Little public sympathy for Hong Kong's protesting property agents

Soaring prices generated big salaries for agents while ordinary families suffered

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 4:19am

There are more than 1,000 demonstrations in Hong Kong every year and many attract considerable public support.

Recently, though, there was one that failed to garner much sympathy at all - the one held by property agents and their bosses.

These people were among those who benefited when the housing market was red-hot.

Centaline Property Agency and Midland Realty, the two largest real estate agencies in the city, have formed an alliance with the chairman of the Hong Kong Real Estate Agencies General Association, Chu Kin-lan, to oppose the government's measures to cool the property market.

They organised a rally against the measures in June and earlier this month began collecting signatures for a petition to urge the scrapping of the measures. Their aim is to get 200,000 signatures.

If the government refuses to abolish the double stamp duty, they will consider "more radical action", including camping outside the government headquarters in Admiralty, according to Raymond Ho Man-kit, a spokesman for the alliance.

Although it may not be difficult for them to collect signatures, it will be hard for them to get the support of the public.

According to the Estate Agents Authority, there were 36,889 licensed sales people at the end of last month. But only 5,489 properties - flats, car park spaces and commercial property - were sold last month. That means only 14 per cent of agents brokered a deal.

The majority of agents earn a base salary of about HK$6,000 a month.

The industry has warned that there would be lay-offs if market sentiment continued to worsen, adding that agents and their families would suffer if there were job losses.

It is true that the property agents are having difficult days, but it is unlikely the government will drop the measures any time soon, because it has not yet achieved its objectives. New supply of homes will not increase significantly until 2015.

Property prices have fallen only 1 per cent since the measures were announced on February 22. People are still unable to buy flats and the government's new subsidised-housing scheme is still in its early stages.

Supply of new homes has decreased because developers have postponed sales as market sentiment deteriorated after the Residential Properties (First-hand Sales) Ordinance came into effect on April 29.

Hong Kong's economy has remained strong. That means property prices will increase once the government removes or relaxes the measures. But that is not what the public wants to see happen.

The government is trying to curb housing demand until new supply becomes available in 2015. And it is unlikely it will remove the cooling measures, unless the economy deteriorates.

Unemployment rate was only 3.3 per cent in the second quarter of the year. Even if the real estate firms start cutting jobs, the situation will not be so bad as to prompt the government to back down.

A lawmaker said many property agents had earned more than HK$10 million a year in recent years.

While transaction volumes had dropped in recent months, their commission income was still high because of the high property prices, he said.

The boom has generated high salaries for agents over the past few years, but the general public has suffered. If property prices do not drop significantly, it will be difficult for real estate agents to win public support for their case.

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