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Articles: Real estate

Fixing the Small House Policy
We look at a recent court case which again highlights the rampant abuse of the Small House Policy for the New Territories. We propose a return to the original policy intent, creating an internal market for indigenous housing, together with a voluntary, market-based scheme to surrender the claims of indigenous men and their under-age and unborn male descendants. (9-Sep-2014)
Chan Yau v Calvin Chan & Joe Chan Cho Wing
HK Court of First Instance, 5-Sep-2014
Centaline Property Agency Ltd v Irene Fung Wai Yee
HK District Court, 30-Jun-2014
SSD tragedy: a husband passed half a flat to his wife on 23-Aug-2011, shortly before he died, making them joint owners. She became sole owner on his death, and agreed to sell on 9-Apr-2012 but was subsequently faced with 10% Special Stamp Duty on her half because she had acquired it within 1 year of the sale. So she agreed to cancel the sale, paid the buyer $180k and now has to pay the agent $105.6k in commission. And all because the Government thinks SSD is a good idea, and that she must be a "speculator".
Virtue Union Co Ltd v Soo Moon Kuen & Daphne So Wong Tak Hing
HK Court of First Instance, 22-Apr-2014
The case concerns the HK$120m sale of 16C Shan Kwong Rd, Happy Valley, an old 4-storey block built in 1953, owned by the same family since 1960 and surrounded by skyscrapers. An orphan lot (one that got left behind), it will presumably be redeveloped into a tall, thin pencil building.
Highail Co Ltd & Chung Po Chuen v Director of Lands
HK Lands Tribunal, 15-Apr-2014
In a URA compulsory purchase, the tribunal rules in favour of separate owners of neighbouring lots, at 213-215 Yee Kuk Street, that the development potential of combining the lots must be included in the buyout price. Neither of them would be a willing seller if their lots were valued on a stand-alone basis.
Lou Siu Ping & Tam Sin Yee v Lam Tsz Man & Kenneth Woo Pui Ki
HK Court of Appeal, 20-Dec-2013
A small village house case in which the indigenous villager, after pre-selling the 2nd floor and roof to the plaintiffs, mortgaged the property, and it was foreclosed, leaving the buyers with no property. They sucessfully sued their lawyer, Kenneth Woo Pui Ki, for breach of duty of care, and his appeal is rejected. "Ding" houses cannot be sold by the indigenous villagers until 5 years after grant; this forward contract was less than 2 years after grant, but it is typical of the way in which villagers with a Y-chromosome from 1898 can monetise their dings.
Kong Yunming v Director of Social Welfare
HK Court of Final Appeal, 17-Dec-2013
A landmark case on Articles 25, 36 and 145 of the Basic Law. As Justice Bokhary notes: "It will be noticed at once that these guarantees of equality are not confined to permanent residents. Article 25...speaks of all residents...". This ruling thus has implications for the proposed Buyer's Stamp Duty and Double Stamp Duty, which both discriminate against non-Permanent Residents. It adds support to our view that the proposed duties are unconstitutional.
Webb on 'Backchat" re the proposed stamp duties
RTHK, 29-Nov-2013
The proposed laws on Buyer's Stamp Duty, higher rate and longer period of Seller's Stamp Duty, and Double Stamp Duty are still in LegCo Bills Committees. The show discusses whether they should be withdrawn.
Second submission to LegCo on DSD
This morning's session with public delegations, in which a junior civil servant was fielded, leaves a number of fundamental policy questions to be answered by the principal officials. Here they are. (13-Jun-2013)
Avoiding double stamp duty
A HK$1.6bn deal announced yesterday neatly demonstrates how the proposed Double Stamp Duty will drive higher-end transactions into the corporate transfer market, while freezing up the low end with prohibitive taxation. We'll be speaking against DSD in LegCo tomorrow. (12-Jun-2013)
Government sells last portion of Citibank Plaza to Champion REIT
HK Government, 30-May-2013
The Government, via Inland Revenue, should also collect 8.5% stamp duty (if its proposed Double Stamp Duty law is passed), or $183.2m. On the Government's figures, the GFA is 6161 sq.m. or about 66,317 sq ft, so the price is $32,500/gsf, or $35,262 including double stamp duty. Champion REIT now owns 100% of Citibank Plaza until 30-Jun-2047.
The latest on C Y Leung's basement
HK Government, 29-May-2013
...or how to avoid a void.
