Home truths

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2001, 12:00am

Four years after the Law Reform Commission published a paper on the topic, the Estate Agents Authority is finally tackling the issue of sales of overseas properties.

A recent survey, which found that SAR residents had bought about 190,000 homes in the mainland and that many more would do so, has given the matter an added sense of urgency.

Across the Pearl River Delta, selling properties to Hong Kong people has become a popular means through which local authorities raise funds for investment. But the lack of a proper framework to regulate such sales has given rise to abuses. Many buyers lured by attractive adverts to buy their desired 'dream homes' have seen those dreams turn into nightmares.

Some found their properties did not measure up to the sizes described in sales brochures. In worst cases, the properties were not even built or left uncompleted, as the developers disappeared with the money or went bankrupt. Estate agents in Hong Kong who acted as middlemen denied any responsibility, claiming they were also the victims.

The Estate Agents Authority is likely to require licensed agents selling overseas properties to adhere to standards similar to those governing the sales of local homes. This would be a welcome step.

But one cannot see how the authority could hold agents responsible if the overseas properties sold through them failed to be completed or were plagued by problems of poor workmanship - demands made by buyers of substandard mainland properties.

Certainly, the agents cannot be blamed for problems beyond their control. But if the code on agents' conduct in selling overseas properties only ensures that agents behave themselves, then its scope of protection will be limited. And this should be made clear to the public.

In trying to protect buyers, the Estate Agents Authority must be aware of the limits of its powers.

The worst the authority could do would be to give buyers a false sense of security.