Business / Industries

Tianjin probes collusion among home agents

By ZHENG YANGPENG in Beijingand BAO WANXIAN in Tianjin (Xinhua) Updated: 2014-08-12 08:40

Tianjin probes collusion among home agents

Visitors attend a property fair in Tianjin. Local authorities are investigating several real estate agencies for being involved in collusive pricing. [Photo/Xinhua]

Tianjin is investigating whether local real estate agencies have been involved in collusive pricing, amid a wave of antitrust probes against leading foreign technology and vehicle companies.

Compared with other cases making the headlines,Tianjin's investigation has few implications beyond the city. The amounts of money involved are relatively trivial and most of the companies involved are little known. But it indicates that the antitrust enforcement agencies are willing to look beyond sectors that foreign companies dominate, experts said.

Global names such as Audi AG, Chrysler Group LLC, Qualcomm Inc and Microsoft Corp have become the targets of antitrust investigators, giving rise to skepticism about whether the laws are being selectively enforced with the implicit goal of undermining foreign companies' competitive edge in China.

But an increasing number of domestic companies are also beinginvestigatedfor suspected competition restraining behavior, although these probes have not gotten much attention.

An official surnamed Wang from the price management department of the Tianjin Development and Reform Commission told China Daily that the commission started the investigation last week, after receiving public complaints of collusive behavior by local real estate agents.

Wang Lin, a manager of Homelink Tianjin, a branch of the country's leading property brokerage, said starting from Aug 1, his company raised the broking fee on secondhand apartments to 3 percent of the price, from 2percent previously. Three brokerages, including national brokerage and Tianjinbased Sunco Co Ltd and Wu Man Duo real estate, carried out similar changes on Aug 1.

Homelink's Wang declined to comment on whether the move was coordinated. Wang Minyan, a customer of, had been planning to buy an apartment in Tianjin's Hedong district, which was priced at 3.75 million yuan ($609,000).

"When I first saw the apartment, I was told that I'd have to pay 75,000 yuan as a brokerage fee. But the fee rose to 112,500 yuan when I later decided to buy it," Wang said.

She said she had been negotiating with, hoping for a discount. She said she might postpone the purchase if no discount is offered.

Wang of Homelink said the impact of the fee hike will take time to emerge. A higher fee will have more influence on large, highpriced properties, while small, lowervalued units will be less affected.

Events were set in motion in June, when the NDRC and Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development jointly issued a document in which they relinquished their authority to set fees forproperty brokers. Tianjin reacted by scrapping the "guiding price" previously imposed on agents.

Yan Yuejin, an analyst with Shanghaibased Ehouse China R&D Institute, said the local market seems to have misunderstood the central government's intention. Allowing marketbased pricing does not equate to allowing a few agents to collude to raise prices.

"If they do feel the need to raise their fees, it should be accompanied by improved services. We didn't see this. Agents do not have to worry over losing business when they collude to raise the fees, but buyers do not have many choices and have to bear the cost," he said.

Last month, home sales in Tianjin slumped 5.2 percent from June and 45.3 percent from a year earlier, according to China Index Academy Ltd. Yan said falling transaction volumes may have prompted brokerages to raise fees.

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