New legislation helps end misleading sales statements

A NEW law in Britain has made it a criminal offence for estate agents to make false or misleading statements about property or land they are offering for sale or lease.

The Property Misdescriptions Act, which came into effect on April 4, allows British home buyers to take legal action against estate agents whose brochures make misleading statements or contain misleading pictures.

Agents can also be taken to court about oral statements which are not accurate. In addition, they are obliged to point out aspects which they might not normally have mentioned.

A whole list of matters prescribed in the Act - ranging from the outlook and the environment to the existence and extent of any public or private right of way - will ensure that prospective tenants or buyers are fully briefed on all aspects of a property.

A nearby factory, railway, or motorway running at the foot of the garden, or the property's location lying underneath the flight path of the local airport - details previously ignored - must now be pointed out to the client.

The law will also mean an end to the use of regular estate agent phrases.

''Full central heating'' is now classified as meaning the ability to heat all rooms to a certain specified temperature, and is likely to disappear from the agents vocabulary, together with words such as ''fully furnished'', ''furnished to an adequate standard'', or ''superb condition throughout'', which are considered opinions.

Agents will not be allowed to include disclaimers in brochures to avoid the requirements of the Act.

The legislation has caused a great deal of controversy among Britain's estate agents, although a number of companies have taken a positive view of the changes.

Mr Stuart Allen, managing director of Britannia Estate Agents, said: ''I believe it is long overdue.

''Misleading descriptions cause unnecessary expense, irritation and delay to both buyer and seller, and I firmly believe that the Act will lead to improved confidence, easier sales and more satisfied customers.'' The new Act is likely to help Hongkong buyers.

A Hongkong solicitor would not comment in detail without seeing the legislation, but said that if, as is likely, the jurisdiction of the new Act only encompassed Britain, misrepresentation in Hongkong by British property agents would not be an offence.

However, he suggested that an agent could still be disciplined by an organisation such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

British agents will also display in Hongkong brochures produced for the British market, which must meet the requirements of the Act.

There is no move to introduce such an Act in Hongkong.

Mr Michael Choi, president of the Society of Hongkong Real Estate Agents, said that he was not aware of any legislation and there had been no pressure from his society.

Mr Kenneth So, information officer of the Consumer Council, said that the council had several times put forward the idea of expanding the Hongkong Trade Descriptions Act to cover services, but that the Government had never actively pursued the matter.

''We are definitely interested in looking at the British law to see if we can introduce something similar here,'' he said.