New property code only protects vendors, broker claims

Property broker Janice Azzopardi says that the proposed property code only benefits big development and real estate agencies, who want intermediaries out of the way

A white paper launched by the parliamentary secretariat for competitiveness aimed at regulating Malta’s property code has been “modelled on an insurance type of system that only protects the vendor”, according to Sensara Malta founder Janice Azzopardi.

Azzopardi, one of just three declared full-time property intermediaries – more commonly known as sensara – has also hit out at the white paper as having tried to wipe out intermediaries from the property market at the expense of buyers. 

“If today you have the Malta Developers Association and the Federation of Estate Agents affiliated together, who is safeguarding the client? As a broker, an intermediary, I am more of a consultant than a salesperson. We seek to offer the best to our clients. But this white paper only safeguards the vendor,” she told MaltaToday.

Arguing that intermediaries, as property consultants, ensure a smooth sale, Azzopardi denounced an imposition in the white paper that would have forced brokers like herself to charge a five per cent commission. Although in the white paper, it is understood that the proposal will not be included in the bill. 

“I charge a commission of 1% from each side. Why would someone force me to charge higher if it’s not what I want? This would have been nothing short of a cartel system,” she said, arguing that a law should never impose on an individual how much to charge.

Real estate agents, on the other hand, charge five per cent, she said. Azzopardi believes that it is the big developers and the big real estate agents who want intermediaries out of the way. 

The Malta’s Property Code and Regulations white paper defines sensara as ‘a village broker’ conducting property transactions but who do not advertise their services on any social or media networks; restrict their services to occasional transactions; and do not employ persons in the conduct of their business. 

“Why call me a village broker if I’m a professional and an intermediary working for both the buyer and the seller? The white paper should have safeguarded the public and all those who worked in the sector. In reality it was done to safeguard the big agents,” Azzopardi reiterated.

Voicing her opinion in favour of licences for those operating in the property business, Azzopardi conceded that there were hundreds of individuals who called themselves sensara just because they would come across or learn of a potential sale. A licence would help regulate this point and protect the professionals, who like her, are in the business to make a living out of their career.

She also questioned how foreigners who are not able to communicate in Maltese can close a deal with clients involving inherited property – where contracts are usually in the Maltese language.

“If I choose to work in Italy, I will be licensed to work in one particular region and would have to undertake an exam in Italian. The property market is not just about selling luxury properties. Who is safeguarding our jewels?”

In previous media conferences and public statements, junior minister Jose Herrera said that the white paper was launched for consultation with the goal of drafting a bill that would safeguard all stakeholders. He had also admitted that brokers had felt sidelined. 

The purpose of the white paper was to draw up a proposal establishing an institutional and legal framework together with a code of conduct and real estate educational programme. The white paper looks at residential sales and lettings, commercial sales and lettings, condominium management and international sales agents. It also proposes the setting up of a body to regulate the property negotiation profession.