Property buyers need real-time sales details, the Consumer Council says

Details of purchases will soon have to be on database within 24 hours, but Consumer Council wants it faster

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2012, 4:06am

People shopping for a new home need real-time market information to help them make informed choices in a fast-moving property market, according to the Consumer Council.

Buying a property is a big decision for most people that involves their life's savings, noted the consumer watchdog's deputy chief executive, Wendy Lam Yuen-mui. So it was only fair that they get information about the latest market prices and other key data, she said.

Lam was commenting on a law that takes effect next year to rein in developers' dubious sales tactics for new flats. The Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance will compel developers to send sales information to an electronic database within 24 hours after a buyer signs a preliminary agreement.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said it expected the database to be in operation by the middle of next year The details to be submitted include flat descriptions, the date of the agreement, and the price and terms of payment - all of which will be made available to the public.

But Lam wants developers to upload information immediately when technically possible, instead of waiting for 24 hours.

"We are pleased that the law has included an information platform for property sales," Lam said. "But real-time information would be a more valuable reference for prospective homebuyers before they put their signature on the sales and purchase agreement.

"That information may not be important when the property market is stagnant and prices don't change much over a long time. But when the market is as busy as it is these days, when prices can change in a matter of weeks, the data is a key reference for homebuyers in making their decisions."

Lam said the council's concern was to protect consumers' rights, rather than focusing on how the legislation might affect developers.

But property agent Centaline warned that trying to provide live data could create market chaos because if buyers cancel their purchase at the last minute it could make the data inaccurate.

"Even after the parties have signed their preliminary agreement, they can cancel their cheque, making the transaction void," said Centaline's associate research director Wong Leung-sing.

"Unlike the sale and purchase of stocks, which can be done online, property transactions need documents to confirm a sale, making it technically impossible to ensure the accuracy of real-time information. I would say 24 hours is a fair requirement, but not real time."

The Real Estate Developers Association said its members would have no problem complying with the new law. The association welcomed the move to increase transparency, saying it had always been "supportive of legislating [sales of] first-hand, uncompleted properties". But the association refused to comment on the possibility of real-time release of data.

Meanwhile, Lam feels strongly that consumers in general should have a guaranteed cooling-off period, which is not included in the current Trade Descriptions Ordinance. She said such protection was particularly important for prepaid transactions such as beauty services.