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HK Land Search: A Document That Could Save You from a Real Estate Disaster

Posted: Feb 16 2016Last Updated: Feb 16 2016
Hong Kong Land Search
You searched dozens of flats and finally found your dream home: rooftop, view, clubhouse, or whatever be your version of "idyllique domestique". Suddenly letters arrive, informing you that charming rooftop lounge is an illegal shack, or you try to sell but buyers run screaming and agents inform you they are afraid of ghosts that dwell in your closets. 
Land Search, HK
How do you avoid these domicile debacles or other flat fiascos? Many of them can be identified with a simple document from the Land Registry. Commonly called a "land search", it should be given you by your agent before signing any contract. And not just given, but explained, and checked. 
The land search, or Land Registry document, is a history of your property. Make sure it is the "historic" land search, not "current", so you can view everything from construction onward. It will show, sadly, deceased owners, building orders such as enlarged windows, rooms built on the rooftop, or any change in room size that was not approved. 
Less exciting but just as important is whether there is a mortgage - if you are buying, make sure to put deposits with a stakeholder. If you are renting, you can ask whether there is a consent letter from the bank permitting tenants - and if not, at least have a clause in the agreement protecting you. 
Hong Kong propertiesWhat is NOT in the land search could also trip you up. Not all building orders are caught - illegal construction without a building order is called an unauthorised work. These may be legal, but you should ask if there are any and then assess for yourself whether there are any suspect modifications to avoid the risk of having to restore these to their original state as well as possible prosecution. Your flat may well be haunted even if no mention is on the search. Consult a solicitor about what the various nuances are for haunted flats - if you are buying, it could impact your re-sale. 
The most intriguing and perhaps scariest mishap the land search prevents: Well, what if you have been paying rent to - or have bought from- a total stranger, not the owner? The last search lists the real owner. Spilling your coffee yet? Reaching for your phone? My work is done. 
For a fee, land searches can also be conducted directly via the Land Registry (https://www2.iris.gov.hk/eservices/searchlandregister/search.jsp). 

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