Chu Kin-lan has already shuttered six of 11 offices of her real estate agency, Bo Fung Property Agency, and let go half of her 70 employees amid Hong Kong's toughest curbs on home buying in its history. The worst pain may be still to come.
As many as 10,000 agents were forecast to lose their jobs, said Centaline Property Agency, as the government pressed ahead with measures to rein in house prices. Because of the cooling measures, home transactions fell to 27,714 in the first half of the year, the lowest since 1996, according to the Land Registry.
"We're getting killed by the government," said Chu, who has operated Bo Fung in Causeway Bay since 1984 and now sees some of her vacated branches replaced by eateries. "This is by far the worst I've experienced. Almost every agency I know is losing money and closing shops."
The government has raised the minimum mortgage down payment six times since 2010 and imposed taxes including a doubling of the stamp duty on deals of more than HK$2 million in February, plus an extra 15 per cent levy on non-resident buyers.
Prices had only come down about 3 per cent since March, said property broker Savills.
Home transactions would probably drop about a third from 2012 to as low as 52,000 this year, the fewest since 1996, Knight Frank said. The number might fall to 45,000 next year, it said.
"The worst is yet to come," said Angela Wong, an executive director at Midland Holdings. "The pressure on brokers won't go away as long as deal numbers stay at such low levels."
Government officials have repeatedly said the measures would stay in place until a steady supply of new housing is available to homebuyers.
"The government is getting stuck in the middle," said Eddie Hui, a professor in the real estate and construction department at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "They understand what the agents are going through, but if they don't go hard with the measures, the bubble will burst at some point."
Industry lobby groups have staged street protests and pleaded with lawmakers to pressure the government into withdrawing some of the curbs.
The number of registered individual real estate salesman and agent licence holders fell for a seventh month to 36,075 in November from 37,173 in April.