Media outlets have been advised against a long-standing practice of quoting "market sources" from developers who want to test the water for new projects, as they might be criminally liable under the new law on flat sales that takes effect on April 29.
Such "sources" tell reporters the "intended price" per square foot of a flat in an upcoming sale before the official price release, which may be different.
The head of an authority set up to administer the new law said yesterday that to avoid doubt, people should rely only on information from its website.
"There should not be any price before a developer issues a price list for its project," said the director of the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Authority, Eugene Fung Kin-yip. The authority's website would have a centralised database of price lists, sales brochures and transaction records of all new residential projects, he said.
Asked if the media would be accused of spreading misleading information if they reported an "intended price" before an official list came out, Fung said "anything would be possible".
The media should also not report unconfirmed numbers of transactions on the first day of sales before official records were uploaded to the database, he said. The new law requires developers to disclose transaction information within 24 hours of sale.
The maximum penalty for a breach is seven years in jail and a HK$5 million fine.
So far, developers have opened user accounts for 60 residential projects on the database. They can upload sales information any time and the database will be accessible to the public on the day the law takes effect.
The Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance is intended to protect consumer interests and increase market transparency. An information centre in Chai Wan will educate consumers on the law.
There have also been concerns that developers may bombard buyers with information and cause even more confusion.
Sun Hung Kai Properties has issued a three-volume, 1,500-page sales brochure for Riva, a 780-apartment luxury project in Yuen Long, saying it was based on the new law's requirements.
Fung said he had read the brochure, adding: "It's like taking an exam. A long answer doesn't guarantee you full marks."
He said it might not be necessary to produce a thousand-page brochure as "there's no need to repeat certain information", but did not elaborate.
Separately, the Estate Agents Authority said in a radio programme yesterday that it had distributed new guidelines to agents and given them courses on the ordinance.