Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings

Painful truth hits home for building giants

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 August, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong's property tycoons have vowed greater transparency after a survey they commissioned to discover what the public thinks of them came back with the answer: 'Not a lot.'

Nine out of 10 of the property-buying public had an average, negative or very negative impression of the much-maligned magnates, in the study ordered by the Hong Kong Real Estate Developers Association (REDA) more than a year ago.

A lack of openness and communication plus a perceived closeness to the government were the main criticisms cited by the respondents.

Now, after much soul-searching, REDA has pledged to 'be as transparent as we can be'.

Two surveys were commissioned in July last year. One was of 42 stakeholders including NGOs, industry associations and public bodies. The other focused on 568 members of the property-buying public. The studies were completed in November but a report of the results has only just been released on the internet.

REDA boasts a who's who of big money in Hong Kong as members, including the top four on Forbes' Hong Kong rich list - Cheung Kong's Li Ka-shing, Sun Hung Kai's Kwok brothers, Lee Shau-kee, of Henderson Land Development, and Cheng Yu-tung of New World Development.

The organisation's mandate is to protect and self-regulate the industry. But such has been the opaque nature of its operations, the 46-year-old association didn't even have a website until three months ago.

It was introduced as a result of the surveys by international firm Ogilvy Public Relations.

'We did the study, we heard the views of the stakeholders and the public and we are working to dispel some of the misconceptions of the industry,' REDA secretary general Louis Loong Hon-biu said.

When asked which three things developers did best, the consumers 'obviously tended to have no idea' how to answer, the report says. But when asked which three things they did worst, in-store marketing and a lack of industry transparency were the main complaints.

Loong said a website was the first step towards a rebranding of REDA. And he said important REDA meetings may in future be followed by press conferences.

He also defended REDA's relationship with the government, saying there was 'nothing untoward' in working closely with the only supplier of land in the city.

Last year, misleading show flats, accusations of market manipulation at 39 Conduit Road and the vicar-general of the Catholic diocese likening Li Ka-shing to the devil stole the headlines. This year, it's been the Icon's 'rubbish flats' and the runaway prices of a property bubble.

Meanwhile, another survey released by Chinese University last week said three out of four people believed 'property hegemony' - the dominance of property developers over the economy and politics - existed in the city.

Loong said: 'It is a perception and frankly I do not expect that to be changed overnight. These things take time and all we can do now is to try to be as transparent as we can be.'