Debunking the myths

What does the 2021 Census tell us about the property market in Malta?

In recent years there has been a lot of discussion on the property market in Malta, with some arguing that there is a lot of unnecessary construction and that the number of vacant dwellings was increasing sharply. The publication of the 2021 Census put paid to these claims. Between 2011 and 2021 the share of secondary, seasonally used, or vacant dwellings fell from 32% to 27%, a similar proportion to that in 2005.

Even in Gozo, where many argue that there is a lot of property speculation, the Census reveals that the share of property that is not used as a main residence has fallen. While in 2011 there was 54% of the dwelling stock in Gozo that was not occupied at all times, by 2021 this had fallen to 45%. While in 2011 there were 13,440 dwellings in Gozo that were not a main residence, by 2021 these had fallen to 13,376.

While between 2011 and 2021, each year there was an increase of 7,345 dwellings, of these only 1,053 were not main residences. Between 1995 and 2011, by contrast each year there was an increase of 4,291, out of which 2,209 were not main residences. This shows very clearly that the bulk of the increase in the dwelling stock in Malta over the last decade had little to do with property speculation, but rather reflected a real increase in the need for accommodation.

One must keep in mind that, besides serving as secondary residences for Maltese citizens, in recent years the properties that are not main residences are also serving as additional bed stock for the tourism industry. In 2019, to give an example, over one million tourists spent their holiday in Malta not in a hotel or guesthouse. (https://nso.gov.mt/inbound-tourism-december-2022/ ) Back in 2011, less than a third of a million tourists used private accommodation during their stay in Malta. (https://nso.gov.mt/wp-content/uploads/News2012_024.pdf) According to a Central Bank study, in 2019 there were nearly 9,000 separate property listings on Airbnb in Malta, of which at least 5,500 were entire dwellings or one in fifteen of all secondary, seasonally used, or vacant dwellings in Malta. Back in 2013 there were only a few hundred properties in Malta listed on Airbnb.

The Census confirms that homeownership has boomed. In 2011 there were under 117,000 properties that were owned, up from 104,611 in 2005, an annual increase of less than 2,100 a year. Between 2011 and 2021, the number of dwellings that are owned rose to over 161,000, or an annual increase of 4,400. This means that homeownership grew at double the rate observed between 2005 and 2011.

The NSO notes that “the Census showed that nearly 75 per cent of Maltese individuals owned their main residence”. (https://nso.gov.mt/wp-content/uploads/Census-2021-Volume-2.pdf ) Moreover, the bulk of the Maltese who rent do so either from the Government or the Church, or else have pre-1995 contracts which have a median rent of €50. They also tend to be on longer rental contracts when compared to non-Maltese tenants.

The Census confirms that the shift towards flats and penthouses continued but underlined that the shift started after 2000. It also indicated that while the mean count of rooms decreased from six to five within the past decade, the pattern was similar to that in 2011 where nearly half of primary residences had either five or six rooms (with these not including kitchenettes, verandas, corridors, washrooms, bathrooms, and box rooms). Moreover, the average number of persons living in each dwelling continued to decline. In terms of facilities, air conditioning systems were present in no less than 80% of all primary residences, up from 52% in 2011, while the state of buildings was deemed to be better than it was in 2011.

The 2021 Census includes a wealth of information on our islands and will definitely prove very useful to guide policymakers in future years.

Photo: Efrem Efre

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