20. If I appoint an estate agent to sell my property and pass him the key to the property, can the agent duplicate the key?
To prevent future disputes, when you hand over the key to the estate agent, you should require the practitioner to acknowledge receipt of it and state clearly in writing the terms and conditions, such as the use of the key, whether he can duplicate it, and if so, the number of duplicates, and under what circumstances should the key be returned.
21. Will an estate agency tell me whether the unit I plan to buy is a “haunted” flat, that is, whether a tragic accident happened in the flat or nearby before? Does the agent have a duty to do so?
Under the Code of Ethics, estate agents must serve their clients with honesty, fidelity and integrity, protect their clients against fraud, misrepresentation or any unethical practices, protect and promote their clients’ interests, and act in a fair and impartial manner to all parties involved in the transactions. When fulfilling their duties, estate agents should also exercise due care and due diligence.

However, whether or not a flat is “haunted” is not a piece of information which must be provided by estate agents under the Estate Agents Ordinance. Whether an estate agent has a duty to disclose to the buyer that the property he intends to buy was previously involved in a murder or is a “haunted flat” depends on the circumstances of the case. Generally speaking, if you have not made direct enquiries with your agent or if the agent does not know or could not have known that such things ever happened in the property, the agent has not breached the Code of Ethics. Therefore, the EAA would like to remind you that if you are concerned about whether the flat you intend to buy is “haunted”, you should ask the agent or the vendor through the agent.

There is no legal definition of a “haunted flat” and different persons may have different interpretations of it. Therefore, the EAA suggests you be specific in your enquiries. You should ask, for example, whether a suicide or homicide took place in the flat before, and not use vague terms, such as whether the flat is “haunted” or “cursed”.

22. My wife and I want to sell our jointly owned property. Can I appoint an estate agent and sell the property on behalf of my wife?
If you want to appoint an estate agent to sell a jointly-owned property on behalf of your wife, you must obtain written authorisation from your wife which states clearly that you have been authorised by your wife to enter into the transaction and sign the necessary documents on her behalf. The power of attorney should be executed and attested properly. To avoid disputes, the EAA suggests the power of attorney be attested by a lawyer. You are also advised to show the power of attorney to your appointed estate agent to prove you are authorised to enter into the transaction on behalf of your wife.
23. I am interested in buying a flat and my estate agent recommends I issue a cheque of $30,000 as “earnest money” to the vendor. Should I do as suggested?
Before reaching an agreement with the vendor on the purchase, and before signing a provisional sale and purchase agreement, it is not advisable that you issue a cheque of any amount in any manner to anyone (regardless of whether the payee is the vendor or estate agency company).
24. How can I be sure of the area of the shop I am about to purchase or rent? How can I find out if the cockloft inside a shop is an unauthorised addition? Should the estate agent provide me with the relevant information?
The Estate Agents Practice (General Duties and Hong Kong Residential Properties) Regulation (Practice Regulation) (including forms and responsibilities to provide property information as prescribed under the regulation) only applies to residential properties.

As regards non-residential properties, the Practice Regulation has no provision as to whether estate agency practitioners should provide their clients with information about such properties or tell them if there are any unauthorised building works related to such properties.

However, the Code of Ethics issued by the EAA requires estate agents to serve their clients with honesty, fidelity and integrity. Hence, estate agents should try their best to answer the questions raised by their clients. If the agents do not know the answers, they should frankly admit it to their clients and advise them to seek professional advice from surveyors or lawyers.