An open-and-shut case? Not for some homebuyers

Information on windows that can only be opened for maintenance is buried in sales brochures

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 5:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 5:06am

With ventilation comes the cacophony of traffic - as a homebuyer who has yet to take possession of her flat in Cheung Sha Wan has realised to her dismay.

Beatrice Ho reacted with surprise when told at least three windows in her much-anticipated new marital home, still under construction, were to be noise barriers to satisfy government conditions and were therefore not meant to be opened.

Ho said she had tried hard to wade through the 111-page sales brochure before signing a deal for nearly HK$8 million for the flat in tower one of Trinity Towers with her newly wedded husband in April.

She gave up in the end. "I read only the first few pages and viewed the floor plan. I couldn't really spot anything wrong with it. That was how we made the decision," Ho said, adding that she had also sought advice from an estate-agent friend.

"What a surprise …" she said, on learning from the South China Morning Post that three windows in the living room and two bedrooms would be "fixed" to the frames and, according to developer Cheung Kong, could be opened only with removable handles for maintenance.

The main way to let in some fresh air is through the balconies, but Ho said: "If I have to choose, I think I will keep [the fixed windows] open when I'm home." She said she could only hope for a less noisy environment, as she could not imagine how loud it might get.

The developer had not displayed the fixed windows in the show flat clearly, Ho complained, and had made the sales brochure too technical for the layperson.

Some projects are more transparent in making their fixed-window design known. Double Cove in Ma On Shan, jointly developed by Henderson Land Development, New World Development and the Peterson Group, and Sun Hung Kai Properties' Riva, in Yuen Long, specified their fixed windows on floor plans.

But Cheung Kong's three-tower Trinity does not.

Buyers must flip to page 106 of its brochure to find out which flats have fixed windows - and that's provided they know what to look for.

Even a veteran building surveyor was floored by a Post challenge to locate the windows, because the design was not on the floor plan.

"Given Hong Kong's scarce land resources, fixed windows would help maximise building opportunities," Institute of Surveyors senior vice-president Vincent Ho Kui-yip said. "Having said that, disclosure is important. Buyers should be given a choice to make an informed decision."

The most hemmed-in flats are the A units of Trinity's tower one: fixed windows are everywhere, on one side of the living and dining areas, two sides of the master bedroom and one side of the second bedroom.

"Residents will have to open the balcony doors to breathe," Vincent Ho said. "I would say it is an undesirable design."

At a show flat modelled on a unit B of tower one, the Post found no obvious fixed windows.

But a spokeswoman for Cheung Kong said the windows were there - with their removable handles, which she said looked like normal ones.

Buyers of Providence Bay in Pak Shek Kok, Tai Po, were similarly challenged. The affected flats were listed on page 292 of the 301-page sales brochure.

Joint developers Nan Fung Group, Sino Land and Wing Tai Asia have widely promoted the low-density estate next to Tolo Highway as designed by internationally acclaimed British architect Norman Foster.

But many of the flats come with fixed windows. All those on the second to 10th storeys of tower 16 are so designed: in the two living rooms, two games rooms, master bedroom and two other bedrooms. None of the windows are shown on floor plans given to buyers. But they are shown on a plan obtained from the Buildings Department.

Games rooms with fixed windows, for example, are found in 110 of the 482 flats which would rely on air conditioning for ventilation, Pacific Bond, the firm overseeing the Providence project, said.

Vincent Ho said it was not surprising that such information was given subtly, so that properties didn't lose their appeal.

A flat of about 1,400 sq ft in tower 16 was sold for HK$13.76 million last year. Wong Kwok-hing, who chairs the Legislative Council housing panel, said: "The way developers present the information is misleading. They did not deliver on their pledge to the Town Planning Board or the relevant departments."