Malta Real Estate Market Report April 2014

Introduction

Over the last eighteen months the real estate market in Malta has been subject to much speculation as to whether prices of property on the Islands have actually stabilised, increased or declined. The media is reporting that prices are on the rise, but the general public seems to be sceptical about this. This is mainly seen from online and other comments we read and hear continuously.

The market in Malta and Gozo has been a buyers’ market for some time and there are a number of reasons to explain the plight of some homeowners who may have found it difficult to sell their property at the price they had hoped to get.

As one of the leaders in the real estate industry and a major point of reference in today’s Maltese market, we feel that it is our duty to be an information hub/knowledge base for the market. With this in mind, we have created a report based on surveys conducted by Informa Consultants as well as statistics from our extensive databases.

Over the past 6 months, we have outsourced two surveys (July & March) with identical questions to be able to gauge the mood of the general public over a period of six months vis-à-vis the real estate market and real estate agents in Malta & Gozo.

We hope this report will be used as a benchmark to improve industry standards as well as a reference point for people who are interested in selling, buying or renting property.

There is a great misconception of market pricing in today’s market and we hope that our report sheds light on the actual pricing of property.

Methodology

The surveys were carried out by Insight Omnibus Survey which is a quantitative study

Sampling

For the purpose of this survey, a sample of 500 net respondents was targeted. Any refusals and incomplete surveys are re-allocated to achieve a net sample of 500 interviews. A two-step process was adopted to obtain a stratified sampling procedure. This took place as follows:

  • A targeted population was stratified according to the various areas in Malta & Gozo
  • Following this, systematic sampling was adopted to obtain the required sample. Not more than one person per household was interviewed.
  • Each interviewer was given a quota of people to interview throughout the data collection phase. The quota specified the age brackets and gender required. This presented a representative sample of the Maltese households in terms of geographic location, age, and gender respectively.

Confidence in Home Ownership in Malta

The first question the respondents were asked was “How important do you consider owning a home?”

In July 2013, 94.4% responded that owning a home was either “very important”, or “important” whereas in March 2014, 93.2% responded that home ownership was “very important” or “important”. Of those who felt that owning a home was important, the main reasons behind their answer was as follows:

Figure 1

How important do you consider owning a home?

Figure 1 shows that over 60% in both surveys considered Home Ownership an investment and over 30% in both cases felt that Home Ownership provides a “sense of control or security”. The most significant change between July 2013 and March 2014 is that the number of respondents who felt that Home Ownership “saves on rent money” has increased from 8.3% to 26.8%.

It is evident that a large proportion of the Maltese population believes in the real estate market, primarily as an investment, which provides security and saves money on rent. One of the main reasons that the Maltese real estate market has remained stronger than other European real estate markets is that the Maltese population prefers to purchase a home rather than rent, and this has been a custom for generations. This age-old tradition and mentality has contributed immensely to the significance of property ownership in Malta and Gozo.

The Malta Government Schemes to increase foreign investment through the Global Residence Programme and the Citizenship by Investment Programme are very important for the real estate sector.

These two schemes will continue to fuel the upper end of the market which will create a multi-spin-off effect for those working in the industries which service the real estate industry. Furniture shops, plasterers, handymen, maids as well as construction workers will indirectly benefit from these schemes. Foreign residents of Malta will be obliged to spend time in Malta and therefore the retail and catering industries will also be affected positively in general. Supermarkets, restaurants and clothes shops amongst others will see an increase in business.

Confidence in Real estate agents

The second question respondents were asked is: Do you believe that a real estate agent can assist you in making the right choices of the type of property you want?

Figure 2

Real Estate Agent assist you in making the right choices of the type of property you want?

Figure 2 shows the change in trend with regard to confidence in real estate agents. In July 2013 41.4% thought that an agent could assist them in making the right choices, whereas in March 2014 just over 51% of the respondents felt that way. It is also interesting to note that the number of respondents who disagreed or strongly disagreed went down by 4.40% whereas the other respondents (37.8%) in both years didn’t know or were undecided.

These findings confirm that real estate agencies are becoming more professional and are seen to be so by the majority of people. There is a clear indication of the need for additional professionalism within the real estate industry. These results are very encouraging for real estate agents, particularly for those which invest in training their agents to be professional.

