Hong Kong property

Property agent Ricacorp removes 9,000 fake listings as it takes aim at rampant industry practice

Other rivals however deny that they engage in such behaviour, saying they abide by rules set by the industry watchdog

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2018, 7:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2018, 11:05pm

Ricacorp Properties, one of the biggest real estate agencies in Hong Kong, has taken down thousands of false or duplicate property listings from its website, saying it wants to “stamp out the shady industry practice”.

Other property agencies, however, denied fabricating or duplicating flat listings, and said that they complied with rules from industry watchdog, the Estate Agents Authority (EAA).

The company said it had filtered out 9,000 property listings from the more than 15,000 on its website because they either had false information to attract customers or they were duplicates of existing ones because of multiple uploads by different agents.

Ricacorp said the behaviour was widespread in the industry. The company said that its random street survey of 200 Hongkongers showed that over 70 per cent of the respondents reported having seen similar or identical flat listings on more than one online real estate platform.

“Many of the listings are a bait to attract more buyers to the platforms with fake prices that are lower than market average,” said Shih Wing-ching, chairman of Ricacorp. “This prevents customers from knowing the market and wastes their time.”

Industry body Society of Hong Kong Real Estate Agents also agreed that “fake advertisements of properties was becoming rampant”.

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The EAA rules stipulate agents must obtain estate owners’ written consent to advertise for them, and that agents must advertise the instructed listing price.

The EAA said in a statement that all of the existing rules on advertising also applied to online advertisements, and that agencies flouting them could have their licences revoked. It conducted 907 visits to agency shops for spot checks and screened online advertisements 339 times in the first half of this year. It found only one case of misleading or false ads during the inspection.

Mainland property agency Qfang, which expanded into Hong Kong in 2015, said in a statement that it “strictly follows” the EEA regulations and vetted the listings to ensure authenticity.

A manager at Centaline Property Agency, the parent company of Ricacorp, also denied the practice. “All the units are placed only once on Centaline. Under one advertisement, customers may find up to four or five brokers and choose the one they like,” said Louis Ho, director at Centaline Property., an online-only platform, also said duplicate listings will not be found on its website.

Midland Realty and Hong Kong Property Services both said they had internal systems in place to make sure the listing information was accurate.

“We want to completely change the industry’s traditional practices,” said Shih, who is also the founder and chairman of Centaline Property.

The move came as transactions of secondary residential properties in the city slowed in July amid the escalating US-China trade war and Hong Kong government’s new cooling measures. The number of transactions fell 7 per cent to 4,486 in July from June.

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Ricacorp accounts for less than 10 per cent of the market share in secondary property trading, while Centaline has a 30 to 40 per cent slice of the market, according to Shih.

Willy Liu Wai-keung, chief executive of Ricacorp, said the overhaul of the website was likely to lift revenues by 20 per cent to more than HK$2 billion (US$255 million) this year, as a cleaner platform will draw more customers.

The firm has invested HK$20 million in developing technologies, including artificial intelligence and image recognition, to make the revamp possible and will invest another HK$20 million in advertising and marketing, Liu said.