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Hong Kong property

Hong Kong estate agents’ watchdog working on guidelines to eliminate fake online listings

The Estate Agents Authority and property portals are taking action to ensure updated flat listings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 9:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:31am

The Estate Agents Authority (EAA) plans to crack down on misleading property advertisements as agents continue to market a host of properties at below-market values and even after they have been rented out.

Last week, Ricacorp Properties took the initiative to remove 9,000 property listings from more than 15,000 on its website because they either had false information or were duplicates, resulting from multiple uploads by different agents.

Other major agents including Centaline Property Agency; Midland Realty, Hong Kong Property Services (Agency) and mainland property agency Qfang said all their listing information was accurate.

The authority, which regulates 39,577 licensed property agents in Hong Kong, said it was looking to impose additional requirements relating to offline and online property advertisements and plans to “announce details in due course”.

“The EAA will enhance the manpower to conduct inspections and spot checks, and will issue a letter to the owners/management of estate agency companies to remind them about the relevant requirements on issuing advertisements,” the authority said in a written reply to SCMP.

It said “advertisements relating to residential properties must be removed as soon as is practicable after the property concerned is no longer available for sale or leasing, or in the event of the termination of the estate agency agreement concerned.”

The agency said that while current regulations do not specify a time period for the removal of outdated listings, agents should remove them “as soon as practicable”.

But some property agents it seems are taking advantage of the loophole.

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

On August 15, the Post visited a small agent in North Point, where a room with an attached bathroom was listed for rent at HK$5,500 a month – much cheaper than other listings whose rents ranged from HK$7,200 to HK$8,800.

When asked if the property could be viewed, the agent said “the room had been just rented out today”.

A similar ruse is used by agents online.

Two flats – a studio on Bonham Road for HK$8,000 per month and another in Wan Chai for HK$8,800 – advertised on the property portal squarefoot.com.hk, were also found to have been leased.

The Bonham Road flat listing had been removed as of Monday night, but the ad for the Wan Chai flat was still there as of 7pm Tuesday.

On GoHome.com.hk, an agent had listed a 239 sq ft flat in Mong Kok for HK$8,900, but upon inquiry said it was in a poor condition, and he offered another 199 sq ft flat in the same area for HK$9,000 instead.

“No one updates postings every day because they go fast, so nobody can update it right away,” said an property agent who did not want to be named.

REA Group, the owner of GoHome.com.hk and squarefoot.com.hk, said they do not need a licence from the EAA to operate a property portal, but it reminds the agents to comply with the EAA rules.

“Expiration dates are included in our listing agreements with agents. Expired listings on GoHome.com.hk are removed automatically by our system and the same practice will be applied to squarefoot.com.hk in the future,” REA Group said.

REA Group also said that expiry timelines are based on the listing tiers their customers subscribe to, which range from 30 days and upwards before they are automatically taken down.

In the first half, EAA conducted 907 visits on property agents for spot checks and screened online advertisements 339 times, finding just one case of misleading or false advertisement.

The disciplinary action from the EEA ranges from a reprimand to a maximum fine of HK$300,000 to revoking a property agent’s licence.

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