Industry committee to address licensing issue

SOME of the most influential players in Hongkong's real estate industry have set up a taskforce to tackle the Government on the controversial issue of licensing.

They want stricter controls imposed after the Government approved a ''negative licensing'' system last month.

The Society of Hongkong Real Estate Agents - which includes many of the big firms among its members - has formed a committee to address the problem.

Mr Michael Choi Ngai-min, the society's president, said: ''The Government's proposal is acceptable in the short-term.

''But we are looking for positive licensing in the long-term.

''The committee has been set up to work out a strategy for that and to keep a constant flow of information going between ourselves and the Government.'' It is hoped a document will be ready before the end of the summer detailing the society's views.

''We have had a number of working sessions with the Government but have yet to put our thoughts on paper,'' said society vice-president Nick Brooke.

''The subject has been thrashed out already so I hope things will happen fairly quickly.

''What the Government has done already is encouraging. We want it to modify and massage it into some positive form.'' The motion by legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip of the United Democrats to introduce new rules and regulations was given unanimous support in Legco on June 30.

Candice Mak Chun-fong, Acting Planning, Environment and Lands Secretary, came out in favour of licensing.

But, to the dismay of politicians and agents, he favoured a system where anyone could work as long as they followed ''regulations prescribing the obligation of estate agents''.

Demands for an improvement in the quality of service by establishing training and qualification standards in order to become agents were ignored.

Complaints against property agents dropped last year from 1991, but are expected to rise this year with the increased activity in the market.

Pressure for change reached a high point when three estate agents were convicted earlier this year of tricking clients into selling their properties below market levels and reselling them at a higher price.

Legislative Councillors, the Consumer Council, the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Hongkong Real Estate Agencies Association, which represents small firms, are all in favour of the action.

Many of the agencies which are not affiliated to any group are against legislation.

In a survey carried out by the Hongkong Real Estate Agencies Association, only 40 per cent supported licensing.

Ninety-seven per cent preferred self regulation, and adherence to a code of ethics.

There are thought to be up to 3,000 estate agent shops in the territory.

Mr Choi said: ''We understand the Government is considering positive licensing.

''The majority of our members feel a negative system is acceptable in the short-term but needs to be extended eventually.

''A positive system would possibly take three years to implement properly, but it would improve the standard in the industry a great deal.

''It's our understanding the Government is quite open on this. If the public, the industry and Legco are all in favour of doing more, I am sure they are seriously considering it.''