As the first-sale residential property market has shown recent signs of a recovery, estate agents are once again eagerly promoting new developments to their clients and the public via different channels. Consumers might have come across advertisements issued by estate agents through the internet or distribution on the street. The Estate Agents Authority (EAA) is, as always, concerned about non-compliances in this area.
To ensure the compliance of estate agents when carrying out promotional activities for first-hand residential properties, including the issuance of advertisements, the EAA conducts inspections at sites and agency shops, and also conducts cyber patrols in view of the increasing popularity of online property advertisements.
Here I would like to share a non-compliant case.
The EAA received an anonymous complaint regarding an online advertisement for a first-hand residential property posted by an estate agency on an online property platform. The listing price of the property was HK$16,000,000.
According to the price list published on the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Electronic Platform, the price of a first-hand unit from that development ranged from HK$16,567,000 to HK$21,541,000.
The estate agency company claimed that it had received a special notice from the developer that the price of a first-hand unit from that development could be adjusted to HK$16,000,000 or below. However, upon the EAA’s inquiry, the developer said they had not given permission for any appointed estate agency to adjust the listing price stated in the price list.
The EAA’s disciplinary committee found that the estate agency company issued an advertisement in which the property price stated was different from that instructed by the vendor. Thus, the estate agency company was in breach of section 9(3) of the Estate Agents Practice (General Duties and Hong Kong Residential Properties) Regulation: “A licensed estate agent shall not cause or permit to be advertised a residential property in respect of which he is acting as such agent at a price or rental or on terms different from that instructed by the client concerned.”
Having considered the nature and gravity of the case and the disciplinary record of that estate agency company, the EAA’s disciplinary committee reprimanded the estate agency and imposed a fine of HK$3,000 on it.
Although online platforms are widely used by estate agents to promote properties, advertisements posted in public areas are unfortunately still found, especially near new development sites or their sales offices.
Affixing advertising materials in public places without permission from the government not only causes annoyance to pedestrians, road users and nearby residents, it could also lead to disciplinary action by the EAA. In fact, the EAA conducts inspections and takes enforcement action over this issue from time to time and works closely with the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene to deter this kind of nuisance.
Such an old-fashioned and annoying way of promoting properties harms the business and reputation of estate agents. In this regard, I would like to share another non-compliant case.
During an inspection conducted by the EAA, an advertisement for a second-hand residential property, which was 75cm in length and 45cm in width, was found affixed to a lamp post on a street.
As both the property selling price and the contact phone number were shown on the advertisement, the EAA called the contact person to investigate the suspected breach. After realising that the EAA had discovered the unauthorised posting of the advertisement, the salesperson admitted that the advertisement was posted by him without informing his supervisor or seeking the consent of the company that he worked for.
The EAA’s disciplinary committee was of the view that the salesperson who affixed the advertisement on the lamp post may have caused annoyance to others and brought disrepute to the trade. The committee decided that the salesperson was in breach of paragraph 3.7.2 of the Code of Ethics, which stipulates: “Estate agents and salespersons should avoid any practice which may bring discredit and/or disrepute to the estate agency trade.”
Having considered the nature and gravity of the case, and the disciplinary record of the salesperson, the disciplinary committee reprimanded the salesperson and imposed a fine of HK$1,500.
Regardless of the form of promotional channel adopted, estate agents must observe and comply with all the relevant regulations and guidelines issued by the EAA from time to time when issuing property advertisements. They must exercise due care and diligence before releasing property information to the public and ensure that no misrepresentation is made.