Quicklets made significant inroads in the Maltese real estate market. Can you tell us about your business model?
Steve Mercieca co-founded Quicklets in 2013. He now heads both Quicklets and Zanzi Homes. Zanzi Homes focuses on property sales and was set up a few years later. Steve was a newbie to the real estate sector, but he had worked for an iGaming company where he learned everything about affiliate programmes. His idea was to bring the referral network concept used in iGaming to the real estate sector. He introduced a system of virtual agents to generate new leads. He was convinced that everyone could be an agent and refer either a property or a client to us. Today, we have some 3,000 virtual agents on our database – average people who might come across someone looking to rent or buy, or a property owner wanting to sell or let. These virtual agents pass on the details to us, and we reach out and establish contact with the owner. For instance, if we then find a tenant for the owner’s property, the virtual agent receives a 10% cut of our agency fee. Due to the strong relations between our specialists and the virtual agents, we are often the first to find out about the newest properties on the market and can offer them to our clients as fast as possible.
Entrepreneur Steve Mercieca co-founded the company in 2013 and introduced a real estate affiliate programme.
From its initial days, how has the company developed?
Quicklets started from Steve’s living room, but just 18 months after the launch, the company had 35 employees, and this figure rose to 85 a year later. The business kept on growing, and today Quicklets has some 130 agents, which makes it probably the largest letting agency in Malta. While Quicklets was set up to purely focus on letting, Steve launched the Zanzi Homes brand after Quicklets really took off. Zanzi Homes today has some 70 agents. Five agents are also focusing on luxury estate for the sub-brand Zanzi Luxury Homes. In total we now have 12 branches; another five are in the pipeline and expected to be opened by the end of this year. We are a company that likes to do things differently. We don’t mind if our agents wear more casual clothing. We are also a company with a purpose and want to give back to the community. In Malta, the real estate industry is typically associated with ‘taking’ from the environment. Real estate should not only be about property, but also about the environment we live in. We currently plant a tree for every house we sell. We have an agreement with Pembroke local council, and we already planted some 300 trees.
What is the profile of your typical client?
For the letting segment, the majority of our clients are expats. Many are actually coming from the iGaming industry. The rise of AiBnB has changed the way we look at short lets, and we are mostly focusing on long lets with contracts either for 6 months or for 1 year. When it comes to property sales, most of our clients are Maltese. They are either looking for a home to live in or a buy-to-let property.
Rent prices have increased in recent years, with some speaking of a rent crisis in Malta and the need to regulate the market. Do you agree?
It is true that prices have increased drastically. While prices depend on the exact location and the property type, I can say that prices have roughly doubled in the last two to three years. But this is the result of demand and supply. The influx of people who come to work and live in Malta simply means that there is a strong interest in rental properties, especially in certain localities such as Sliema and St Julian’s, which has driven up prices. We are very open to the idea to discuss rent regulation with the government. Our main aims are that the market is stable and that growth is sustainable, while the needs of both the lessor and the lessee are safeguarded.
The Quicklets/Zanzi Homes Group today employs some 200 real estate professionals, who cosely cooperate with some 3,000 virual agents.
The appetite for real estate investment in Malta seems insatiable, and there are fears that a property bubble is building up. What’s your take on it?
We don’t really believe that there is a bubble. However, should there be a bubble, it is just at the very beginning. I think Malta has experienced very good four to five years in terms of its property market, and the sector is a major driver of our economy. It is in the interest of all stakeholders to collaborate and to ensure that growth is sustainable.
You launched a brand specifically aimed at the high-end property buyer. How large is this market in Malta?
The market is actually larger than many expect. People often underestimate the number of properties that are worth more than €1 million. I would say around 25% of Malta’s property stock falls in this category, while approximately 1% of all properties are worth between €5 and €10 million. For us, a property needs to be valued €800,000 or above to be classified as luxurious.
What would you highlight as major challenges and opportunities for the company and the sector?
Similar to many other industries, we are also facing the challenge of not finding sufficient staff due to the fact that we almost have full employment in the country. On the opportunity side, there is large demand for office and commercial space. This is promising for our brand Officefinder, which is yet another offshoot of Quicklets and Zanzi Homes, with special attention given to commercial premises.
What do you think Malta needs to do to ensure it remains an attractive location for property investment?
I think a collective effort is required to sustain the success of the industry and our economy in general. We need to look at new ways of doing this. For instance, we need to strengthen the service culture in the country, not just in our sector but also in others. Better customer care will lead to higher sales and more repeat business. It is also no secret that we need to address the infrastructure deficit. Malta is already a very liveable country, but especially when it comes to transport we are experiencing serious shortcomings. However, the authorities are aware of it, and it is positive that they are looking into ways to ease the traffic flow.
What are your plans for the company’s future?
In Malta, our focus will be on growing the sales department. Zanzi Homes is still a young company, and we feel there is potential for more growth. Our main goal though is to expand the company outside of Malta. We are currently exploring international franchise opportunities. I cannot reveal much more information at the moment, but we have already identified a few countries and partners that we would like to work with. We will also continue investing in new technology to improve our offering as a Prop-Tech company. Last but not least, we want to build on our commitment to give back to the community, both in Malta and abroad. We are a purpose-driven company; perhaps that’s the secret to our success.
Fabio Zuccaro leads the Quicklets and Zanzi Homes (QLZH) teams as chief operating officer. He is an experienced customer support manager with a decade of banking experience, who has previously worked for HSBC and FCM Bank.