Capital expands its horizons in time for Olympic deadline

Building projects that have mushroomed across the city after an influx of investors will, by official order, be completed by the end of 2007

SOME NEW HOMES look out over golf courses. Some open on to Chinese gardens. Some are barricaded behind gates and groves of trees. And some sit 20 to 30 floors above the hustle and bustle of urban Beijing. These can range from one bedroom in 65 square metres of floor space to four bedrooms in 320 square metres. A square metre could cost as little as 12,000 yuan or as much as 52,750 yuan.

The developer might be a low-profile Chinese firm that wants buyers but no extra publicity, or a foreign multinational with a reputation for luxury housing.

Anything goes for luxury housing today in Beijing. Since the first high-end project went online in 2000 in response to an influx of foreign investors and out-of-town Chinese business people, projects have mushroomed across the city, from farm country in the southeast to Fragrant Hill Park in the northwest.

'Beijing keeps moving forward, so the whole world is looking at Beijing,' said Toni Ma, real estate editor of That's Beijing magazine.

Beijing homebuyers are known to base their choice of homes on the given 'extras', such as clubhouses, proximity to workplace and access to restaurants, said Sunny Shi, project marketing manager with Savills Property Services (Beijing).

The Beijing Yintai Centre, scheduled to open in August next year after 21 months of construction, will stand above its competitors at a quarter of a kilometre in height.

The 11 billion yuan project is at the geographic core of a major business area in east Beijing's Chaoyang District. The project, handled by China Yintai Holdings, Hyatt International and Merrill Lynch, features three towers, one 63 storeys high. The towers will contain 216 flats and 28 penthouses between levels seven and 33. The furnished flats, called Park Hyatt Residences, range from 132 to 242 square metres and cost 40,000 to 52,750 yuan per square metre.

A Yintai spokesman said investors and overseas buyers were driving prices to record levels. Promotion material describes the 119,376 square metre hotel-office space as 'without a doubt the most anticipated property project in Beijing'.

Yintai, currently three towers of steel and cement crawling with hardhats, competes with dozens of other luxury housing projects in Beijing.

High-end commercial homes made their first appearance in Beijing in 2000 with a stretch of high-rises just outside East Fourth Ring Road, said Wang Yan, senior sales representative with the Beijing Zhongtiandi Real Estate Agency. At the time, the east Fourth Ring area was mostly Soviet-style brick apartment blocks and lacking the east-west subway passing through it today. The high-rise flats sold out.

Zhongtiandi covers 60 luxury housing projects in every part of Beijing except the historical centre inside Second Ring Road. These projects are concentrated in wealthy business-commercial areas such as Liangmaqiao and the Central Business District, both along East Third Ring Road.

Distinct groupings of high-end housing have also formed outside Chaoyang Park in east Beijing, in the Wangjing area of north Beijing and along the expressway to the Beijing Capital International Airport. 'Beijing has these business clusters, so luxury housing is divided very clearly among them,' Ms Wang said.

Almost everything under construction today will be completed by the end of 2007, to meet a city-ordered deadline ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ms Wang said. Central Beijing will be built out by then, pushing new high-end housing projects into nearby suburbs such as Shunyi and Tongzhou, she anticipated. Many complexes report selling out their new homes, she added, and this has raised the demand in second-hand housing.

Billboards continue to advertise luxury estates with titles such as 'Chairman' and 'Palais de Fortune', projecting estates fit for a state leader.

In the Dongzhimen area of east Beijing, for example, Haisheng International Apartments is selling homes of 65 to 70 square metres for 20,200 yuan per square metre. Agents are calling the apartments Beijing's first 'boutique hotel' units. The community, developed by Haisheng Real Estate, emphasises its clubhouse, property management professionalism and air of privacy.

North of Dongzhimen, in the Yansha business district, are three high-rises called Beijing Golf Palace. Units of 265 square metres are going for 17,000 yuan to 18,000 yuan per square metre.

The complex, developed by Beijing Lunengdianrun Real Estate Development, plays up its views of gardens and golf courses.

Buyers who can pay 18,000 to 20,000 yuan per square metre are also looking at Central Park, a 995-unit set of towers to be finished next year. It is in the core of Beijing, between an embassy district and the China World Hotel.

Location and building quality are helping Beijing Wanzhi Real Estate sell its units of 50 to 320 square metres, said Ms Shi of Savills, the Central Park asset management company.

Similar price tags are on the 900 units at China Central Place, completed last June, at the eastern end of the Central Business District on Dawang Road. Developed by Beijing Guohua Real Estate, the flats range from 65 to 216 square metres.