Chinese city lifts curbs on buying homes as property crisis bites

By AFP   May 9, 2024 | 01:30 am PT
Chinese city lifts curbs on buying homes as property crisis bites
An aerial view shows unfinished residential buildings of the Gaotie Wellness City complex in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, China, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Reuters
One of China's wealthiest cities said Thursday it would lift all restrictions on buying homes, joining a growing list of urban areas rolling back curbs as they look to prop up the faltering property market.

Many Chinese cities imposed restrictions and tough credit requirements on home purchases well over a decade ago in an effort to tamp down soaring prices and rampant speculation.

But they are now reversing those policies in a bid to stem an economic slump characterised by a debt crisis among developers, low demand and falling prices.

The eastern city of Hangzhou -- home to 12.5 million people -- said Thursday it had ditched all purchase restrictions "to promote the (market's) stable and healthy development."

"From the date of issuance... those who buy lodgings within the bounds of this city will no longer have their purchasing qualifications reviewed," it said.

Hangzhou, a major innovation hub home to tech giants such as Alibaba, is one of the most desirable and expensive places to buy property in China.

The announcement quickly racked up more than 150 million views on social media site Weibo, where many users were doubtful the policy would make any difference.

"With Hangzhou's house prices, what's the point of cancelling buying restrictions? I still can't afford it," wrote one commenter.

Bill Bishop, the publisher of the influential Sinocism newsletter, called the move "a sign of desperation".

"If this does not goose sales there will be more trouble as prices will have to adjust downward a lot," he wrote on social media site X.

More than 20 cities have abolished home purchase restrictions since the beginning of last year, according to an AFP tally.

Chengdu in southwestern China said last month it would no longer look at prospective buyers' household registration documents, social security and other conditions before greenlighting purchases.

Several of the biggest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, have partly lifted curbs but have resisted dumping them entirely.

Property and construction account for more than a quarter of China's gross domestic product, but the sector has been under unprecedented strain since 2020.

That year, authorities tightened developers' access to credit in a bid to reduce mounting debt.

Since then, major companies including Evergrande and Country Garden have teetered on bankruptcy, while falling prices have dissuaded consumers from investing in property.

Measures introduced by the central government to support the sector have so far had little effect.

And President Xi Jinping has largely stuck to his often-touted maxim that "houses are for living in, not for speculation".

Last month, the International Monetary Fund said China's economic recovery from the pandemic could falter if the crisis was not properly addressed.

"Without a comprehensive response to the troubled property sector, growth could falter, hurting trading partners," it warned in its World Economic Outlook report.

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