Government invites tenders for 4 floors of Citibank Tower.  Gazette
HK Government, 15-Mar-2013
These are the only bits of Citibank Plaza not owned by Champion REIT (2778), so we wonder who else will bid for them! The property sits on Inland Lot 8888, a land lease from 3-Aug-1989 to 30-Jun-2047, 34 years from now, a lot less than most of the land in Central south of Connaught Road, which sits on 999-year leases.
BSD and SSD 2.0 - submission to LegCo
We dissect the proposed Buyer's Stamp Duty and increase and expansion of Special Stamp Duty on residential properties in HK. Government replies to Webb-site reveal that they don't actually have data to support the discrimination between Permanent Residents and Non-PRs, even if the duty were constitutional, which it is not. (5-Feb-2013)
Webb on "Backchat" re policy address
RTHK, 17-Jan-2013
With Starry Lee (Executive Council, LegCo, DAB), Albert Ho (LegCo, DP) and Nick Brooke (Harbourfront Commission, Science and Technology Parks Corp).
Government secrecy in land tenders
Since March, we've been quietly trying to persuade Government to increase transparency in land tenders, rather than publishing meaningless lists of shell bidders, often with unknown owners. The Government responded that information on who stands behind bidders was "unnecessary". That's inconsistent with its requirement that estate agents report possible money-laundering, and the secrecy also strengthens perceptions of collusion and protection of the developer cartel. (9-Nov-2012)
Some-Buyer's Stamp Duty
We examine HK's proposed discriminatory stamp duty on companies and non-permanent residents who buy residential property, its questionable constitutionality, its negative impacts on social harmony and the redevelopment market, and the proposed SSD 2.0. (30-Oct-2012)
HK land for HK xenophobes
We explain why the proposed "HK land for HK people" scheme, while superficially appealing to voters, won't work, and we again propose measures to make the housing and tax system simpler and fairer, including elimination of stamp duty and mortgage interest deductions, and land lease reform to open the market and lower the premiums on new leases. (6-Sep-2012)
LCQ: Mak Chai-kwong on Leung Chun-ying's houses
HK Government, 4-Jul-2012
We note that the land lease expires in 2038. Will the government's discretionary policy of offering new leases without payment of premium, and with ground rent of only 3% of rateable value, continue?
HSBC's legal case against "Occupy Central" for trespassing
Company submission, 22-Jun-2012
The exhibits include the original leases from 1857 and 1938 on the two plots of land, and the deed of dedication in 1983 followed by the deed of variation in 2006 when they shrunk the public passage area. Webb-site is putting this online in the public interest. (16MB file size).
Ex-lands boss escapes jail on rental fraud rap.  Our article 9-Dec-2006
HK Standard, 17-May-2012
Another silly "rental fraud" case - if he had leased out the unit and rented an identical one, then he would have been paid the same amount by the Government but not committed any offence. See our article of 9-Dec-2006.
Hero Smart Corporation Ltd v Ms Tse
HK District Court, 26-Apr-2012
The plaintiff, which bought the land on 14-Apr-2008, finds that it doesn't own it because Ms Tse has gained adverse possession - she has exclusively occupied the land without permission since Jul-1997.
Two houses, one rating
So it was her house and her basement? We dig deeper into York Road and explain why it matters. (20-Mar-2012)
Be Henry's neighbour for only HK$220m (US$28.4m)!
Company web site, 29-Feb-2012
Now's your chance to live like Hooray Henry - only 2 doors down from him at 3 York Road, NKIL 825 is for sale. It has a "covered" pool - but no word on whether it has a wine cellar.
It's all my fault!
HK Standard, 17-Feb-2012
...and who's idea was the alleged wine cellar, tasting room and cinema then?
Tender awarded for site in Tsing Yi for HK$1280m.
HK Government, 16-Feb-2012
The winner (of 2 tenderers) Kongwell Logistics Ltd, was incorporated on 9-Nov-2011. We don't know who owns it. The other bidder, TY2 Limited, is not incorporated or registered in HK.
Bare the basement
HK Standard, 16-Feb-2012
Tender awarded for site in Tseung Kwan O
HK Government, 12-Jan-2012
This site requires a minimum of 590 apartments and hence an average size of not more than 76.9 sq m (827 sq ft). The land premium is $3810 per sq ft. One of the unsuccessful tenderers, Guang Nuo Limited, is not incorporated or registered in HK.