Do you agree that a real estate agent can professionally guide you and negotiate a better deal than buying directly through owner?

Figure 3

A real estate agent can professionally guide you and negotiate a better deal than buying directly through owner?

Figure 3 shows another significant change with respondents gaining further confidence in real estate agents in Malta. A large majority of those who were undecided or had disagreed in July 2013 now have confidence in real estate agents. There was an aggregate change of 9.6% respondents in favour of the statement that a real estate agent could professionally guide them and negotiate a better deal as opposed to buying directly from an owner.

These findings are very important as they contradict the old, unconfirmed theory that the Maltese population preferred to deal directly with the property owner at a ratio of 7:3. This is a clear indication that the market is evolving towards the European real estate model where most people engage an estate agency to handle their real estate requirements.

Features

The next question aimed to gauge what is more important to the customer looking for a property. “What features do you look at first when browsing real estate websites?”

Figure 4

Features when browsing a real estate website

Figure 4 is a clear indication that those looking for properties on the net are more inclined to look first at the location, then the price and only read the description of the property when they are happy with the first two. The picture of the property is not considered a priority.

White Goods

The fifth question sought to establish who makes the decision in the household when it comes to buying white goods for the home.

The respondents were asked “If you were to purchase an appliance for your home, say a fridge, who would have the most influence on the final decision, the male or the female?”

Figure 5

Male vs Female home decisions

Figure 5 shows that the female in the household has more influence with 46.40% decisions related to purchasing an appliance, whereas if the female is not deciding alone she is usually involved in the decision together with the male in the household.

Property Prices

Market price is defined as what someone is willing to pay for a home after comparing it to other properties in the same location and of the same size and condition. Each factor plays an important role in establishing the correct market price. An estate agent’s role is to provide this information for potential buyers to make an informed decision.

Reliable national statistics are not available, however we have compiled an interesting report which will shed some light on property prices in Malta. We have taken a broad selection of listing data from our real estate management tool and have compared these to the % age difference between the original listing prices and actual sold prices of listings on our database.

Firstly, one will notice that the geographical location plays a major role in property prices. In order to illustrate this difference we have split the Maltese Islands into five segments (See annex 1, namely Central, North, Sliema and surroundings, Valletta and Gozo.

In order to delve deeper we have also tabled property prices of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units of each property type, from each of the different segments to provide further insight into the difference in pricing between sizes of homes and property type.

The average prices from this study will also be utilised to create a comparison analysis in the next quarterly edition so we can decipher any shift in property prices. By comparing the two sets of data we will be in a position to understand whether property prices have fluctuated and, if so, by how much.

The average prices we are referring to here are average prices and will not give an exact indication of the price of any property. The only way this can be established is by hiring a seasoned professional to assist in compiling market data and comparing the property with prices that are on the market and those of properties that have already been sold.

Geographical Data – 5 Geographical Segments

In order to include a credible sample of properties for this study we have taken 15,118 residential listings from our database and split them up into the segments mentioned above. We did not take into consideration commercial properties, garages, airspaces or land, in order to focus on residential property only.

Figure 6

Geographical data

In Figure 6 the number of listings that are represented are fairly distributed throughout the geographical segments. This pie-chart also provides further indication that this data sample reflects the entire real estate market in Malta & Gozo.

Property Types - Supply

To provide further clarification regarding the supply of the different property types, Figure 7 shows another pie chart illustrating the percentages of types of properties available for sale on the market.

Figure 7

Types of properties available

Figure 7 shows that apartments make up 59% of the market. This may imply that there is over-saturation of apartments in the marketplace, however the ratio 5.9:10 is comparable to other similar-sized European cities where this is a common trend as land for development is scarce.

The high number of apartments available on the market may also be interpreted as a social advantage in that having a higher supply of available units keeps prices low and allows the market to remain affordable in certain areas.

Property Prices across Geographical Areas

Figure 8 shows a comparison of property prices in different geographical areas. This exercise has been executed to understand pricing in the different regions of Malta rather than providing a median average price of the entire market.

The average listing price differs significantly depending on the region. In particular, property prices in the Sliema and surrounding region are higher in every example. This is mainly due to the fact that the Sliema region takes in the coastal areas located in the central-eastern part of Malta, which includes heavily developed towns such as Sliema, St. Julian’s, Madliena, as well as Special Designated Areas such as Portomaso, Fort Cambridge, Tignè Point, Pender Gardens and Madliena Village. The higher number of luxury units located in these areas is what has raised the average listing price.

