The global RE/MAX franchise was first brought to Malta in 2004 by Jeffrey Buttigieg and his brother Kevin. RE/MAX Malta has since grown to be one of the most successful estate agencies on the islands. In 2020, Kevin took on the role of Chairman, while Jeffrey took on the role of CEO. Although the restructuring of the company coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, RE/MAX Malta has gone from strength to strength during this period, breaking its own records twice in less than two years.
Jeffrey Buttigieg’s first foray into the world of real estate was, and still is, by his brother Kevin’s side. Their first letting agency, JK Properties, was so well-respected that the developers of Tigné Point in Sliema asked the two brothers to evaluate the rental prices for the apartments they were building. “At that time, we had a lot of clients who wanted to invest in property at Tigné Point,” Jeffrey recalls. “We only offered lettings services back then, but my brother came up with the idea of selling these properties ourselves instead of referring the clients to other agencies.” The risk they took paid off when they sold more than 15 units, and a rebranding exercise quickly followed.
In 2004, Jeffrey and his brother introduced RE/MAX to Malta. “Kevin and I both spent our early childhood in the United States, so the concept of a franchise wasn’t new to us. We also knew that getting a franchise would give us an advantage in a market that was saturated,” Jeffrey explains. “Besides, RE/MAX’s values resonated with ours, and they luckily chose us out of five companies that were trying to get them into Malta.”
Jeffrey’s initial role in the company was complex. “I filled many roles, including that of IT Manager and Marketing Manager, while I was also in charge of HR. I was thrown in at the deep end and learned everything hands-on,” he recalls. “Eventually, we started looking for people whose strengths complemented ours, and that’s how we started growing.”
RE/MAX’s growth has been nothing short of spectacular. “We grew exponentially and, up until five years ago, we were still in growth mode.” Jeffrey shares. “One of our biggest milestones was winning Global Region of the Year, a very prestigious award given by RE/MAX International. We were nominated three years in a row and then won it in the fourth year.”
Motivating others is one of Jeffrey’s strengths, and is at the core of his leadership style. When he took over the role of CEO from his brother in late 2020, the brothers decided to restructure the company. “I overhauled the whole management team,” Jeffrey says. “We created a role specifically tailored for each member of the team, even if it meant putting people in roles where they might feel a little uncomfortable.”
A firm believer in having a clear vision and goals, Jeffrey wanted the mindset of the company to shift from one of a family-run operation that had no clear deadlines and objectives, to one of accountability.
But when it comes to leading his team, Jeffrey does not believe in micro-managing. “I like to give people wings so they can fly,” he says. “I help them out and hold their hand until they find their feet, but then they are on their own. Accountability is something I really insist upon.”
Apart from expecting everyone in the company to be proactive and responsible, Jeffrey is also known for embracing challenges. “I consider myself a change agent because I love pushing the envelope,” he admits. “In the past, before we had our current structure, not everyone was keen on the way we sprung innovative ideas onto them. However, we have learned from our mistakes and nowadays include everyone in the whole process, which they all love.”
On a more personal level, Jeffrey has learned a few lessons of his own recently. After years of constantly working with few opportunities to wind down, he is finally finding some balance between his professional and personal life. “I’ve started taking a short break for lunch, during which I try to go home,” he says. “I used to work through without having lunch most days, and that usually turned into burnout and a loss of productivity. I feel that everyone needs a break in the middle of the day, whether it’s for coffee, a light lunch or even a short walk.” Nowadays, he also makes the most of his weekends by spending quality time with his children.
Mindset is something Jeffrey mentions often. It’s his first order of business every morning, together with a generous dose of caffeine. “I have coffee (three cappuccinos, to be precise) and set my mindset for the day,” he shares. “If I skip this part of my morning, my mind is fuzzy all day.” Once at the office, it’s hours of meetings and calls, sometimes till late into the evening. “If I’m lucky, I get home by six. But even then, I’ll work on plans for the next day before relaxing.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jeffrey and his team met the new challenge head-on.
“Our main concern was keeping our agents motivated,” he says. “We were afraid that if they took the lockdowns as a holiday, they wouldn’t be prepared to pick up where they left off once restrictions were eased.” So, the RE/MAX team did what they do best: they trained and mentored their agents as the pandemic evolved. “We held a webinar every morning covering a different topic, usually featuring a different speaker,” Jeffrey explains. “We just kept pushing the idea that this was a time to hunker down and prepare, and we encouraged them to start updating their database and to keep in touch with the property owners. We shifted their mindset from one of doom to one of business opportunity. I am grateful to have a brilliant team of trainers and regional staff to support our network, not to mention the added support we received from RE/MAX Europe and their host of international speakers.”
Jeffrey’s efforts bore fruit. In 2021 RE/MAX beat their figures from 2017, which had been one of their record years to-date. “As soon as we came out of the first lockdown, we hit the ground running. In fact, the last six months of 2020 saw us reach record heights and led us into 2021 with average agent productivity having increased by 70 per cent,” says Jeffrey. “We realised how beneficial the mentoring had been, so we kept up regular webinars and monthly reviews. All our efforts drove productivity up significantly.”
Giving back is as important to Jeffrey as making a profit is. The company set up the RE/MAX and Friends Foundation in 2013, after a member of the team was diagnosed with cancer. “We donate a percentage of every sale we make to it and the money goes to charities that are meaningful to the agents,” says Jeffrey. “Our plan is to start creating projects, like we had done with the common room and the outdoor play area for Mater Dei’s Rainbow Ward. We definitely feel that Corporate Social Responsibility is even more important to us as a company following the pandemic.”
Jeffrey has a good feeling about 2022 and the future of RE/ MAX. “A good agency will always survive because, at the end of the day, when the market is not favourable and people need a good agent, they will go to the agencies that deliver. Having said that, I think this year will be as good for the property market as last year was.”
As for the real estate sector as a whole, Jeffrey believes the recent law regulating the licensing of agents is a step in the right direction. “We have always lobbied for it, but I believe there are many issues that were not addressed,” he points out. “Things like customer service and the ethical integrity an agent needs to have when dealing with a buyer or a seller. The Act also assumes that letting agents require the same training as those who sell, when they are completely different. Many potential letting agents will feel discouraged by the requirements, pushing them into selling, and this will create problems for the letting sector.”
At this point, Jeffrey wants to focus on consolidating what he and his team have built. “We want to change the real estate market, starting with RE/MAX,” he explains. “It’s tough, but we are completely revolutionising the company’s service standards. The results are already apparent, and we are ensuring that we continue to be the most innovative and memorable real estate company in Malta.”
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