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China property market revives despite controls
by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Dec 19, 2012

After waiting for a year, accountant Qi Youdi has bought a new home in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, among the millions of buyers bringing the country's property market back to life.

For the past two years, China has sought to control residential property prices with measures including restrictions on second and third home purchases, higher minimum downpayments, and annual taxes in some cities on multiple and non-locally-owned homes.

The moves, announced in the first half of 2010, have cooled the once red-hot market, with analysts estimating prices nationwide have risen only four to seven percent since then.

But pent-up demand, easing government monetary policy and inflows of speculative funds from overseas betting on a recovery have brought the property market out of the doldrums, analysts said.

Sales volumes have jumped, with the total transaction value up 10.4 percent year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2012, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

Prices, though, remain relatively stable, with average home prices in 100 cities rising 0.26 percent in November to 8,791 yuan ($1,410) per square metre according to research institute the China Index Academy.

It was the sixth consecutive monthly rise, totalling 1.23 percent, after nine months of falls. At the height of the boom prices were rising at an average of 1.5 percent every month.

"We've been looking for a suitable period of time," said Qi, who finally gave up waiting for substantial price drops.

She was looking to buy a flat for her daughter to live in, with no intention of looking to resell at a profit.

"Since our demand is fixed, it doesn't matter whether home prices rise or fall," she added, after paying $222,000 for a 90-square-metre (970-square-foot) flat.

The property sector has been a key part of China's economic boom in recent years, driving demand for materials such as steel and concrete and with ripple effects spreading far and wide.

Reflecting the more solid picture, ratings agency Moody's recently upgraded its outlook for China's property industry to stable from negative.

"While the residential market is policy-sensitive, a sustainable recovery is projected for the next three years," real estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield said in a report released in November.

But analysts rule out a strong rebound. The new Communist Party leadership is unlikely to scrap policies to make housing affordable, an initiative closely identified with Premier Wen Jiabao who is due to step down in March.

The earlier price boom had pushed costs well above the reach of many people in China's rapidly emerging urban middle class, sowing widespread frustration, especially as some who bought previously have been able to parlay their gains into multiple acquisitions.

The government controls have upset some market players, including developers who reaped riches during the boom years and local governments which earn money from land sales and taxes.

"We don't want constant regulation from the government," said Wong Chun-hong, chairman of high-end developer Top Spring International Holdings.

But price stability is the watchword for government policy. Beijing fears that spiralling housing costs could fuel discontent and possible social unrest.

"Policymakers have little to gain from adjusting their current stance," independent research company Capital Economics said in a recent report.

"That means though that a period of stability in real estate investment after the weakness of the past year might be the most we can hope for over the next few quarters."

Nie Meisheng, head of industry group China Real Estate Chamber of Commerce, said: "There won't be any drastic falls because of the 'iron floor' of home prices," referring to high land costs that support prices of finished homes.

But she added: "There won't be any chance of a sharp rebound in home prices as the government will not allow it."


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