This cluster of towns is where Malta attracts its main foreign investment, where a higher percentage of foreign companies are based and is also the home of the major touristic intake, with no less than six five-star hotels.

Most of these findings are perfect examples of the supply and demand theory. For example, due to the fact that there is a higher demand for properties in the Sliema region in proportion to supply, prices have steadily increased over time.

Apartments

Figure 8

Apartments in Malta

Figure 8 illustrates that apartments in the Sliema and Gozo region have registered a significantly higher difference in average listing price in comparison to the North, South and Central areas. This is mainly due to the fact that both the Sliema and Gozo region are touristic areas and are also locations that register a higher demand from both local and foreign investors. Besides purchasing residences, local investors also purchase properties in these areas for rental purposes. Locals and foreign investors also purchase properties in these areas as a second home.

As mentioned above, apartments in Malta account for 59% of the market. Thanks to the continued investment of foreigners the Maltese real estate market has managed to sustain a healthy capital appreciation over the last thirty years, even during the global economic crisis. The apartment market in the Sliema region has benefited from a healthy rental market due to a number of industries, mainly iGaming, financial services, technology-related industries and the tourism industry.

These industries strongly affect the supply and demand of apartments and, should the Maltese government stop promoting foreign investment in Malta and industries decide to leave Malta, the real estate market will undoubtedly suffer negative repercussions.

Maisonettes

Figure 9

Maisonettes in Malta

As seen in Figure 9, the average listing prices for maisonettes in Gozo ranks second-highest amongst the other regions, while the Sliema region again registers the highest average listing price. This is mainly attributed to the low supply and high demand for these property types.

The fact that the average price of these types of properties ranges between €150,000 and €210,000 is not surprising, considering that maisonettes are mainly suburban properties with inland views. A maisonette in most cases either has a roof garden or a back yard. The price of a maisonette is higher when the top-floor maisonette owns the airspace or when the airspace is developed, thus creating a duplex maisonette. Another attribute that will change the price of a maisonette is whether the property in question is detached or semi-detached, the former commanding a higher price.

Penthouses

Figure 10

Penthouses in Malta

A penthouse is considered prime real estate. The main factors that lead to variations in price are location and finish. Figure 10 shows that the average listing price in the Sliema region is approximately €400,000 whereas, for the same type of property in the Central region, the average listing price is just €150,000. These prices are indicative of the location and standard finish. One may purchase the same type of property in a central town that is in an inland area without any views and pay only 40% of the price that one would pay for a penthouse in a much more desirable area with views or possibly a higher finish.

The fact that the Sliema region has a higher percentage of new buildings due to continuous development projects may also indicate why the average standard of finish has improved. This automatically increases the average listing price.

Terraced Houses

Figure 11

Terraced Houses in Malta

Ever since the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) started allowing a third and fourth floor in various geographical areas, the supply of terraced houses decreased, thus spiking the price up. Many developers purchased these homes as development sites with a view to build apartments. Figure 11 shows that, since there is still a high demand from families to purchase a terraced house, prices have remained stable.

Villas & Bungalows

Figure 12

Villas and Bungalows in Malta

Owning a villa or a bungalow will cost the potential buyer a minimum of €700,000 in Gozo, whereas in the South of Malta you will have to pay a minimum of around €800,000. Prices of villas are of higher bracket mainly due to the vast amount of land required to build and also to the consistent high-quality finishes generally found in properties of this calibre.

Individuals who can afford to purchase a villa will most likely be able to afford all the mod-cons required to complete this type of property to the highest of standards. If one assumes that all properties of this type are finished to a similar high standard, then the main defining factor of the price of a villa must be the location.

Character Homes

Townhouses

Figure 13

Townhouses in Malta

Townhouses form part of what is considered as a niche market. Some people are only interested in these properties. Since they only account for approximately 5% of the market, prices for these properties in the Sliema region may fetch as much as circa €500,000, whereas in other regions where there is a high availability, such as the South region, a townhouse will fetch approximately €200,000.

When comparing the highest and the lowest average price, one must keep in mind that location, as well as supply and demand, are the defining factor of the two extremes.

