26 October 2016
Visitors throng a marketing facility for Wheelock's upcoming Savannah residential project where units are being offered at below-market prices. Photo: HKEJ
Visitors throng a marketing facility for Wheelock's upcoming Savannah residential project where units are being offered at below-market prices. Photo: HKEJ

Why the fight for homebuyers will intensify

Before the scramble for cheap new residential units at Tseung Kwan O, came the fight from property agents.

Over the weekend, a real-estate agent became the focus of online chatter as a video clip showed the man being thrown out by a security guard at a sales venue of Wheelock Properties’ Savannah project.  

A desperate-looking person beseeching passersby to visit show-flats at Tsim Sha Tsui may have won some sympathy from the public, but there was no pity on the part of the security guard.

Video footage, said to have been taken at around 8 pm, showed the agent being held by his neck and booted out from the sales facility at Harbour City.  

Well, according to Wheelock, the man was involved in a fight with other agents and had been barred from selling any of the group properties, the maximum penalty a developer can impose on errant agents.

“Some agents are more aggressive than others, so the security guard had no other choice,” said Wheelock chairman Stewart Leung Chi-kin.

Leung said that he did his own investigation and found that some agents even resorted to “flying kicks” as they battled each other to ensnare potential homebuyers.

The blacklisted agent, who we assume would be selling other property units, should perhaps consider taking a few lessons on self-defense from star boxer Rex Tsoi Sing-yu.

The mad scramble among property agents is nothing unusual, as anyone who has approached a facility containing a show-flat will testify.

If you show even the mildest interest in the housing units on offer, the crowd of agents around you will swell to a few dozen in minutes, leaving you with an “Andy Lau” moment.

One might think that this sort of thing happened with only “hot” projects, but the reality today is that it is taking place for all sorts of ventures.

With the property market slowing down and developers struggling to find buyers or want to outsell rivals in a weak market, the challenges facing agents have become greater.

The Estate Agency Authority has urged agents to respect self-regulation and not solicit business or even distribute flyers unless they are authorized by a shopping mall or housing estate.

Although two large agencies promised to abide by the rules, they could not stop their agents from accosting individuals and small groups, especially in areas where there are no security guards for surveillance.

Despite a weak second-hand market, Centaline, Hong Kong’s No.1 property agency, said it reaped HK$389 million commission in April, a 69-month high, thanks to the money offered by developers.

Almost 4,000 residential units were available for sale in April, a 13 year-high. That came despite reports that only 30 percent of the available primary units were actually sold in the first quarter.

Take the case of Savannah, this year’s biggest project in Tsueng Kwan O, a district known to have the largest housing supply.

Last Thursday, Wheelock released its first batch of Savannah units at a discount to secondary market prices.

Prices started at HK$3.51 million, the lowest for new flats in the area in three years.

The launch comes as some property market analysts are warning that home prices in the city could drop by a fifth in three years.

Given the challenging environment, expect the battles among real-estate agents to become more intense in the months ahead. 

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EJ Insight writer

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