Apartment buildings in Hong Kong Photo: iStock
Apartment buildings in Hong Kong Photo: iStock

Do not take the words of Hong Kong property brokers at face value.

In fact, you might consider discounting 95% of what they say as nonsense – or worse.

These are the controversial views of Centaline Property Agency chairman Shih Wing-ching, who recently asserted that the Hong Kong property market has far fewer “real” listings than one would imagine.

Shih estimated that only about 10,000 out of 160,000 property units listed in the Hong Kong real-estate market have actual letters of authorization from the landlord.

In other words, the remaining 150,000 are actually “fake”, not “real”, estate.

Property agents often list an asking price that is lower than the market value to attract inquiries from potential buyers. They often justify low prices with sales talk touting a “best bargain” or claiming the property is discounted because the owner is emigrating.

Fake listings are also a result of government measures to dampen the market, such as the tax on on disposal within two years of purchase of a property.

This is going on while the number of property agents in Hong Kong has soared to nearly 40,000 as of the end of June, as home prices continue to rise because of low interest rates and hot money coming from the mainland.

In Hong Kong, there are laws and rules to forbid retailers and service providers from making money by providing inaccurate information to customers. However, curbs on fake property listings seem much weaker.

The Estate Agents Authority, an official regulator for property agencies, said last year it received 13 complaints about property agents failing to remove expired sales posters and identified another seven cases discovered by the authority’s own investigations. The authority has the power to revoke a property agent’s license, yet there are no records of any real estate brokers’ licenses ever being revoked for false advertising.

The regulator declined to comment on property agents’ sales data announcements and marketing tactics, according to a media report.