Home sales in Shanghai have been hit by policy measures aimed at curbing demand, not by fears of another widespread outbreak of a new strain of bird flu, property consultants said.
"We don't see any panic reaction to the H7N9 influenza virus. People are very calm here," the managing director of property consultant Savills China, Albert Lau, said. "After the outbreak of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) 10 years ago, the Shanghai government came up with preventive measures."
Thirteen of the 28 confirmed cases of human infection with H7N9 - a subgroup of the H7 viruses that normally circulate among birds - have been reported in Shanghai since the first victim was identified on March 31. Five of the outbreak's eight deaths occurred in Shanghai.
Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces have also seen H7N9 cases. Local media have reported the culling of more than 98,000 poultry, and all live poultry markets have been shut.
But Lau said a decline in home sales in Shanghai was more likely the result of the recent tightening of mortgage loan conditions and the reintroduction of a 20 per cent capital gains tax from April 1, rather than fear about the impact on the real estate market of an outbreak of bird flu.
Sales of new homes plunged 60 per cent to 1,431 in the week to April 7 compared to the previous week, according to Soufun, the largest property information website in the mainland.
Shanghai and 20 other major cities unveiled further property controls last week after being directed by the central government in March to calm real estate markets. The controls include strict checks on mortgage qualifications for buyers of second-hand homes, especially younger borrowers, non-locals, foreigners and buyers who are divorced.
Lau expected buyers would shift to new homes because the 20 per cent capital gains tax did not apply to new flats. "The secondary market will become quiet as the 20 per cent capital gains tax will discourage existing owners from selling their flats. They will prefer to lease rather than sell," he said.
Jenny Wu, head of residential for east China at consultancy DTZ, said she had seen no evidence that flu fears had hit home sales or corporate leasing.
"We have contacted big companies like General Motors. They have not issued any warnings to staff working and living in Shanghai. Nothing has changed," she said. Sales of flats at the luxury Mei Hua Garden remained steady, with prices between 13 million yuan and 15 million yuan.
Deals on Shanghai's secondary market in March jumped by 370 per cent to a record 69,000 as sellers raced to beat the April 1 start of the capital gains tax. April sales are expected to fall back 60 per cent to their customary monthly level of about 27,000.