The State Council has sent out another strong signal that it intends to tighten the enforcement of property curbs, highlighting Beijing's concerns that any easing of the controls at the local level may derail its efforts to rein in prices.
The cabinet said it was sending out inspection teams to check how provincial and city leaders were executing the central government's property policies, a move that comes after the government reiterated several times in the past month the need to keep property prices under control.
'Compliance is important in maintaining the central government's policy credibility,' Hong Hao, chief China strategist for Bocom International Holdings, said. Local and central authorities had 'different incentives', he said. 'The central government wants to maintain control on the sector but the local governments rely on the sector for revenue.'
From this month, the State Council was sending eight inspection teams to check local authorities' enforcement of existing curbs on home purchases and land supply in four municipalities, including Beijing and Shanghai, and 12 provinces, including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian and Hunan, a statement posted on the government's website on Tuesday said.
The inspection teams would visit housing projects and meet homebuyers to gather more information about the market, the cabinet said. The authorities will be urged to correct their practices if the implementation of the policy is found to have either 'deviated' from the requirement or 'not put in the right place'. Government data indicate that illegal land use remains rampant. The Ministry of Land Resources yesterday said it discovered 29,000 cases of illegal land use in the first half, involving 177,000 mu (11,800 hectares).
Two years ago the government started rolling out a string of policies to cool the once red-hot property market, including reining in mortgage lending and levying property taxes in some cities as a trial.
'Potential demand for residential property remains robust as urbanisation continues and land supply is tight in first-tier cities,' Joan Wang of Savills Property Services said.
Last month, 25 of the 70 cities surveyed by the national statistics bureau showed home prices in the cities rose from May, while they fell in 21 cities - initial signs that the market may be bottoming out.
Anticipation of a policy change intensified after the People's Bank of China announced its second interest rate cut in a month, lowering the cost for owning a house. Starting on July 6, the one-year lending rate was cut by 0.31 per cent to 6 per cent while the one-year deposit rate fell by a quarter of a percentage point to 3 per cent.
On July 10, a new 'Land King' emerged in Beijing after a developer bid 33,800 yuan (HK$41,460) per square metre for a plot in the city's Haidian district, reflecting a rebound in demand after a two-year campaign to limit purchases and land supply. The record high price came just three days after Premier Wen Jiabao stressed during his visit to Jiangsu province that the country's property control 'remains at a crucial stage'. 'We can't let property prices rebound,' he said.
Perhaps anticipating the curbs would not be strictly implemented at the local level, ministries in charge of land resources and home building jointly issued a new notice on July 19, urging authorities to set 'reasonable' methods of pricing land.
Earlier this year, a few attempts by some city governments, such as Shanghai's move to ease homebuying limits and Wuhu's bid to subsidise home sales, had to be withdrawn soon after they were launched.
Still, city and provincial leaders remain keen to boost fiscal revenue via land sales as a way of offsetting a downturn. The country's growth slowed to 7.6 per cent in the second quarter from 8.1 per cent in the first.
A Xinhua report yesterday said more than 30 cities had rolled out 'fine-tuning' policies since the second half of last year in a bid to boost local property sales, while only 'a minority' of such cities were permitted to continue with their steps.
Jiangsu capital Nanjing rolled out new rules to support property purchases, pledging to offer subsidies and grant local residence for professionals who buy homes in the city.
Most property shares dropped yesterday. Shenzhen-listed China Vanke fell 2.5 per cent to 9.1 yuan while Shanghai-listed Poly Real Estate lost 2.5 per cent to 11.15 yuan.