Wan Hok Taoist Assn v owners of 88-94 Pan Hoi St, Quarry Bay
HK Court of First Instance, 16-Dec-2011
The plaintiff squatted on the roof and built illegal structures in 1969 and 1974, and in an undefended action, it gains title through adverse possession - it now owns the roof. Presumably it can rent the roof out for cellphone bases or advertising. The building, part of "Seaside Mansion", but a long way from the sea, is right behind Swire's Warwick House, and ripe for redevelopment, in which case the roof owner would get a share of the sale.
Intervention and opacity in land sales
The HK Government has begun micro-managing the terms of development, while shifting from open auctions to a less transparent sealed-bid tender process. The next Chief Executive should reverse this. We also renew our call to change the financial structure of new land leases away from high-premium-low-rent to lower-premium higher-rents. (14-Nov-2011)
Donald decrees: HKEx will move
A little-noticed paragraph of the recent Policy Address dictates that HKEx will move to the offices to be developed on the site of the West Wing of the Central Government Offices. What does this say about the Government's attitude to HKEx? (14-Nov-2011)
China Railway Logistics (8089) buys Strawberry Hill house for record HK$170.98m.  Circular
Company announcement, 11-Nov-2011
The announcement gives the street address but not the development name. We can tell you that the property is a house in the Strawberry Hill project. The previous record for a house in this project is $123m on 9-Aug-2010, for 3200 sq ft. This one is 2880 sq ft, and the vendor is an "independent" third party.
Ms. Ho Mei Ling v Buildings Authority (re Mei Foo Sun Chuen)
HK Court of First Instance, 29-Aug-2011
The attempt to quash the Building Authority's approval fails.
Centaline Property Agency Ltd v Lento Yip Yuk Fai
HK District Court, 18-Aug-2011
And the moral of the story is this: why would you sign an agency agreement in which the agent gets paid whether or not the transaction completes? After all, if the transaction fails, then the agent can still introduce another buyer or property (depending on which side the agent is acting for) and get paid for that. Buyers: read the agency agreement before you sign it, and remember - if the agent is acting for the vendor, then there is a conflict of interests if they act for you too. You may prefer to act for yourself.
Sunbroad Holdings Ltd v Kwong Kai & others.  Street view
HK Court of First Instance, 24-Jun-2011
A cobbler who has been hanging his gear on the back wall of a Causeway Bay building since 1957 fails in his claim that he has gained "adverse possession" of half the thickness of the wall, or the surface of it. See it on Street View.
LCQ: the Lee Garden Land
HK Government, 13-Apr-2011
This item also provides a potted history of the Cheung Chau land situation.
Now withdraw the SSD proposal
Latest disclosures show that the increase in short-term resales from 2009 to 2010 was only 1.9% of transactions, and fewer than 1 in 5 are in that category. Having abandoned one unpopular budget measure this week already, the Government should now do the right thing and abandon the Special Stamp Duty proposal. It is illegitimate, unconstitutional, creates too many unintended victims and runs the risk of chaos upon a successful judicial review. (2-Mar-2011)
Webb on "Backchat" re budget
RTHK, 24-Feb-2011
With Ronald Arculli, Ronny Tong Ka-wah (the Two Ronnies) and Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong.
Chau Kai Chik Tso & others v Secretary for Justice
HK Court of Appeal, 14-Feb-2011
The Court of Appeal grants the plaintiffs about 6.67 acres of land on the grounds of encroachment on Government Land without objection.
SSD, the Basic Law, and a lesson from Singapore
The Government has responded to LegCo on our concerns that the proposed Special Stamp Duty is unconstitutional. We go further in this article, explaining why SSD would not be a legitimate tax protected by Basic Law Article 108. We'll also look at the lesson in political reality from Singapore's 1996-97 experiment, and we propose a fairer, focused alternative, in the form of a withholding system for profits tax. (30-Jan-2011)
LegCo invites submissions on Special Stamp Duty
HK Legislative Council, 21-Dec-2010
Submit your views to LegCo! David Webb will attend the meeting on 4-Jan at 4.30pm.
