Beijing’s tough new property cooling measures see immediate results
Home sales for the first week of October in the capital dropped to their lowest level since 2011 as new restrictions dampened buyers’ appetite
Beijing’s property market quickly cooled after it fired the first salvo in the latest round of measures to rein in house price inflation.
Sales of new and pre-owned homes fell to 425 in the first seven days of October, according to Centaline Group’s research centre, the lowest level for that period since 2011. That compares with 543 sales in the same period of 2015.
On September 30, Beijing led a new round of housing policy tightening by imposing a range of fresh restrictions to dampen the market.
The immediate effect on the capital’s property market was in stark contrast to that in many second-tier cities, where sales either rose significantly or dropped very slightly in the same period, despite their new cooling measures.
Timing was a major reason, according to analysts, as Beijing’s policies were rolled out before the golden week holiday started - earlier than many other cities - which sent a stronger signal. But it is also because Beijing’s tightening was more stringent than in many other cities.
“Beijing’s policies are among the harshest in the 20 cities that had imposed restrictions, along with Nanjing, Hefei and Suzhou,” said Hu Jinghui, vice-president of BA Consulting & 5I5J Group. “A closer look at other cities showed they are lenient in substance.”
For the first time, Beijing authorities introduced a distinction between down payment requirements for “ordinary” and “non-ordinary” homes.
Homes larger than 144 square meters, or with a price 20 per cent higher than similar homes, are defined as “non-ordinary”. First-time buyers of such homes are required to pay a 40 per cent down payment, compared with 35 per cent for ordinary homes, while second-time buyers have to pay a minimum 70 per cent, compared with 50 per cent for ordinary homes.
A considerable number of buyers in Beijing would be subject to the 50 or 70 per cent requirement because, according to Centaline, roughly half of city’s buyers are people who sold their old homes to buy a new, larger flat.
Before the new measure, second-time home buyers were considered “first-time” as long as they had paid off their previous mortgages. That benefit has now gone.
The new policy even reimposed an old regulation stipulating that developers must allocate no less than 70 per cent of their project to homes smaller than 90 square metres.
Si Zhi, vice president of Soufun Holding, said for real first-time buyers the threshold has not been changed much; before the new policy, commercial banks’ average actual down payment requirement was 36 per cent, despite the official requirement being 30 per cent. The real change is for trade-up and speculative buyers, whose purchasing power has been significantly squeezed.
Wang Xiao, a 35-year-old engineer with a Beijing residency permit, said he was in talks to buy a 150 sq metre home in suburban Shunyi before National Day. He would have been able to afford the down payment of 50 per cent, but after new policy raised it to 70 per cent, he has had to borrow from relatives. He is now considering withdrawing from the sale.
Hesitant buyers like Wang could drag down market turnover in the short term, but most analysts see only a small likelihood of prices falling. That’s because developers had few incentives to cut prices, as most had nearly reached their annual sales targets, thanks to this year’s bull market.
“Look at Shanghai, which introduced curbing measures in March. Sales fell sharply after that, but prices continued to rise. Then sales and prices have picked up since July,” said Yang Kewei, an analyst with consultancy CRIC.
Xiong Zhikun, a director with Savills North China, expected sales in the fourth quarter to fall significantly, tempering price growth. But since neighbouring Hebei province has not introduced new cooling measures, more investors might flock to neighbouring counties such as Dachang and Xianghe.