Home buying effectively halted in China’s top-tier cities during the eight-day “Golden Week” public holiday, as cooling measures rolled out over the past year kicked in. A plunge in trading volumes across the country during what is traditionally a hot season for home buying indicated extreme caution, ahead of China’s key political meeting, the 19th Communist Party Congress starting October 18, and after a year of property tightening. New homes sales slumped as much as 78 per cent and 64 per cent in Shanghai and Beijing respectively during the holidays, compared with a year earlier, data from real estate brokers 5I5J Group and Centaline Property Agency shows. Southern city Guangzhou also saw a 78 per cent decline in sales volume, while Shenzhen, the country’s innovation hub, fell 13 per cent. “Many buyers are playing ‘wait and see’, as there might be a new round of policies coming after the Congress,” said Samuel Wong, chief operating officer and manager director of southern China region at real estate agency Midland Realty. The twice-per-decade political gathering is expected to determine the future direction of China’s economy, as well as underline a continuation of the toughest curbs on property prices in 10 years, imposed over the past year. Beijing rolls out harshest ever home buyer down payment levels Local governments have launched two rounds of cooling measures – in September 2016 and March 2017 – totalling over 150 rules, after property prices had soared 30 per cent in Beijing and 40 per cent in Shanghai in a year, by last September. Measures have ranged from heightened mortgage down payments to home purchase restrictions and price caps on new homes. But the most powerful and fear-inducing curb so far has been the recent freeze on sales of newly bought flats , said Wong. Starting from September, some 45 cities have followed suit, banning the resale of homes bought within three to five years. A policy never seen before, it has driven out a lot of speculative buyers and sellers and dampened sentiment across the country, he added. Zhao Wei, a researcher at Centaline Group Research Centre in Shenzhen, said that “market sentiment was very muted compared with past years”. Home loan rates for first-time buyers rise as Beijing tries to curb property market Bustling real estate trade fairs and discount events used to draw huge crowds in past years during Golden Week, which this year encompassed National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhao said. But with a cap on new home prices now in place by the Shenzhen government, too, developers gave up hosting any such events, he said. Hu Jinghui, vice-president of 5I5J Group’s research arm, said the tightening since the end of March has profoundly changed buyers’ expectations. Millennials in Shenzhen find the dream of home ownership ever more elusive The bubbles are growing big, and nobody can be sure of how much bigger they might get Johnny Sun, a 25-year-old potential homebuyer from Guangzhou Prices are likely to continue falling, he said, as speculators flee the market and homeowners also sell, with no hope in sight of any price rebound. One owner of a one-bedroom flat inside Beijing’s third ring road recently cut the price three times in 40 days, from 3.5 million to 2.9 million yuan (US$436,000), or 85,000 yuan per square metre. Just six months ago, homes in the prime location were selling for at least 100,000 yuan per sq m. Only 20 existing homes were sold during the eight-day holiday in Beijing, slumping 90 per cent from last year to the lowest level since 2007. Johnny Sun, a 25-year-old potential homebuyer from Guangzhou, said ongoing government uncertainties have kept delaying him from buying a new home in the city. “The bubbles are growing big, and nobody can be sure of how much bigger they might get,” Sun said. “And you never know when the government will make a policy that might cause prices to collapse.” He believes renting will become a bigger trend, after already seeing an increased number of older people renting in the flats where he lives.