THE Chinese property market is looking suspiciously like a bubble; one that is on the point of bursting. And when it does, it could well puncture the financial ambitions of a number of Hongkong property developers. Property prices in the Pearl River Delta have shot up over the last two years. As prices in Hongkong doubled, so they did across the border. Australian Chinese property developer Perry Siu said Hongkong people had been confusing the value of land in the territory with that in the mainland, and this had been one of the causes of the present property boom in southern China. Land was such a precious commodity in Hongkong, but not so in China, Hongkong-based Mr Siu said, pointing to the vastness of the mainland. ''Hongkong people feel that, if they own property, then they will be all right. But it is not like that in China,'' he said. ''In 1990, when the boom started, developers bought land in small lots, similar to the way they did in Hongkong. They wanted to build multi-storey, with a swimming pool, tennis courts, a wet market and the like, just like another Taikoo Shing. But it hasnot worked.'' Mr Siu explained that the developers would put a deposit down on the land, enabling them to build one or two tower blocks, and take an option on the rest of the land. The idea being to sell off the completed tower blocks, enabling them to take up their option on the rest of the land. But the developers are having trouble selling the units. In 1992, some 75,000 units were sold in the South China region. This year, barely 10,000 have passed through the books. As a result, developers are strapped for cash. This means, many of those amenities so temptingly displayed in the sales brochures have not been built, and Mr Siu said views tended to be reminiscent of a desert scenario. Nick Brooke, senior partner with international property consultants Brook Hillier Parker, said prices were going to come back a long way. At the peak of the market, prices in Shenzhen were in the range of $1,500 a square foot, and in Guangzhou about $1,000. Mr Brooke explained: ''Local affordability levels are about half this level, so a major adjustment in prices is on the cards.'' Many of these developers are hanging on for as long as they can, hoping to find the money and not lose the property, but they are coming under additional pressure from the city authorities. According to Mr Siu, zoning is done in the city and not by the provincial authorities. As uncompleted developments start to create pollution problems, besides being eye-sores, central authorities usually put pressure on the provincial authorities and down to the developer to finish the projects. This includes putting in the various bits of infrastructure, such as sewage and water. ''But the developers are not selling the units, so they are not willing to spend more money,'' Mr Siu said. Mr Brooke agreed, saying the nature and form of the market was changing. People were looking more closely at what they were buying, and many of the speculators, who pushed the market up in the last two years, were now hesitant to get involved, he said. ''Developers are now more willing to walk away from their deposits. One major reason for this is the cost of construction rising by up to 60 per cent in the last year, dramatically increasing their overheads, Mr Brooke said. The end result will be a lot of land becoming available on the market over the next year or two and, Mr Siu insisted, a lot of property developers were going to be going bust. Of course, the Chinese have been doing very well out of the situation, when the land is repossessed, they also end up with the deposit to play with. But this situation is not going to continue. Mr Siu said he believed the buyer would soon have the upper hand. He is of the opinion that, not only will there be more land on the market at better prices, it will also mean the Chinese authorities may start putting in ammenities and infrastructure themselves in order to make the land more attractive.