Treaty of Nanking

Homebuyers just want a fair deal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am


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Beijing's policies targeting speculation in the property market may be cooling prices, but ordinary Chinese - many of whom just want a home to raise a family - say they are the real victims.

Protests by homebuyers have erupted in several cities across the mainland, but they have taken on a special poignancy in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. For much of the past decade, property prices there have been among the most buoyant in the nation.

Hundreds of people who bought unfinished flats through pre-sale agreements have been staging protests against developers. They say they have been forced to take 'justified action to protect their own interests'.

Most have already lost 30 per cent of their investment since Beijing's curbs led the developers to offer discounts on unsold flats amid a liquidity squeeze.

A 30 per cent price fall on a 100 square metre home in Shanghai's suburban area or in Hangzhou translates to more than 300,000 yuan (HK$366,500), equal to at least five years' pay on an average wage.

The protesters have even been given a label: fangnao - disgruntled homebuyers who use violence to demand compensation from developers for falling home prices.

Police are wary of such disturbances amid worries the anger could spread across the nation. Indeed, Shanghai, Nanjing and Ningbo have been rocked by fangnao, with protesters storming developers' sales offices, causing windows to be smashed and doors broken.

Over the past decade, many mainlanders have profited by speculating on housing prices. They snapped up flats in developed cities amid a gush of easy credit from commercial lenders. Consequently, they were blamed for pushing up prices to unreasonable levels, raising the risk of an economic bubble in the world's second-largest economy. For their part, fangnao hope the violent incidents will jolt the authorities into action and help pressure the developers to offer compensation. But their efforts have been in vain so far.

The fangnao believe their actions are justified because they are not the 'housing speculators' that Beijing has been targeting. Many fangnao, either in their late twenties or early thirties, were buying homes for marriage, with no intention to resell for profit.

At a protest at a housing project in Shanghai's Jiading district, many young couples said they had bought their first home as a way to improve their living conditions.

But the fangnao have few legal options to get refunds. The money they have paid for the unfinished flats was part of an agreed price set in the pre-sale contract.

Developers, however, also see themselves as victims, arguing that they had been forced to slash home prices to attract new buyers, only to find tensions flare as previous buyers push for compensation.

To comply with Beijing's policy, they had to lower prices to cool the property sector. Yet that has only provoked the ire of previous buyers who have accused them of being irresponsible.

Any intervention by Beijing to help the fangnao appears highly unlikely, even though the central government had been intervening in the financial markets without much reluctance. Not all the interventions proved successful and some even exacerbated market conditions.

Neither is this the first time that Beijing has enacted housing curbs to cap soaring home prices. In the past decade it made several attempts. Each time, the property market saw a short-term correction, but the subsequent policy easing quickly drove prices to new highs due to pent-up demand.

The cautionary tale of the fangnao is yet another lesson for the authorities that they should do their utmost to build affordable homes. That would increase the housing supply to dent rampant price inflation.