SPECULATORS from Hong Kong have bought about $4 billion worth of office and residential property in China during the first three months of the year, according to Lau Siu Guan, head of the Hong Kong Property and Construction Association (HKPCA). About 20,000 units of commercial and residential units had been available as mainland developers rushed to unload their properties in the wake of the Land Appreciation Tax (LAT). In the first half of March alone, 24 projects comprising 5,269 units had been offered for sale. A source said developers were keen to sell so that they could gain an exemption from the controversial property tax. LAT was first announced by the Chinese Government at the beginning of the year and aimed at helping to regulate the rapidly growing mainland property market. It imposed a tax ranging from six per cent to 33 per cent on the sale of a developed property in China. Since the tax was announced by mainland authorities, overseas property investors including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, have expressed opposition to the measure. Some developers have even ruled out further investments in the country's property sector. According to one well-placed central government official, the government is scheduled to announce details of the tax by the middle of the year. Ma Kewei, deputy chief of the China National Land Bureau, said local investors could expect to see more sales during the next few months as developers rushed to recoup their investments. Developers would also want to unload their properties as quickly as possible because of the government's decision to tighten lending policies. The HKPCA's Mr Lau said he expected rate of LAT to be less than estimated. Buyers of residential units and office complexes will have to pay a 0.5 per cent sales tax, a profits tax of 33 per cent and LAT of 30 per cent for a total of 63.5 per cent. But because of inflationary pressures and a confluence of factors, Mr Lau said the actual LAT could be in the region of 48 per cent.