Data used for flat sizes doesn't always add up
Real estate industry leaders say a central database of flat sizes is needed to prevent lawsuits arising from discrepancies between two data sources used by the property agents' watchdog.
They made the plea after the Estate Agents Authority on Tuesday ordered agents to display the 'saleable area' of all second-hand flats in advertising from next year. Saleable area includes only usable areas within the flat.
Agents and developers often use the 'gross floor area', which boosts the quoted size of a flat by including bay windows and its share of communal areas, such as lobbies and staircases. The practice has been condemned as highly misleading.
Both the Ratings and Valuation Department and the Land Registry hold details of flats' saleable area - but one example uncovered by the Post shows a discrepancy between the two of 16 square feet. While the department puts the saleable area of a HK$9 million flat at The Icon in Conduit Road at 42 square metres (452 sq ft), the registry puts it at 40.47 square metres (436 sq ft).
The authority has admitted there could be 'a small discrepancy' between the sources, but said agents would not be liable for discrepancies, even if an owner suffered a loss because of the difference.
But Shih Wing-ching, founder of the Centaline Property Agency, said he was concerned that buyers would take their agents to court if they uncovered such a discrepancy.
'Buyers don't think the same as the authority,' Shih said. 'That the authority accepts something does not mean it will also be accepted by buyers.'
Shih said one cause of the discrepancy was that the ratings department records could include areas covered by illegal structures, unlike Land Registry records that covered only the size of a flat when it was first sold.
The ratings department denied the claim, saying it based its data only on approved building plans.
Shih called for the government to set up a database to avoid confusion.
Michael Choi Ngai-min, chairman of the public relations committee of the Institute of Real Estate Administrators, agreed that government departments should work with the authority on a standard database.
'A difference of a few square feet could mean a difference of HK$100,000,' Choi said.
A spokesman for the authority said it had referred the industry's call to the government. He said the public should direct inquiries about saleable area to the Ratings and Valuation Department.
While the authority is pushing the use of saleable area, it has not set a timetable for a ban on the use of gross floor area, although when it is displayed in advertising it must be shown in text no bigger than the saleable area.
The Legislative Council is expected to ban the use of gross floor area in the sale of new flats before the end of the legislative session in July.