It's like a lucky draw. More than 140,000 families are lining up for only 2,000 flats on sale in Beijing's first "self-use commercial home" project along the southeastern part of the capital's fifth ring road - about half an hour's drive to the nearest central business district.
What worries applicants is not the commute - it's the slim odds on winning the right to buy. "I know the hope is very small. I still want to try my luck," said Zheng Lin, a married man working in a finance company in Beijing.
Zheng, 29, is among the non-priority group, as he bought a 60 square metre flat last year, using up all his savings of the past decade. But he needs a larger home.
"What if my parents come to live with us, or we want to have a baby?" he said.
The long queue and strong demand from families like Zheng's are lending support to expectations that home prices in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai will keep rising despite a slowdown in the mainland's economic growth.
While home price inflation has eased to multi-month lows, it remains high in first-tier cities. Official figures released on Monday showed that prices rose 18.8 per cent year on year in Beijing last month and 20.9 per cent in Shanghai.
Ahead of Zheng are applicants who are permanent residents of Beijing without a flat and those already enrolled for a unit in other government-subsidised affordable housing. The project, called Royal Scenery, is part of a broad plan the municipality announced in October to check housing inflation and ease social discontent, at a time when most of the capital's middle-class families have been priced out of the market.
What attracts Zheng is the price. At 22,000 yuan per square metre, it is about 30 per cent lower than at regular commercial home projects in the neighbourhood. Self-use commercial homes cannot be sold within five years of purchase. When they are eventually sold, the owners must hand over 30 per cent of any capital gain to the government.
The capital is pushing ahead with the programme as fast as it can, as other existing measures - already the harshest on the mainland - have failed to contain housing inflation so far.
Most of the successful bidders for land parcels it is selling now need to contribute part of the site for the construction of government-subsidised homes. Bidders that offer to build the largest number of such homes will get the parcel, once a preset floor for the overall land price is reached. The city plans to supply 50,000 self-use commercial homes this year, compared with total new home sales of almost 120,000 last year.
Apart from the self-use commercial home programme, Beijing has other subsidised affordable housing schemes - launched in the past few years - that sell or rent homes to local low-income families or migrant workers at prices much lower than those in the marketplace.
Subsidised housing will take up a combined 70 per cent of planned land supply for residential use this year in Beijing.
The rising proportion of subsidised homes will change the home supply structure of Beijing this year, and probably pull down the city's average home price, according to China Index Academy, the mainland's biggest private real estate consultancy.
"Rising supply of government-subsidised affordable homes and self-use commercial homes will squeeze the share of pure commercial residential property in the market," the academy said. "That will push up the land cost and average selling prices of pure commercial homes."
That is worrying Tang Haoran, another applicant at Royal Scenery, which is developed by Evergrande Real Estate. He also has a small flat in Beijing, but his wife is three months pregnant, and they need a bigger place.
Applicants who already have a flat have been told that they would probably have to wait two or three years before the demand for priority applicants is met first. "At least we will have one more choice when it comes to my turn," Tang said.