Government criticises Stamp Duty proposal
In a case of policy schizophrenia, the Government said a special stamp duty would be unfair, cause additional hardship to those in financial difficulties, and amount to double taxation. Then they proposed it anyway, based on a bunch of selective, deceptive and alarmist statistics, which we dissect. Legislators should kill this proposal or at least insert a sunset clause so that it expires with Donald Tsang's office. Exceptional times do not call for irrational measures. (26-Nov-2010)
Various buyers of One Beacon Hill v subsidiary of Cheung Kong (0001)
HK Court of Appeal, 12-Nov-2010
Paragraphs 31-33 provide a damning criticism of the developer's behaviour in trying to trick purchasers out of their rights to claim for late completion of the property.
Hong Kong Land Lease Reform, Part 2
We advocate a rebalancing of HK's land lease system, reducing up-front premiums in exchange for a perpetual stream of future ground rents and addressing a number of festering problems simultaneously. We also suggest a Premium Release Scheme to return hoarded capital to the market, and PRS Bonds or HIPS (HK Income Protected Securities) to help finance it, providing a new long-term investment option for retirement funds. (1-Nov-2010)
Hong Kong Land Lease Reform, Part 1
In the first of a two-part article, we examine the 169-year history of lease tenures in HK, which ended up with a high-premium low-rent land lease policy with relatively short leases. It wasn't always this way, but before making the case for change, we explain the historical context. (7-Oct-2010)
Conduit controversy
After watching politicians and the Government thrashing around trying to understand the aborted transactions in a small private building in Conduit Road, it is time for Webb-site to intervene and seek truth from facts. We also call for free online access to the Land Registry to increase transparency. (12-Jul-2010)
Radford Portfolio Management Ltd v Director of Lands
HK Court of Appeal, 30-Apr-2010
The appeal fails. In HK, apparently, space has only 2 dimensions. You are not free to park more than one vehicle in one space by using a stacking device, as the elevated plane amounts to a second "space". So, does the use of bunk beds result in an extension of gross floor area and hence a breach of plot ratio?
Sino-Tech (724) buys HK$280m house from anonymous vendor
Company announcement, 16-Mar-2010
The announcement fails to state who owns the vendor, or even where it is incorporated. We cannot find any trace of it. This is reportedly a record price per square foot for a house in HK. The company claims that the vendor is independent.
Larvotto - do you know the boatyard?
We probe the history of the SHKP/Kerry/Paliburg Larvotto, a luxury industrial-cum-residential project overlooking a typhoon shelter but behind boatyards and sawmills, which are noisy enough for the Environmental Protection Department to object to the Town Planning Board's approval, as minutes reveal. "Non-openable windows" were cited as a mitigating measure. Yours for just HK$25k/psf - can you see the bubble? (3-Mar-2010)
HK's stamp duty addiction
We look at the HK Government's opium-like addiction to stamp duty revenues, which have more than quintupled in 7 years. The budget asks for another fix. Stamp duty is sand in the wheels of the economy, distorting economic decisions and reducing economic output. It should be abolished rather than increased further. Higher stamp duty does not improve property affordability. HK needs a root-and-branch review of taxation to refocus on fair taxation of GDP rather than one-off measures and distortive policies. (2-Mar-2010)
Radford Portfolio Management Ltd v Director of Lands
HK Court of First Instance, 13-Nov-2009
The court rules that a stacking device in a car space breaches the land lease because it creates 2 "spaces". The car space happens to be owned by a subsidiary of Willie (0273) and goes with the duplex on 21-22/F Flat A.
A cooling-off period for new home sales
Hysterical politicians are calling for regulation of new home sales practices after a developer used some creative floor numbering and as the debate over the definition of floor area rumbles on. We suggest a less interventionist approach: a statutory cooling-off period, like the SFC is proposing for investment products. Tell us what you think in our opinion poll. (28-Oct-2009)
New Mercury Holding Corp v Secretary for Justice
HK Court of Appeal, 15-Apr-2004
An interesting pair of appeals involving residential lots in the luxury Kadoorie Hill in Kowloon. In CACV74/2013, the court rules that the "curtilage" (the land area of and around) a house must be contained within the lot. The developer had proposed 3 houses on two lots, with one of them straddling the two lots, so the developer loses the appeal. In CACV73/2013, the court rules that the curtilage of a pair of semi-detached houses should be the same as for 1 house, so the developer wins the appeal.
Cyber Villas by the Sea
A critical analysis of the Government's proposed joint venture property development with Pacific Century Group. The author finds the project space is 75% residential. (22-Mar-1999)

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