Property

Offering solutions to property market problems

My friends suggested I make time to take a look at real estate discussion forums online, so that I can get a sense of the perspectives of Hong Kong netizens and avoid getting too caught up in my own thoughts. Online discussion forums do have their distinct advantages: all posts are anonymous and so there is no risk of being embarrassed or fearful of voicing their true opinions. Therefore, in such a setting, everyone from moderators to users can talk freely about their positions, even if they are controversial. 

It was a great suggestion for me, as I do have a habit of surrounding myself with like-minded colleagues. Having been in the property agency business for decades, I have developed a social circle largely made up of industry insiders, and the downside of that is that when it comes to making judgements and predictions about the real estate market, I can only assess those issues from the perspective of an agent and thus my views can be impractical at times. This is also true for a proportion of my friends and colleagues, and together we create a self-contained echo chamber that sometimes prevents us from seeing things from different angles. A good example is the estimated land supply in Hong Kong. It is widely rumoured that a handful of big local developers are actually sitting on a vast area of farmland in the New Territories, and if they are willing to co-develop those lots with the government, there could be half a million new housing units, enough to meet the housing demand of Hongkongers. But is that really so? We won’t know until the developers speak out. 

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You will find a wide spectrum of posts with various theories on internet forums, some accusing developers of monopoly and
profiteering, some even stating that if the government does partner with developers in developing farmland, it will be proof of collusion. The reason? The user explains that because the plots of farmland are situated in remote suburban areas and to develop them will require the government to invest a huge amount of money and effort in infrastructure construction, which will save the developers a lot of future hassle when they build housing projects in those areas.

Despite all the extreme and dubious theories that circulate on those real estate discussion forums, there are actually quite a few sensible suggestions and solutions in there too. These users could be local residents who understand the core problems, 
or could be industry workers who have inside knowledge and find the anonymous platform a safe way to voice their informed opinions. In any case, the discussions and interaction amongst netizens from all walks of life prove themselves to be a great incubator for sound opinions and solutions.

Indeed, too often, we are too stuck in our own world or stand too close to the problem to find the answers. Sometimes, simply stepping back a little and listening to others can allow us to see a much clearer picture, and gain a deeper insight. It is worth remembering that public issues demand public wisdom. In the case of housing policy and reform, it is empirical that we listen to and learn from the people, instead of exchanging our theories and assessments in the comfort of our own echo chamber. The danger of confiding ourselves to the ivory tower is that we may eventually become detached from the ground reality. 

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