Lawmakers take issue with numbers game
A developer's marketing ploy of selectively numbering a 46-storey apartment building up to the lofty heights of an 88th floor has sparked calls for action by lawmakers.
The Democratic Party said it would push for a Legco inquiry into whether Henderson Land Development violated ethical standards by claiming that a luxury Mid-Levels development had apartments on the 66th, 68th and 88th floors when in fact the building had just 46 storeys.
Other parties expressed concern and suggested measures to stop deceptive practices. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong called for an independent watchdog to oversee the property sector, while the Liberal Party suggested capping the number of floors that could be skipped.
In its sales material for 39 Conduit Road, Henderson Land uses a creative floor numbering system that dispenses with 48 floors and labels its top three floors 66, 68 and 88, lucky numbers in Chinese numerology.
'I will ask the Legislative Council's economic services panel to look into why the government allowed Henderson to use a ridiculous numbering system,' Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said.
The move comes amid concerns about other misleading marketing practices commonly used by developers, such as claiming units have more floor area than is actually inside an apartment by including common areas as part of the flat's floor space, a practice that can inflate its size by as much as 20 per cent.
The DAB spokeswoman for economic affairs, Starry Lee Wai-king, said the party had received a number of complaints from the public about developers' marketing practices.
She said setting up a statutory body for the housing market, similar to the Securities and Futures Commission, should be considered.
'An independent watchdog will provide a higher degree of efficiency and credibility than what is currently available in the market now.'
Lee said people would have more trust in a statutory body that could deal with sensitive issues, including the pricing of flats by developers based on saleable floor area and unscrupulous marketing practices.
At the moment, developers police themselves through the Real Estate Developers Association (Reda), which counts Hong Kong's largest developers among its members.
Early this month, the association issued guidelines to its members on the sale of flats. However, when asked by the South China Morning Post to comment on Henderson's compliance with its guidelines, an association spokesman said floor numbering systems were not included.
Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the Liberal Party, said there were no rules regulating how developers numbered their floors.
'It is a loophole for developers to jump as many floors as they want,' she said. 'We should study whether we should set a cap on the number of floors being skipped.'
Developers have been criticised for a range of questionable marketing practices, such as the use of 'Peak' in naming properties that are nowhere near that prime residential area, like 'Bel-Air on the Peak' in Pok Fu Lam and 'Peak One' in Sha Tin.
One industry player for more than 20 years said that having the property sector regulating itself was like the 'fox guarding the hen house'.
'It's not the case that Reda is incapable; the problem is that there is a clear conflict of interest,' he said.
David Webb, editor of Webb-site.com, a shareholder activist site, suggested the government adopt a cooling-off period of perhaps two weeks for sales of new homes.
'Then if people change their mind after a high-pressure sales pitch, they can get their money back,' Webb said.