I have been in some pretty surreal situations over the years but this has got to be close to the strangest. I am sat with my old flat mate Toby in a cramped office on the top floor of an apartment block in the capital of Malta, a small island somewhere between Africa and Italy.
We are half an hour late and have entered the room that is erupting in Maltese – one of the angriest sounding languages ever invented. There was not enough room to begin with but now half the occupants are on their feet waving their arms dramatically. Clearly having a massive argument. We perch on the corner of a boardroom table surrounded by 12 Maltese people who don’t speak any English but all hate each other guts.
We’re here to buy a flat.
Our translator and comforter, the estate agent who found us the flat, is sat in the corner happily ignoring everything.
“beep, boop bop” – his phone is making some strange noises.
“Is he playing snake?!” Toby whispers to me.
Remigio, an elderly lawyer is meant to be in charge of this meeting. I had never met Remigio before but I had read some of his emails. So far all I really knew about him was that he only ever wrote in capitals and his emails made no sense. He was our legal counsel.
I hate house hunting, but that’s OK we didn’t need to do any. In exchange for an envelope full of cash our snake playing estate agent had found us what he assured us is a great deal. Each of these 12 Maltese people have inherited 1/12th of a 1 bedroom flat and they all want out of it.
The shouting gets louder and although we don’t have a clue what is going on their anger seems to be turning on us. Remigio translates.
“Where is the 1,000 euros?!” barks and old lady while waving a scary looking cane at us.
Why on earth were we in this situation? Like most 21 year olds we both really wanted to own a house. London was and is still pretty much unaffordable. Luckily Toby’s uncle had a solution. Maltese property. “It’s great, Malta has just entered Europe, and it’s a tax haven. All the pension funds will soon be moving there and they’ll all want houses! House prices are going to go mental” He wasn’t all talk either and was full of stories of the fortunes he had made from Maltese property.
Back to the 1,000 euros. Which as it turns out was not a bribe. It was just a finders fee, paid in cash… Similar to the estate agents finders fee, also paid in cash… Which we were also assured was not a bribe.
Finally it’s all sorted, we sign a napkin that states that we owe scary Maltese lady 1,000 euros and that the referred to 1,000 euros is honestly not a bribe. She will come and collect 1,000 euros from us at our hotel the next day.
We then sign some much more official looking but totally incomprehensible documents and voilà. We now own a flat!
Our place in the sun. Our first step on the property ladder and the first step on the road to adulthood. The fact that I only own part of the flat and that it is in a foreign country, and that I’ll never actually live there and that it is an absolute dump are not the point. Property owners!!
Seriously I wasn’t joking. The place was a dump:
3 months later and local builder/part time mafioso Mario has finished with the property.
Just like the best adventures it all worked out in the end. We have a beautiful flat that was valued after the refurbishment at €129,500. We paid €63,500 for the flat plus €30,000 in fees and refurbishment so a nice €36,000 euros paper profit from two 3 day trips to Malta.
I suppose naivety and youthful confidence can pay off.
Or rather having a friend with an uncle who’s an expert in an obscure field and is willing to patiently hand hold you through all the steps and do most of the work for you pays off.