CONSUMER AFFAIRS
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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Confusing sales information could cloud home purchase decisions, Hong Kong watchdog warns

Consumer Council highlights cases in which information given out by developers and sales agents is inaccurate or misleading

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 3:48pm

Buying a property is often the biggest decision made by Hong Kong residents, but the Consumer Council warns them to beware after it uncovered a number of malpractices by developers and property agents.

To gauge whether homebuyers can obtain accurate and adequate sales information on new properties, the watchdog sent staff members to the sales offices of nine property projects from November 2015 to March 2017 and found out some of the projects’ data was hard to access and understand.

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Developers are required by the government’s Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Authority to produce “consumption tables”, which list dates of sale, the number of flats in a development available for selection, the total number for which preliminary sale agreements have been signed and the total number chosen by consumers who have not yet signed such an agreement.

While some developers only showed the table to buyers who had already submitted cashier orders and were about to participate in balloting for flats, some made them hard to understand as they stacked together different tables updated over time, which forced potential buyers to compare the figures page by page.

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The council also found that some “self-formatted” tables produced by property sales agents and staff of developers contained inaccurate or misleading information.

In one case, a table provided by an estate agent wrongly indicated a flat with “one room plus store room” as a “two-room” unit, while the price of a flat was wrongly marked down at least ‎HK$800,000, the council said.

“Should prospective purchasers rely solely on the information provided by the ‘self-formatted’ consumption tables, they could easily be confused and affected in a purchase decision,” said Professor Wong Kam-fai, who chairs the council’s research and testing committee.

The council also encountered malpractices by sales agents, including spotting a number of agents not wearing badges or staff cards at different sales locations, making it difficult for consumers to differentiate licensed estate agents from non-licensed employees.

Homebuyers should carefully evaluate personal needs and potential risks before buying property, especially at times when interest rates are rising, and read and compare sales brochures and related documents of different developers, the council advised.