Frank Salt Real Estate reported a good year of operations last year at the company's annual general meeting earlier this month.

Managing director Joseph Lupi briefly outlined the general market conditions, which prevailed last year, gave an analysis of company operations and also announced plans for this year.

The year started with slow market activity, mainly due to the general economy in the country, which unfortunately did not pick up during the first six months. Buyers' confidence during the year started picking up after the first quarter, with sales improving at a steady rate after May.

The foreign property market. although still very active, showed a marginal drop when compared to 2004, particularly sales to foreigners buying property for holiday purposes. As in previous years, the majority of foreigners who bought property during last year hailed from the UK (71 per cent). On the other hand the company noted increasing activity in the letting and commercial property markets.

It was also noted that property prices stabilised during the year, attributable mainly to an increase in the supply of properties coming on the market, which included a number of small and medium-sized developments, as a result of new height regulations announced by MEPA during the year.

Mr Lupi announced positive results throughout the company's network of offices and overseas associates, which, despite the slow start, compared very well with the previous year, meeting projected targets. The company has retained its market share both for first-time and second-time buyers, while increasing its sales of investment property both to local and foreign buyers.

Sales to foreign buyers for holiday purposes have dropped by ten per cent, while sales by those taking up residence have increased. "I am convinced that, once Malta opens its doors to low-cost carriers, sales for holiday purposes will explode, as in fact happened in competing countries. Studies have clearly shown that sales to holiday buyers and investment buyers have shot up where these low-cost airlines operate. It is a pity that we are losing out of this much needed investment into our economy," Mr Lupi added.

The company registered a significant increase in activity in its letting departments throughout its branches, the property management department, the after sales consultancy department and the commercial property department.

Mr Lupi also outlined the activity of the marketing department, which was extremely active during the year with both local and overseas campaigns. "We spend thousands on marketing every year; however, this is a drop in the ocean when compared to what competing countries spend on promoting their properties," Mr Lupi added.

"It is about time property developers realise that it is important that while they invest millions in their developments, they need to budget a substantial part for marketing the developments, especially if they wish to target foreign buyers.

"The market is enormous out there, competition is increasing every day and there are amazingly some buyers who have hardly ever heard of Malta. This year we expect to have a good number of large scale developments coming on the market and we all have to create a demand to meet this supply of property to ensure a sustainable and healthy market."

Last year the company received the Bentley International Property Award for Best Real Estate Agency for 2005.

"The award is proof of our company's commitment to the high level of quality service which we have provided, both to our local and foreign clients, over the past 36 years," Mr Lupi said.

Mr Lupi also harshly criticized a number of operators in the property market who "call themselves estate agents but unfortunately provide a very unprofessional service, thus giving a bad name to the industry.

"We are not worried about competition as this is healthy; however, it is not right that some of these give the impression that the service they give is for free when in fact they charge owners a three per cent commission once the property is sold," Mr Lupi said.

"This for simply advertising the property with the owners' telephone number. For a small additional cost, the buyer and the seller would have a much wider choice of properties, plus the service of a professional real estate consultant and negotiator through an estate agent," he added.

Mr Lupi was very optimistic about how the market will perform this year. The company plans to invest in further expansion of it operations, including a new office on the Sliema seafront, as well as increasing its workforce to be able to meet expected demands.

As the end of the meeting awards were handed out for Best Branch of the Year (St Julian's) and Best Sales Persons to Marisa Camilleri, Kris Grima and Carmen Azzopardi.

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