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Chongqing investors eye shops for best returns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 July, 2012, 12:00am

Chongqing native Chen Shuming has stuck resolutely through the lean times to a two-decades-old belief that buying property - particularly shops - is the best investment option no matter how much the central government tries to curb price rises through cooling measures.

Echoing the view of many people, Chen said: 'Real estate is the only investment tool that will fail no one. You can only gain from it.'

The 54-year-old owns two flats and two retail properties in the southwestern city, which is home to 30 million people and has been labelled the fastest-growing metropolis in the world.

Chen started buying properties in 1993 when he invested about 240,000 yuan to purchase three retail spaces of between 28 and 50 square metres in the Hechuan district in the northern part of the Chongqing municipality.

'I bought them because I think as the country develops and opens its economy, it will need a lot of retail space for business activities,' said Chen.

'Retail properties are more competitive than residential properties,' he said. 'This is because while the city was growing very rapidly and the government was boosting the supply of homes, the growth of retail space lagged.'

Investment in property runs in Chen's family. His elder sister has also bought retail properties - and their faith has been vindicated.

Chen said the prices of their properties had grown as much as fivefold, from around 2,000 yuan (HK$2,450) per square metre to as much as 10,000 per square metre.

Chen has been letting two of his other properties for 1,000 to 5,000 yuan per month. The third, a 50-square-metre shop, was demolished by the government for redevelopment in 2009, for which he received 600,000 yuan compensation.

'I'm not going to sell my retail properties. It's easy to sell but difficult to buy them back again, as the nice areas have been taken up by large developers and those spaces are so expensive now,' he said.

Unable to buy another shop with the compensation he received in 2009, Chen used the money to reinvest in the property market by buying a 969 sq ft apartment for his daughter, who had just graduated and was job-hunting in the city centre.

'Property is the only stable investment and it performs far better than shares and funds,' he said, adding that he would buy more flats if he had the money.

'Although the government has been trying to cool the market down, the policies will last for only a short time. Property prices will only go up and will not plummet.'

Chen's daughter, Echo Chen Chu, 22, aims to keep up the family tradition and buy a flat.

She said many of her relatives and friends were now buying smaller homes of around 500 sq ft for investment purposes because there was strong demand from young workers in the city for renting smaller flats.

Measures put in place in Chongqing to curb housing demand and price rises include a property tax on expensive new flats and villas, and tighter credit requirements on home loans.

First-time buyers now need to make down payments of 30 per cent, while second home buyers need to make down payments of 50 per cent. No mortgage loans are granted to those buying a third home.

According to latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics, new- home prices in Chongqing dropped by 1.9 per cent in May compared to a year ago. Prices of second-hand flats fell 0.7 per cent.

Cui Hengzhong, Chongqing general manager for mainland developer Longfor Properties, said some investors had pulled out of the home market because of the government's cooling measures, and instead had turned to the retail sector.

'Many were hit by the tightening of mortgage loans, as they needed to pay the full amount when buying a third home,' Cui said.

Home prices in the city had remained largely stable at about 6,400 yuan per square metre in the last few months, he said, although some developers had adjusted prices downward by a few hundred yuan per square metre.

Cui said one of the company's new luxury projects in Chongqing attracted more than 1,000 people to its sales office in the first two days of its release on June 16.

Another Chongqing investor said he had wanted to buy a 2,800 sq ft villa worth about 2.9 million yuan in Beibei district, a new area in northern Chongqing.

However, he could not obtain a mortgage loan because he already owns three flats.

'I want to upgrade my living environment. So I am going to sell two of my flats now in order to get the mortgage loan for the villa,' he said.

'I'm upbeat about Chongqing's property market and I think home prices will keep surging, from currently over 6,000 yuan per square metre to perhaps 10,000 yuan in the next five years.'