Farmhouses & Houses of Character

Many people are under the misconception that a farmhouse and a house of character are one and the same. This is a fallacy borne out by the difference in price tags. Whereas a house of character is a home that is built in a town, a farmhouse is actually that - a house built on a farm. The major difference between the two is mainly that, since a house of character is built in a town, there is usually not a lot of outdoor space whereas a farmhouse, in most cases, has plenty of land.

In today’s real estate market, this land is as valuable as gold dust since it is mostly used as an entertainment area. Limited supply of both types of homes does dictate a high average price bracket with the price of a farmhouse being far higher than a house of character.

Farmhouses

Figure 14

Farmhouses in Malta

Houses of Character

Figure 15

Houses of Character in Malta

How are properties valued?

Missing statistics

Surprisingly, details about properties sold in Malta and Gozo, which are the most important tools to establish the value of properties, are not available to the general public or to the property trade.

The authorities should have these statistics available as they would be of great help to property developers, estate agents and individuals selling, buying and leasing property by revealing trends in property and other important factors. They could also be vital in avoiding, or minimising, artificial booms or dangerous speculation, even helping to mitigate the chances of a property bubble. Proper planning, coupled with proper pricing, and knowledge of the true value of property could help the economy and the market.

Without these statistics those involved in property transactions base their calculations and potential return solely on their own yardsticks. Estate agents are unable to compare their transactions to the national trends.

The method RE/MAX employs is successful mainly because they have a sizeable portion of all sales of properties in Malta and Gozo. In 2013, RE/MAX Malta was responsible for over 20% of all sales volume, constituting a sample data reliable enough for this exercise.

The dependability of the pricing of smaller agencies whose sales are not representative enough is naturally thrown into doubt.

As one of the leading agencies in terms of size and sales RE/MAX Malta urges the authorities to issue these statistics immediately and regularly. It would also be most beneficial if the authorities discuss with all agents, developers and other interested stakeholders what other statistics might be useful as these will help to make the strong property market ever more resilient.

Once the official data is missing at least we now have the RE/MAX surveys which will be available on a regular basis. This, coupled with the studies of the RE/MAX statistics, is the first step to create a proper understanding of the property situation.

Furthermore the authorities should keep coming up with schemes to increase the economy, attract more businesses and ex-pats to the islands. The IIP scheme and the Global Residence Programme scheme should be part of an ongoing process to keep making Malta better known, more accessible and more desirable.

Important Factors in Pricing a Property

When you are thinking of putting your property on the market there are a number of pitfalls you should avoid:

What we have seen as one of the reasons that properties on the Maltese Islands are overpriced and take over 250 days to sell is that homeowners in Malta traditionally use their own methods to price their property.

  • Pricing their property against another may seem to be the best strategy however without understanding the type of finish, the actual size of the home and other details of the other property, they risk overpricing or even under-pricing their home.
  • Listening to family friends and neighbours. A neighbour or family friend may not be qualified to price your property and though they might have all the right intentions their advice might misguide you. Imagine you base your family planning on a misguided assumption. You may find out at the last minute that the price that you aimed to get was too high and that the properties you have been looking at have automatically become out of your budget’s reach.
  • Taking an architect’s valuation as the market value of your property. An architect’s valuation should be just one of the benchmarks that a property owner should use to value their property. In reality, an architect may not see enough properties so might not have the samemarket knowledge as a professional real estate agent to give a correct valuation.
  • Hiring the wrong real estate agent. If you are using a real estate agent it is recommendable that you hire an estate agent who is experienced and specialised in your locality and the type of property that you are selling.
  • Hiring several estate agencies. At face value it may seem the best strategy to hire many estate agencies to sell or rent your property. This is a common assumption that is often witnessed on the market. Logic tends to say that having more agents showing your property will result in it selling quicker. It is, however, proven that hiring several companies to sell a property ends up in your property being downgraded and not selling as fast as it would with just one, dedicated estate agent.

In today’s market it is recommended that you hire a professional estate agency. Estate agencies have become more professional over the years and have the ability to guide customers to price their properties within a reasonable percentage of the market value. A real estate agent will provide property owners with an analysis which will compare properties that have been sold and listed in the area with the same criteria. Estate agents are also competent to provide property owners with the correct market knowledge as well as advice to prepare the property for a quicker sale and at the right price without any complications.