China – Unscrupulous real estate agents should not be allowed to get away with misleading the public about a market that is already highly distorted according to South China Morning Post.
The provision of accurate sales information is a basic right for consumers. Unfortunately, this is not the case for property advertisements in Hong Kong. It was not until late last year that the Estate Agents Authority introduced more comprehensive rules against misleading publicity by property agents. Belated as they are, the new requirements are an important step towards protecting buyers in our highly distorted market.
Regrettably, three months have passed since the order was made and yet compliance remains an issue, as reflected in a study by the Post on ads posted online and in the shopfronts of property agencies. Most of the alleged breaches involved failing to give an identification number for the ads and not removing or updating the ads when the properties were no longer available. Inspections by the authority also found nine suspected breaches, out of 362 online and site visits since the new rules came into force in December.
Needless to say, misleading sales tactics have made flat hunting more frustrating. It is not unusual for potential buyers and renters to comb through heaps of online or shopfront advertisements to find the right ones, and then to be told by property agents that they have just missed out. Indeed, the ads are usually just bait-and-switch tactics to lure people to consider other less attractive offers. The emergence of online platforms matching property owners and multiple tenants under the so-called “co-living” concept has also posed new challenges for enforcement. Such websites do not always have property agent licences and are liable to prosecution.
Due to a slowdown in property transactions last year, there was a 28 per cent drop in complaints. But the number of agents struck off climbed 1.15 times to 41. So far, no one has been punished under the new rules, for which non-compliance is liable to reprimand, a maximum fine of HK$300,000 or having the licence suspended or revoked. An authority member told the Post that it would be a long war to weed out fake ads in the industry. We hope it does not mean violations will be tolerated. The authority needs to strengthen enforcement lest flat hunters continue to fall prey to fake ads by unscrupulous property agents.