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    Letter To Hong Kong

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    18/10/2020
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    William Leung, chairman of Estate Agents Authority

    Dear Maggie,

     

    It was a pleasure meeting you and your family again at the dinner yesterday. You told me that you were planning to buy an off-plan shop and acondominium in London, which can be used as an investment and a temporary home for your son who will go there to study soon. We did not have much time discussing this topic over the dinner table, but as the Chairman of the Estate Agents Authority, I would like to share some advice with you so that you would not commit mistakes others have made.

     

    In recent years, the trend of Hong Kong people purchasing non-local properties is on the rise. The risk they face is high especially when purchasing uncompleted properties situated outside Hong Kong. 

     

    There is a pattern for bad property investment experiences. First, the property concerned is uncompleted. Secondly, the purchase transaction is closed on remote basis with inadequate due diligence done by the buyer. Thirdly, attractive incentives or investment returns are offered by the foreign developer. When these three factors come together, it is highly likely that the investment would turn sour.

     

    Of the 65 complaint files opened by the Authority this year, most of them were related to uncompleted properties Some of them were about misrepresentation on the location of the properties or the identity of the developer, while some were about misrepresentation on the rental return of the properties.

     

    Most consumers don’t realise that there is currently no relevant legislation or regulations governing the sale of non-local properties in Hong Kong. Selling properties situated outside Hong Kong is not under the purview of the Estate Agents Authority. A person or companyengaging in estate agency work exclusively in relation to properties situated outside Hong Kong is exempted from the requirement ofobtaining a licence from the Estate Agents Authority.

     

    The risk however could be alleviated if a licensed estate agent is involved in the transaction. This is because he is required to comply with the Estate Agents Ordinance, its subsidiary legislation, Code of Ethics and otherguidelines issued by the Estate Agents Authority or else he may be subject to disciplinary actions by the Authority.

     

    According to a practice circular issued by the Authority in 2017, estate agents are required to obtain a report issued by a reliable authority confirming the vendor’s source of funds or financial arrangement and to provide key information of the development such as the location, tenure, current ownership, subsisting encumbrances etc.

     

    Besides, estate agents must obtain a legal opinion to ascertain whether there are restrictions on foreign ownership before they participate in the sale or the promotional activities and provide a copy of the same to the purchaser, together with a written warning statement and a sales information sheet, before they enter into any agreement with the purchaser. 

     

    Moreover, estate agents must verify the accuracy of the information contained in the advertisements and obtain the vendor’s express endorsement in writing before issuance. They must also advise purchasers to seek independent professional advice on the types and amounts of taxes and mortgage terms regarding their own case.

     

    In spite of the above guidelines, consumers should note that the functions of the Estate Agents Authority is to regulate the practice and conduct of licensed estate agents, and discipline those non-compliant ones. It is not the Authority’s function to assist consumers in recovering their loss suffered from propertytransactions. Even if sanction in the form of a fine is imposed by the Authority on non-compliant licensees, the fine will go to the government and not the consumers. Consumers should be wary that they need to negotiate with the developers direct or seek independent legal advice by themselves in pursuing any loss against any parties.

     

    Thus, consumers are strongly advised to do their own homework and consider thoroughly the risks they face before making a purchasedecision. They must consider various factors such as location of the property, property details, payment terms, financing arrangements, and purpose of their investment etc. Consumers may visit the website at smart.eaa.org.hk or obtain a copy of the booklet titled “Purchasing Non-local Properties Be SMART” from the Authority to learn more information about purchasing properties situated outside Hong Kong. 

     

    Though licensed estate agents are better regulated than unlicensed ones, consumer should still bear in mind that even if the transaction is handled by licensed estate agents who fulfill all the relevant guidelines in their practice, there could still be potential risks in buying properties situated outside Hong Kong, particularly the uncompleted ones.

     

    For example, the developer may fail to complete the construction of the properties on schedule or may even fail to complete it at all. Making a trip to inspect the site and consult local professional is perhaps costly and time consuming, but it is a major investment decision worthy of the hasslesinvolved.

     

    Another popular category of complaints is about rental return. A developer's promise of investment return is skeptical. How can itrealistically forecast the return before the development is completed, occupied, or even in operation? If the developer guarantees an attractive return, it is either taking a major business risk or is not serious with the offer.Choosing to believe the guarantee at face valueis again a risky decision.

     

    The Estate Agents Authority has handled a real case of similar nature. A complainant purchased a shop in an uncompleted shopping mall in the Mainland and concurrently signed a “rent-back agreement” with the management company. According to the agreement, the management company would handle the leasing of the shop for the purchaser and pay him interest and rent regularly. After receiving a few rental payments,the management company stopped its payment. The purchaser then went to the shopping mall site to find out that the management company had closed down and the construction work had not yet started. A lesson learned from this case isthat consumers should consider carefully whether the guaranteed return offered is legally protected and could genuinely be honoured.

     

    In conclusion, purchasing uncompleted properties situated outside Hong Kong is complicated and risky. There is no guarantee thatuncompleted properties would be completed in time or even completed at all. The utmost importance is to make correct decisions because taking legal actions to recover losses iscomplicated as it concerns laws of different jurisdictions. Hence, apart from relying on the professional service provided by licensed estate agents, consumers should consult their own legal advisor for their own protection. 

     

    I hope you will find the above tips useful in making your property purchase decisions. Property investment can be rewarding and therefore it is absolutely worthy of your efforts,diligence, and serious consideration. No matter how much you trust your agent and how reputable the developer is, I strongly suggest that you take a trip to inspect the properties you have in mind before you sign your name above the dotted line.

