Lam signals easing rule for home swappers

Top News | Sum Lok-kei and Phoebe Ng 13 Oct 2017

The grace period for homebuyers to be exempted from paying the 15 percent stamp duty on the purchase of new flats could be extended to nine months, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor indicated yesterday.

Currently, permanent residents who do not own multiple properties can get a partial refund and pay a lower stamp duty rate if they can sell their old property within six months of the new purchase.

The Democratic Party's James To Kun-sun and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's Holden Chow Ho-ding sought an extension of the exemption period to up to 12 months during Lam's question-and-answer session on her policy address at the Legislative Council.

"I reckon there's room for an extension from six to nine months for genuine house swappers," Lam said.

But she said the government would not tighten or relax property cooling measures.

"I guess the tightening measures are already tight enough," Lam said. "However, once policies are already in place, any withdrawal could cause unpredictable market volatility."

Lam also acknowledged that despite new initiatives such as the Starter Homes scheme, the supply of flats is unlikely to meet demand in the short run.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan assured the Starter Homes will not be inferior compared to private flats offered at market rates.

In Lam's policy address, the government proposed to incorporate provisions in land leases, requiring developers to pursue mixed developments. This means they are to design, build and offer for sale a specified number of Starter Homes in addition to private housing units.

Chan said he is aware of the "poor door" phenomenon in foreign cities, in which residential buildings with two types of flats - affordable housing and market-priced homes - have separate entrances for different tenants.

He said he would like to see Starter Homes flats and flats sold at market price in the same building to be "indistinguishable."

Meanwhile, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said certain revitalized industrial buildings might be rebuilt to provide temporary housing, while others will have space allocated to arts and culture users.

Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kwong-wah said the government sourced some 200,000 square feet of industrial building space, which it will let to the Arts Development Council for its management.

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