client like nothing else.” Before getting into the real estate sphere, Alexia worked in the service industry since she was 18 – both locally and overseas. She also served as personal assistant to a family member of the Saudi royal family.
Alexia Hathout (Senior Letting Property Consultant)
One thing they all agreed on was that the broader public presently still had the wrong perception of estate agents and what they actually do. Estate agents have to be in a position where they have the knowledge and experience to qualify what people want; what is best for the client and the vendor and this is where women in general have the advantage according to this group. Women are known to be better listeners, have great delegation and multi-tasking skills and at the same time be a problem-solver while being the agent as well.
In many cases clients have become good friends according to Maryse and Ritan. “Dealing with an experienced estate agent means dealing with someone that adds tremendous value. This includes knowledge about the area, knowing the properties, the laws and legislation, the taxes, the registration process and having the ability to solve conflicts or problems. The days of the simple handshake to clinch a property deal are long over – you have to be a professional and on your toes all the time” they added.
When asked about the “bullies” amongst estate agents, they all agreed that there were some but not only did the bullies not last for long, they also give the whole industry a bad name and thus had no place amongst its professionals who uphold a very strong code of ethics. This is especially important in the case of foreigners investing in Malta’s real estate, as they do not know intrinsically who they are dealing with as an agent. It is therefore far better to use a reputable agency such as Frank Salt Real Estate who, together with the right internal network can provide superior guidance and help expats settle in from the start.
As for the future of real estate, they all unanimously agreed that experience and a supportive brand are key factors. As an agent on-going training is of the utmost importance, as laws keep on being amended and updated plus a company such as Frank Salt Real Estate invests in its workforce by providing sales leads, empowering its staff and promoting self-growth and advancement. When asked about the influence that social media had on the industry, Maryse Attard Montalto said: “The platform encourages direct and instant contact between agents and clients and it has become the preferred way of advertising properties as well as getting personal leads.”
What are the training elements provided by Frank Salt Real Estate?
Full and thorough in-house training is provided at the start of any agent’s career with Frank Salt Real Estate, which not only covers the technical elements and procedures tied to renting or selling a home, but also the soft skills required to succeed as an agent.
Everyone was extremely positive about the newly introduced legislation by the Maltese Government regarding the real estate industry, but they felt that the courses offered by many of the institutions had an excellent focus on the legal, ethical and financial aspects of being an agent but lacked insight when it came to some of its modules. These ideally should include modules formulated and devised by experienced long-standing estate agents and be presented by these agents themselves. It should include dealing with the approach to residential sales and letting and the psychological aspects of how to relate to clients for instance. Everyone agreed this should be part of the curriculum in preparing aspirant estate agents for their course certificate and subsequent careers.
Mentorship was another strongly supported notion amongst the group, as it would work beneficially both ways: younger agents could learn from the older and experienced agents and working side-by-side with younger people had its own rewards in the form of older agents getting to grips with new technology and getting invigorated by the energy of youth.
As the interview wound up and the ladies went off one by one for their individual photo shoots, those that remained behind were still enthusiastically talking shop: about how they could not see themselves doing anything else, ever – and about how they wished they did this sooner in their lives. This was refreshing and at the same time wonderful to see: a group of people that are blissfully happy with and successful in their careers and at the same time humbly unaware that they are exactly what real ambassadors of the Frank Salt Real Estate Brand exemplify.