     

     

    Yours sincerely,

     

    William

     

    18/10/2020 - 足本 Full (HKT 08:15 - 08:25)

    重溫

    CATCHUP
    08 - 10
    2020
    香港電台第三台

    18/10/2020

    William Leung, chairman of Estate Agent Authority

    11/10/2020

    Legislator Ted Hui

    04/10/2020

    Executive Councillor Ronny Tong

    27/09/2020

     Legislator Claudia Mo

    20/09/2020

    HKFTU legislator Alice Mak

    13/09/2020

    Ben Cowling, Professor and Division Head, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.

    06/09/2020

    Legislator Eddie Chu

    30/08/2020

    Maria Tam, Vice chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee

    23/08/2020

    Legislator Kenneth Leung

    16/08/2020

    X

    Ben Cowling, Professor and Division Head, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong

    Dear Professor Hedley

     

    As we approach the sixth anniversary of your passing, we’re experiencing a global coronavirus pandemic of unimaginable proportions. You were in Hong Kong during SARS in 2003, helping local and international health authorities to determine how infections were spreading and how to control the epidemic. In the aftermath of SARS, you and Professor Gabriel Leung created a new research team in HKU. Your vision was to create a domestic team of world-class epidemiologists who could analyse information and provide scientific evidence to health authorities in Hong Kong. That evidence would help the authorities to make informed decisions about health policies in the event of another public health emergency. I’m glad to tell you that you succeeded, I’m just sorry that you couldn’t be with us today to see it in person.

    I was one of the young people you hired onto the fledgling infectious disease team at HKU’s School of Public Health. I came to Hong Kong in 2004 to do research initially on SARS, and then on influenza and other respiratory infections. Over the past 15 years our team steadily grew from the initial 3 members to more than 50 today. We always said that we were preparing for another SARS, and when COVID-19 arrived we were ready to put our existing projects on hold and focus on this new threat.

                Some of our initial projects for COVID were collaborations with experts in mainland China, studying the speed at which the disease was spreading. What we found at the end of January was concerning. On average each individual was infecting 2.2 others, with case numbers doubling every week. What we found next was even more worrying. Back in 2003, we were able to stop SARS from spreading because almost every case had severe illness that required admission to the hospital, and patients were most infectious around a week after their symptoms first appeared. At that point, they were usually in hospital and could be kept in careful isolation. What we found for COVID, however, was that it is often a very mild infection. Sometimes infected people were completely asymptomatic, and people became infectious right around the time their symptoms began or even before symptoms appeared. This meant that COVID transmission was occurring in the community rather than in hospitals, making it far more difficult to stop.

                Armed with this information, Hong Kong focused on three approaches. First, we reduced importation of infections through strict measures at our borders, which now includes a 14-day quarantine for all arriving persons. Second, we targeted transmission chains by aiming to identify as many cases as possible, tracing their contacts, and using isolation and quarantine to break chains of transmission from those known cases. The third set of measures are the most disruptive to the community, and are collectively known as social distancing. These have included things like school closures, working at home, closure of leisure facilities and bars, and restrictions on restaurant operations. During SARS, similar measures were in place for a few months, but some social distancing measures may be needed for much longer this time.

    Hong Kong people have also been very vigilant, perhaps because of the SARS experience. A good example of that is the widespread use of face masks right from the very beginning of this pandemic, even when health authorities were advising that it was unnecessary. In my experience, the people of Hong Kong are some of the most savvy people in the world. They have a lot of common sense. While COVID has caused major disruptions to our everyday lives, we have put up with it, because we understand that the social distancing measures have been necessary and justified.           

                In general, we have done pretty well at keeping infections at bay in Hong Kong. Many other parts of the world have struggled. Initial projections of what might happen in a local epidemic were extremely concerning. New York provided an illustration of what could have occurred here. In March and April, there were hundreds of thousands of infections within the space of weeks, hospitals were flooded with demand for beds, and intensive care facilities were overwhelmed. By the end of their first wave at the end of April, around 25,000 deaths had been reported. That could have happened to us.

    I imagine you might be wondering what our research team have done to contribute to the COVID response in Hong Kong? What have we discovered that has made a difference? To answer that, I will first go back a couple of years. In 2018 we were commissioned by the World Health Organization to review the types of public health measures that could be useful in the next influenza pandemic. We looked at around 20 different measures, including measures that individuals could use like wearing masks, and various social distancing measures that governments could implement. A lot of the original research we included in our review was actually done by our own team in Hong Kong in the last 10 years. We then condensed the evidence from our own research and research done elsewhere into recommendations that are now used by governments around the world to make decisions on how to respond to COVID.

    Today, we are providing regular analyses and forecasts to the Hong Kong government and the community as a whole through various channels. We have set up a public dashboard where we keep track of the local situation. We have held regular press conferences to share our scientific knowledge with the public. We encouraged the government to strengthen social distancing measures when case numbers rose, realising that whatever change we make today will not change the trajectory of case numbers for one to two weeks, because of delays between infection and symptoms appearing, and then between symptoms appearing and a case being tested and confirmed.

    You taught us that public health policies should be based on scientific evidence, and we have been doing our best to provide the evidence that the government can use to make wise decisions. Six months ago, most people wouldn’t even know what an epidemiologist does. Now everybody is an epidemiologist. One of the particular problems we have faced, which we did not anticipate, is how to help policy makers and the public separate facts from fiction.

    As we go forward, we will be living in a new normal. We may have to implement population-wide social distancing measures intermittently over the next year, until, hopefully, vaccines can provide the herd immunity that we need to allow us to get back to something like the normal life as we knew it, before 2020. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be living in a new normal after all this is over. I am glad that our work over the past decade has made us more prepared for this new future.

     

    Yours sincerely,

    Ben Cowling

    香港電台第三台

    13/09/2020 - 足本 Full (HKT 08:15 - 08:25)

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