Policies favour homes of less than 90 square metres. Photo: Reuters

Policymakers must heed homeowners seeking to upgrade

Survey finds buying a bigger home in wish list top three, but official obstacles hinder move up

Policymakers looking to smooth the transition to a consumption-based economy could do well to heed research data that highlights a strong desire among mainlanders to upgrade to bigger homes.

But, for now, policies are skewed against homeowners realising this goal, even though an easing of borrowing rules to help upgraders move up the property ladder would unleash the kind of spending that the top leaders want to see in a realigned economy.

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a government think tank in Beijing, shows that home ownership rose to 93.5 per cent this year, up from 91.6 per cent two years ago. And 18.6 per cent own more than two homes - the proportion could be higher as people tend to under-report home ownership.

When those surveyed were asked for their top wishes in the next five to 10 years, 18.8 per cent ticked "home upgrade" - third on the wish list after "income rise" and "safe and healthy family," according to the survey published on Christmas Day.

An easing of borrowing rules [would] help upgraders move up the property ladder

Before buying a comfortable home, mainland families - particularly those from the older generation - tend to save every penny they can. But the response to the survey suggests that many Chinese families will be selling their homes to buy a bigger property as they welcome new members - the mainland's recent relaxation of the one-child policy makes this even more likely.

The CASS survey results echo an earlier report by private real estate consultancy CRIC that said upgrade demand for homes of larger than 90 square metres would become the pillar of the mainland's housing market.

The CRIC data showed the supply-demand ratio for new homes in Beijing of between 90 and 140 square metres rose sharply from 0.67 in 2011 to 1.66 this year. The switch was less dramatic for new homes of less than 90 square metres - from 0.92 to 1.37.

In a report on August 16, the consultancy, when looking at the living space per family member in urban households, said 80 per cent of those in the top 30 cities live in homes that equated to less than 30 square metres per person - or less than the 90 square metres typical for a mainland family of three. In Shanghai, more than half of families live in badly designed and maintained flats with outdated facilities, and are keen to improve their housing conditions in the next few years.

However, mainland policies, including for land supply and bank lending, lean towards mass construction of homes of less than 90 square metres. Policies requiring bigger deposits and higher mortgage rates for a second home act as a strong disincentive to upgraders.

Then, for buyers in Beijing, factor in a 20 per cent capital gains tax alongside record home prices and the burdens mount.

Let's hope policymakers will take into the account the wishes of the people for better living conditions when they work through the details on the much awaited economic reforms.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Policymakers must heed homeowners seeking to upgrade