A single-minded pursuit of regulatory change

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2011, 12:00am


Vivien Chan, the chairwoman of Hong Kong's Estate Agents Authority (EAA), is determined to tighten regulations governing the sale of new homes during her tenure.

'I really want to complete the work related to the regulation of the sale of first-hand properties, and give my full support to the government in its legislation over such regulations,' Chan said.

The veteran lawyer and businesswoman took up the leadership of the statutory body three years ago, at a time when the property market was hit by the global financial crisis.

One of her first challenges arose in mid-2009, when the public questioned the suspected unlicensed estate agency work of The Link Management. The EAA investigated the matter and it later ruled that the firm had failed to ensure that at least one of its directors was a EAA license holder. The firm was consequently reprimanded and fined HK$10,000. It had also failed to notify the EAA in writing within 31 days of a director's departure, and received a reprimand.

Chan said this incident, and the controversy over The Icon, a Mid-Levels project, which arose about a year ago, were some of the most memorable cases she came across to date as the head of the property watchdog.

In the case of The Icon - of which Winfoong International was the developer and Centaline Property Agency the broker - several flat buyers complained of unfinished work. One had likened her apartment to a 'rubbish dump'. Buyers had also complained about misleading sales information.

The EAA started an investigation, and is scheduling a disciplinary hearing to which Centaline may be summoned to appear.

'If we don't treat this case seriously, it would leave unclear the standards of a new flat when it is handed to the buyer, as well as the conduct and legal responsibility of the estate agents,' said Chan. The Icon incident had provided the industry with a cautionary example from which it could learn, Chan said.

To be sure, regulating the property market has become more complicated because of trends such as the online sales of flats and the increasing number of mainland buyers. But Chan said she was happy that the EAA was helping to tighten regulations and improve the industry's image. 'Having spent time and effort on the Estate Agents Authority in the past three years, I feel rewarded. I feel I've done something for Hong Kong,' Chan said.

Since she became chairwoman, the EAA has issued a total of 20 so-called practice circulars for property agents. The scope of the regulations ranges from the proper presentation of property information and land searches, to the protection of the personal information of buyers and sellers.

Furthermore, the government had appointed an EAA representative to a committee to study the proposed legislation covering the sale of new flats to better protect new homebuyers. After receiving the committee's report, the government last month released a draft bill for a two-month public consultation.

'We need the EAA because without it Hong Kong's property market would be immature. I think it is very important because almost every transaction involves an agent,' said Chan. The EAA could protect agents by setting clear boundaries of what they should or should not do, she said.