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  • Alex DeLia

Things to Consider before Buying a House of Character in Malta

What are houses of character?

A House of Character is a dream property for many since apart from looking spectacular when expertly converted, they are a cornerstone in Maltese architecture. They were mainly built in the 17th and 18th century, with some dating back to up to 500 years. They can be found in various sizes and condition throughout most villages in Malta and Gozo. They come in all shapes and sizes but share a number of traditional architectural features that lend them their unique character and make them stand out from other property types. These houses range from remote farmhouses in idyllic rural locations to quaint village homes, stately townhouses and even massive imposing palazzos showcasing the pinnacle of the architecture of their period. They are made from large stones, have high slabbed ceilings with wooden beams and custom made door/window fittings. Larger families were more common in the older so they are considered to be quite large and spacious for today’s standards. Most also come with a central court yard and/or a garden.



Converted or Unconverted?

You will need to decide if you want to buy a property that has already been converted or you prefer to go for the cheaper option of an unconverted property and finish it off to your own taste and standards. When buying a converted property, you will benefit from being able to see the property finished and having the option to move in as soon as the contract is ready.

Should you decide to go for the unconverted property, you will need to consider:

• A long list of expenses which will include Permits, architects, Notaries and construction workers. • Time to get permits from MEPA • Time to renovate • Finding skilled workers

The work involved in converting any House of Character is quite demanding but can be equally rewarding. Most will require new flooring, water and electricity fittings throughout, membrane waterproofing, solar panels and air-conditioning.


Government grants

Recognising the importance of preserving these unique homes for future generations, the government has decreed several incentives to bolster their revival, renovation and, ultimately, the chances of them being saved, especially those that are in a precarious state and thus warrant immediate intervention in order to survive.

First-time buyers are eligible for a grant of €15,000 when they purchase a property in an urban conservation area (UCA) in Malta and this is doubled to €30,000 when buying in Gozo. The same applies to properties that have been standing vacant for more than seven years, were built more than 20 years ago or simply for homes that are built in the traditional and classic Maltese architectural style. All these measures have been introduced to encourage awareness of Malta’s cultural heritage. This is especially true in the case of houses of character as almost all of them qualify under this new dispensation.

As a final nudge to encourage investment in traditional homes such as houses of character, restoring these homes will see owners qualifying for grants on the value of the VAT, paid up to a maximum of €54,000 for the first €300,000 spent


Cons

Is the village lifestyle for you?

Traditional locations also mean being surrounded by a more traditional way of life, which, for all its charm, is not without its drawbacks.

For example, tightly-packed village cores and narrow streets means driving and parking can be constant challenges, while transport connections may not be as efficient as in more trafficked areas and you may need to travel further to find amenities like large supermarkets.

Noisy neighbours may be more of a nuisance—check for any loud barking dogs on nearby rooftops! — and you could find that the sense of anonymity that some enjoy in larger towns and cities is entirely lacking here.

Depending on your perspective, the traditional festi that take over most towns and villages in summer, could be a highlight of the season, or an unwelcome intrusion on your peace and quiet. Festi bring with them excitement and pageantry but also loud fireworks and music, large crowds and road closures.

Even isolated rural farmhouses may not be entirely immune from disturbances, from heavy machinery on nearby farms to gunshots at dawn during bird hunting season.



How to go about buying your very own

The demand for houses of character will only increase and any estate agent can testify to this fact. There has seen a sharp rise in prices but due to their nearly cult status, price has never been an issue for the scores of eager buyers.

Houses of character are arguably Malta’s most sought-after homes and everyone wants one. Sadly, the numbers of “move-in ready” ones that people are willing to part with are becoming finite as more and more owners are holding on to their beloved houses of character. Soon, the only option will be to take the plunge and go for an unrenovated one… and we advise anyone to do this sooner than later, as even these last unpolished gems’ days of lying in wait is numbered.

If you aim to buy a house of character, here are some points to consider in order to narrow down your list of candidates quickly:

• make an appointment with an agent in your area of choice and go and see both renovated and unrenovated options.

• See exactly what lifestyle you are after or have in mind for you and your family as some of the houses are in remote locations and others are in the middle of villages and towns.

• Many are renovated but others may be in an unrenovated and original condition, so this will influence price greatly.

• Decide whether you are up for taking on a project when buying unrenovated or whether you have the budget when looking at unrenovated houses of character as an option, as modernising and upgrading them can be expensive and will take time before you can move in.

• Investigate the complexity of current ownership as the simpler it is, the better.

• If you have set your heart on an unrenovated property, get an expert such as a surveyor, structural engineer or architect to do a full report on the house and its boundaries.

• And lastly, once you have a clear idea of the house of character you want to own, make an offer and ensure to stipulate any conditions you have as part of the offer being accepted.

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