Forming the foundation of Malta’s impressively strong economy is the country’s thriving world of real estate. At that industry’s heart beats a consistent and vibrant lettings market. Zoom in further still, and arguably the strength of local lettings may be credited to the nation’s ever-growing iGaming sector.
Beyond becoming such an economic cornerstone, iGaming has certainly changed the face of Maltese real estate in recent years. As major brands settled on the island, a proportionate yet rapid rise in demand rippled across the new gaming hubs – not just for huge, interactive commercial spaces to accommodate their hundreds-strong teams, but for nearby residential properties for their professionals.
Of course, the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 threw a pandemic-sized curveball at the sector. Almost overnight, thousands of foreign workers returned to their home nations while employees switched to working from home instead of at their company’s – lest we forget: enormous, open-plan and multi-storey – offices.
But is demand now rising once again? Well, most property experts agree that it is – but add that we are not there yet.
“As restrictions have gradually eased, people are starting to return to Malta to continue their employment, but with more flexibility to adapt to today’s realities of the pandemic,” explains Jeff Buttigieg, CEO at RE/MAX Malta, which includes the island’s oldest and largest dedicated property letting team. “Although nowadays Malta seems to be one of the safe zone countries to work and live in, it is still a challenge for people to return to the island and slot back into their old routine at work. Recruitment is still slow for iGaming companies located in Malta; the numbers seem to be increasing gradually, but not as fast as expected.”
Founder and CEO of QuickLets and Zanzi Homes, Steve Mercieca, has experienced a similar situation. The real estate group has 35 offices locally with a team of 520, as well as two offices in Limassol and Paphos in Cyprus. “The boom had been with us for a while, but every boom needs to slow down eventually,” he explains. “The pandemic sped this up a bit, but I don’t believe it is the only reason why some prices went down. Once things opened up again and our team returned to the office, it was business as usual for a while. We saw different requests, mainly focusing on more outside space and larger living rooms.”
As consumer appetite has moved with the times, so has the demand for certain localities. While iGaming professionals have historically looked to the central towns of Sliema, St Julian’s and Ta’ Xbiex for rental properties close to their offices, the pandemic has inspired talk of companies decentralising to more remote parts of Malta.
“We predict that Msida, Pieta, Floriana, Valletta and the Three Cities are next in line as gaming centres, especially with the flexibility of the ferries facilitating employee commutes,” highlights Michael Incorvaja, Letting Manager at Dhalia Real Estate Services. “We have also pinpointed trends moving further south to Marsascala and the Smart City areas.”
Yet, as 2022 approaches, experts foresee coastal cities such as Sliema and St Julian’s will remain just as popular for iGaming professionals as they ever were. “These cities and their surroundings will still be buzzing with activity from both local and foreign inhabitants,” Mr Incorvaja predicts. “They are a focal point for shopping, entertainment and café life, ideal for an outdoor meal or a stroll along the promenade.”
Mr Mercieca agrees that “Sliema and St Julian’s will be hard to beat – but the south is also on the rise.”
Employee lifestyles with a new emphasis on well-being are another important factor in the mix, as Philippa Tabone, Letting Division Manager at Frank Salt Real Estate, highlights. “Areas like Balzan and Attard will become more sought-after. It all depends on what staff members want: being close to work or the sea, shops, restaurants or entertainment venues.”
Powered by this shift in mindset and demand, new commercial and residential projects are currently in progress, and these have the potential to tap into the revitalised iGaming sector. Major developments such as The Quad and Trident Park are set to offer new concepts in commercial real estate, as will the highly anticipated Central Business District (CBD) in Mriehel.
“The Central Business District is the most interesting project in development at the moment,” continues Ms Tabone. “It will cater specifically for employees, creating a hub where they have all they need in one area, from office space, lounges and gyms to restaurants, cafés and day care facilities for children. There are also some residential complexes in the vicinity that I am sure will be popular once the CBD is in full swing.”
So, how can today’s iGamers best capitalise on this wider reach across the island during their property search? The answer, according to industry leaders, is to make full use of the new technologies that have raised the digital game of the post-pandemic real estate sector. As well as a wealth of exclusive mobile apps that have transformed the customer experience, most local agencies have also updated their websites to be more user-friendly and useful for online clientele. However, they agree that nothing beats speaking directly to experts in the industry.
“The best way to find a rental property is to find a professional agent that you enjoy talking to and let them know what you need. Let them spend their time doing what they do best,” affirms Mr Mercieca. “Hopefully, we will beat the battle against COVID-19 soon and networking events and fairs will reopen. I believe this is what all industries, particularly iGaming, need the most,” he concludes, envisioning an evolved iGaming sector in years to come – and an even stronger property market as a result.
This feature was first carried in the Winter 2021/2022 edition of iGaming Capital magazine, the sister brand to iGamingCapital.mt, both produced by Content House Group
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