2 - 8 May, 2001

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Staking a claim

Being the director of a young, upcoming company is never an easy task - in fact, it is even more challenging when that company happens to be in the real estate sector. David Lindsay speaks to Andrew McKenna, Managing Director at SCL

What were the founding concepts behind SCL?

After having worked for other companies and gaining valuable experience, I decided to open up for myself.

However, what I had in mind varied from a conventional real estate agency in that I wanted to offer a full service of all the varieties of property related services.

With this in mind, we opened in February 2000.

The company intends to expand into different markets such as contracting, turnkey services and interior design, while opening branches in different parts of Malta. We’re planning to open an office in St Julians by the end of the year.

Are there any areas of the Islands that you focus on in particular?

We are open for all types of real estate business. We offer property in all parts of the Islands, from the south to the north and up to Gozo. We also offer all types of properties from houses of character to villas to apartments and luxury properties such as Portomaso and the Verdala Mansions and Busietta Gardens.

In your view, how does the property market stand today?

It is a rather steady market at the moment, normally after the Easter period it is a bit slow but then it tends to pick up and we’re now having good results as a company.

The government has just brought out more government apartments and people are waiting to see if they get one of these first. Many first time buyers appear to be buying those first, as opposed to buying apartments through a real estate company or direct from owners.

What are your staffing requirements at the moment?

We have a team of 10 at the moment, between full time and part time personnel. We are intending, with more offices opening, to boost this number greatly by increasing our staff compliment to 20 to 25 with the opening of the second office and then with the third and fourth increasing incrementally.

What was the inspiration behind leaving an established company to strike out on your own?

From a young age I always had my own business. I was in catering before; I had my own hotel and my own bar and restaurant.

I’ve wanted to open up a venture like this for quite a while now and, since I have the experience and I quite like the sector, still being young - I thought that now is the time to strike out on my own and make the profits for myself.

My wife and I are the directors and owners of the company. However, we intend to expand further in the business, branching out into contracting and interior design and then re-formulate the company as a group of companies.

The property market branches out into a lot of different fields - there’s insurance, bank loans, investments for foreign clients, commercial properties. The potential directions for expansion are vast.

What do you give your clients that stands apart from the normal real estate service?

What we try to offer our clients is a tailor-made service through a personal touch. We look after them, we supply them with all their needs, such as notaries, architects, interior designers - whatever it is that they require, we use our experience and know-how to supply them with it. We help them with bank loans and we deal with the Planning Authority. We do whatever is possible.

If a person wants to buy a plot of land and put up his or her dream house, we would help them with the architects, turnkey contractors, interior designer, etc… Even if they just want a house evaluated for bank purposes, we would go and carry out the evaluation free of charge with no strings attached.

We try to offer our clients the best service possible and if they ever have complaints, we try to deal with them in the most diplomatic way possible.

Don’t you see the property market currently saturated in terms of real estate agencies?

There are a good deal of real estate agencies at the moment. However, the more open the market is, the greater the competition and the more we need to better our services.

I personally, as another company, don’t mind having even 100 different agencies as competition keeps one on his toes. However, there is a lot of trying to beat one another on commissions. Most agencies take five per cent but sometimes, when you have to close, you can’t always take your five per cent and you have to renegotiate.

There are two new companies that have just opened up and they are taking a one per cent commission. They are kind of hitting the real estates agencies but are mainly aiming at the first time buyers.

However, people who are looking for a property over Lm100,000 want people to go around with them and show them different properties. They want a personal touch, which is why we try to offer these services to our clients.

We send them lists of properties on offer, we determine the area that the client is interested in and we carefully select properties from within that area for our clients to view. Time is precious for us and I’m sure that it is for our clients as well, so we try not to waste their time by beating around the bush and showing them properties they simply won’t want to see.

Customer service is very important in every industry and is an aspect that we focus on. We are always trying to recruit more staff in order to keep the agent to client ratio low.

At the moment we have roughly 8,000 active properties on our database, which sounds like a lot, but when it comes down to it, is just not enough.

What are your views on Malta’s scarcity of land?

In the building scheme, plots are going quite expensive and that is keeping property high at the moment. It has been said that the scheme will open up soon, but they’ve been saying that for the last five years, when it happens we’ll know.

I don’t think Malta will run out of land. I think what will happen is that where we have five stories, we’ll increase to eight, it’s a far better alternative to spoiling the environment and green areas.

How important is advertising in this sector?

We live through advertising and telephones. If Malta’s telephones had to die overnight and newspapers were to stop publishing, we would basically have to close down. People see an advert, they phone and we deal with them.

With so many agencies around, advertising is crucial to business. Particularly when you are a new company, you have to be out there and be noticed.

When we first opened we thought that one office might be enough, but then we thought otherwise. Even though we are a young company with young directors and a young team, we are trying to get to the same levels of the big players and we will, given time.

 



The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt