Consumer Council seeks property sales database
Paggie Leung and Olga Wong
The Consumer Council wants the government to set up an online database on property sales, after it found buyers were given incorrect and inadequate information.
It said the database, one of nine suggestions made as a result of an inquiry, should contain information, provided by government departments and developers, including detailed transaction records of new residential projects, such as selling price, date and flat size.
It should also include market trend information including flat sales details and rents in different districts, the watchdog says.
Information on current transaction prices and unit availability should be uploaded online and posted at sales offices no more than 24 hours after they occur and eventually, immediately they occur.
The council said it would call for more drastic measures, such as offering flat buyers a cooling-off period, if market transparency and consumer rights safeguards did not increase.
'The key problem is that consumers cannot immediately get hold of accurate information ... which is unfair to them,' said Ambrose Ho, convenor of the council's working group on consumer issues relating to residential properties.
Ho said a survey of 19 residential projects from April to June found that information given to buyers could be incomplete, misleading or wrong.
The council also criticised high-pressure sales tactics, which it said created anxiety and confusion among buyers.
In one case, a council staff member was given a leaflet by sales agents indicating that a flat had already been sold. However, when the council checked the developer's website two weeks later, no transaction concerning that flat had been recorded. Transaction prices of other flats shown on the leaflet were also incorrect.
Ho said an online database, managed by an independent and authoritative body, would allow the public to obtain reliable market information. It would also enable the government to monitor transactions of new properties.
Administrative measures or legislation might be required to set up the database to ensure developers provided timely and accurate information, the watchdog said.
The council first suggested a centralised housing property database for the public as long ago as 1996.
Two other measures the council proposed yesterday concerned pre-sales of new flats.
One would restrain developers and sales agents from releasing non-official 'intentional prices' or the potential price of flats to be offered for sale before an official launch. It also called for clearer guidelines on so-called 'private sales', conducted before flats became publicly available, including an upper limit on the percentage of flats in a development that could be sold in this way, and for buyers to be allowed enough time to inspect show flats thoroughly.
A spokesman for the Transport and Housing Bureau said the council's report was 'both timely and useful'. He said the suggestions relating to the provision of timely, accurate and complete information to allow prospective purchasers to make informed decisions was consistent with the government's objectives.
But he said that nine new measures the government had introduced in June, such as requiring developers to publish a price list three days before a flat sale, had already enhanced the transparency of information and the fairness of transactions significantly.
Dr Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung, a spokesman of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, said the council's proposed measures echoed the institute's wish to boost the transparency of flat sales.
He believed the council's proposal could avoid a repeat of the controversial flat sales announcement at Henderson Land's 39 Conduit Road project, after which many record-breaking flat deals fell through.
Sales practices in Hong Kong lag behind other cities in the region
Before the launch of flat sales
Developments are promoted as a 'private sale', implying scarce supply or exclusive offer of flats but reality is everyone can take part
Viewing of show flats
Rigid control of people who cannot stop or go back into areas already viewed
Unreliable or deceptive representations
Sales agents say few flats are left, prices are rising and there is supply shortage
Sales brochures and price lists
Agents do not give leaflets until after viewing of show flats Prices differ from list issued by developer
Agents' list of flats sold and quoted prices differ from developers' list on website
The government should set up a centralised online database that should be available for public access at sales offices and show:
Details of new flats sold
Update information within 24 hours
*Similar databases are available in Beijing and Singapore, and Taiwan will soon launch one
SOURCE: CONSUMER COUNCIL