It was back in 1995 that Kevin Buttigieg – a name now synonymous with the property industry on the island – first got involved in the sector. His first role was as a lettings agent for an existing real estate company, and he went on to set up the first fully-fledged lettings team in the country within that organisation.
“I remember realising the potential of the market even then,” he says. “Other companies were just side-lining lettings and were only focused on sales, but we decided to give it its due. That grew and we quickly became the leading lettings company on the island at the time.”
Eventually, though, Kevin and his brother Jeff decided to go their own way, and they launched JK Properties in 1999, in collaboration with their father, Joe. Even then, they focused entirely on the rental market, specialising in both commercial and residential properties.
“We became renowned in the sector almost immediately,” Kevin recalls. “We had 10 lettings agents – most of whom still work with us today – and, for the first couple of years, we focused entirely on rentals, before launching our sales department. We actually faced a real challenge when that first opened because we were so clearly associated with lettings but, when MIDI was launched, we were appointed as one of just a handful of agencies promoting it and, in the end, became its largest seller – a milestone that marked a key shift for us as a company.”
It was then that Kevin and Jeff decided they wanted to create a one-stop real estate shop for Malta, and they went on the hunt for a top international franchise that they could bring to the island. “A lot of people thought we were crazy,” Kevin laughs. “But we were determined. We met with representatives of most of the franchises that are now in Malta, as well as some that aren’t, and ended up choosing RE/MAX as our first preference. Luckily, they chose us too from among six bidders. We haven’t looked back since.”
Today, RE/MAX Malta is the most successful real estate company on the island, with a number of offices and committed professional franchise partners that have helped it to grow nationwide. “The system works,” Kevin says. “Our top agents have been able to become our partners, which has enabled us to keep attracting the top talent out there – including brilliant, young, ambitious individuals – and growing our team to be the best. We have changed the way people look at real estate agents to a certain extent; we have helped make it a true profession thanks to the training our team receives in our RE/MAX Academy. It is this that gives us our edge.”
It is also Kevin’s linear approach to being CEO that has helped to effectively secure the company’s niche. “Everyone is the same here,” he says. “Everyone has their responsibilities to fulfil, and everyone needs to earn respect. But everyone can achieve their goals within our structures.”
Today that team is made up of a whopping 460 people. “Yes, it can sometimes feel daunting to be leading a company of that size!” Kevin quips. “But, on the whole, I believe that if you can look yourself in the eye and feel satisfied, then you’re on the right track. You can’t always please everyone but as long you’re making decisions in the right way, and not selfishly, then everything will work out. After 15 years of consistent growth, I trust we have done things the right way.”
Looking back, Kevin cites RE/MAX Europe co-Founder Frank Polzler as one of the people who has inspired his career and the way he does business. “I admire the way he was always available to us, even at the very beginning,” he says. “He always talked sense and made sure he had time for everyone. Besides being the owner of RE/MAX Europe, he also runs RE/MAX in 12 states in the US, three-quarters of RE/MAX Canada and has a 35 per cent stake in RE/MAX Worldwide – so this is quite a busy man! But, to this day, he calls me on my birthday without fail, and he always has time to chat about life as opposed to just business. I admire that because he doesn’t have to do it, he wants to do it.”
And Kevin says he will continue to keep that inspiration in mind as he works towards RE/MAX Malta’s next milestones – which will revolve around the fact that demand for property on the island is only going up. “In many ways property in Malta is still very reasonable, despite what some people are saying. Rental properties are still yielding between four and six per cent on average, which is good.” As for the company itself, Kevin explains that its Regional Office is currently being restructured, to make room for a couple more positions, and that provisions are being made to keep growing the brand.
As for where he sees himself in five years, Kevin jokes that he hopes to be retired – although those who know him know this to be rather unlikely. “I see us as being very busy,” he says. “We have big plans, and are set to become a major player within RE/MAX Europe. We will continue on our trajectory as Malta’s number one agency but know this won’t be easy, as competition is fierce and other brands are fighting to keep up – but we will keep evolving as we go to ensure this baton isn’t taken away from us.”
Finally, when he looks back on it all, Kevin says he hopes to be remembered as a guy who got it right most of the time, and as someone who learned from anything he didn’t get right. “I also hope to have helped a lot of people and to have changed lives, whether by giving our team members chances when no one else would, or through the work of the RE/MAX and Friends Foundation. It is important to me to be generous and to give back, both within RE/MAX and to the community beyond,” he adds.
MaltaChamber.org.mt is proud to be serialising MaltaCEOs 2019, a high-profile publication consisting of 50 in-depth interviews with leading CEOs in Malta. Celebrating the most influential business minds in the country, two different interviews will be featured on this business news portal week by week. MaltaCEOs was created by Content House Group in collaboration with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry.