More than eight months have passed since the devastating Sichuan earthquake. In a four-part series on how victims are preparing for the Lunar New Year, Al Guo visits four communities and finds some people are celebrating more than others. Today: Luping in Pengzhou county Nearly 100 families in Luping village, devastated by last May's earthquake, have reason to celebrate this week as the Lunar New Year approaches - new homes that are theirs to own. And best of all is the price. 'They don't have to pay a penny. They move in and it's their apartment forever,' Luping village director Zhang Shirong said. The homes are in 180 new two- or three-storey buildings. Each person has an average space of 375 sq ft, and each family has separate living and guest rooms, as well as a kitchen and bathroom. The Sichuan government decided late last year to build Luping as a model for overall rebuilding efforts in quake-hit regions and assigned the provincial Bureau of Land Resources to oversee the effort. The bureau has spent more than 100 million yuan (HK$113 million) on the project, with the goal of allowing some villagers to move into the new apartments before the holiday starts on Monday. Contractors hired to build the homes broke ground in late August and raced against the clock to meet the government-imposed deadline. The construction workers were divided into three teams, with each team working an eight-hour shift. 'It was 24/7, no holiday and no long break,' project manager Zhang Jianmin said. Senior provincial officials are to visit the new apartments this week to ensure everything is in place, and there is talk that national leaders could include the village in their tours over the holiday to check on overall rebuilding efforts in quake-hit areas. Land resources bureau official Xu Zhijun acknowledged the link between the speed of the apartments' construction and leaders' visits, but he denied that it was a 'face project'. 'I call it a 'sample project', not a 'face project',' Mr Xu said. In his mind, face projects were done to please only leaders; this effort mostly benefited villagers. Some of the families on the upper floors will have views of cleared roads and newly planted trees from their balconies. 'Villagers will be happy, and leaders touring the village will be happy, too. It is a win-win situation.' But there is a catch: villagers who move into these new homes surrender ownership of their collapsed houses and the land-use rights to the parcels of land on which they sit. Mr Xu said his bureau could then use that land for commercial buildings or other projects that could generate income to cover the apartments' construction costs. A number of families who could not wait for the buildings' official opening toured their allocated apartments last Friday as workers were still fitting out the interiors. They said they did not fully understand how the land swap worked but were obviously excited about the prospect of owning a new apartment for free. 'I cannot wait to move in. It is 10 times better than our old building,' Dong Shiji , 67, said as she and her husband viewed their two-bedroom flat. With little more than 1,000 yuan in annual income from her 2,000 square metre plot of farmland, Ms Dong said she would not have hesitated to accept any policy that got her a free apartment. Li Shumin , 57, was amazed by the spacious bathroom, something she never thought she could own. 'The space and quality are more than excellent,' she said. 'I have been watching the construction process from day one and I know everything they put in here was of the best available quality.' Many of Ms Li's relatives and friends worked on the building site and were paid about 70 yuan a day, depending on their jobs. She said she was told that the structure was built to the highest standards and the building could easily survive a magnitude-8 earthquake like last May's. Huang Yulong, who was a construction worker for 12 years in the provincial capital, Chengdu , said the quality of the flats was on a par with, if not better than, high-end commercial buildings in the city. 'The thickness of the steel frame and the quality of cement are way better than most Chengdu buildings,' he said. Land resources official Mr Xu was so confident of the buildings' soundness that he said: 'They could stand here for 100 years without major changes, at least.' As was the case in many other villages around Longmen Mountain, dozens of houses in Luping collapsed in the earthquake, leaving 11 dead and dozens injured. Few families had the resources to rebuild their homes, so the village started to work with the provincial government on design plans. Ms Zhang, the village director, said she was excited when told last summer that the village would become a showcase for the quake-zone rebuilding efforts. 'The only thing I had to do, they told me, was to figure out how to allocate those apartments fairly.' A lottery determined who would move in to the new apartments first and which flats they would occupy. But homes to be built alongside the showcase project will not be ready for residents for at least three more months. Wang Dengzhi , a doctor in Cifeng town who visited the village last week to dispense information on mental-health awareness, said the farmers' smiles were something she had not seen since the quake. 'Looking at their faces, you understand that no words could ease the pain in their hearts unless some dramatic things happened,' Dr Wang said. 'Now dramatic things have happened. Permanent housing is exactly what they needed to move their lives forward.' But the effect is unlikely to spread to other areas soon - rebuilding plans in Yuejin village, just 2km away, have just started. Yuejin resident Wang Yongfeng said his family still lived in makeshift houses and had no idea when work would begin on their permanent homes. 'I just blame my ancestors for not making a home in Luping village,' he said. 'Other than that, all I can do is to wait and pray.'