Sun Hua, an office worker who's spent two years in Beijing, has been looking at second-hand apartments for more than two months, along with her fiance.
"Prices aren't low. But I'm afraid that if we don't decide to buy soon, prices will spike," Sun said, as she described her struggle to make ends meet in her daily life while saving for a long-awaited home.
She plans to buy a one- or two-bedroom apartment on a mortgage that will run for more than 20 years. She will Borrow some money from her parents as well as use her hard-earned salaries to cover the minimum 20 percent down payment.
Sun is one of millions of potential home buyers in China who have been worrying about rising urban apartment prices since the Spring Festival in late January.
Chinese home prices began to pick up from one-year lows starting in February and home buying volumes reached a record high in recent months. Evidently, some buyers believed that prices had hit bottom at the start of the year. The situation has given Sun and other home buyers reason for concern.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that prices of new and existing homes in 70 large and mid-sized Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and others fell 0.6 percent year-on-year in May, but prices still edged up 0.6 percent from April.
This was the third consecutive month that home prices had climbed month-on-month.
Second-hand home prices showed a similar trend, analysts said. Although no nationwide data were available, figures provided by Beijing-based 5i5j Real Estate Service Co showed that second-hand home prices rose 1.53 percent month-on-month to 12,712 yuan ($1,859) per square meter in Beijing in May.
Signs of life
Chen Sheng, vice president of the China Index Academy (CIA), a private-sector research institute that specializes in real estate, told Xinhua that the signs of life in the residential property market largely reflected government stimulus policies for the sector and consumers' inflation expectations following a loan spike early this year.
China's new yuan-denominated loans reached 664.5 billion yuan in May, bringing new loans in the first five months to 5.84 trillion yuan, far exceeding the full-year target of 5 trillion yuan. Loans to consumers topped 187.6 billion yuan last month, the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central, said last Friday.
Of the total 187.6 billion yuan of consumer bank credit in May, 100.8 billion yuan was aimed at long-term housing loans, accounting for 53.73 percent of the total. The ratio was more than 10 percentage points lower than in April, showing more people were cautious about buying homes on installment, analysts said.
China announced at the end of May that, for the first time in 13 years, the minimum capital requirements for developers to start a new commercial property or an affordable housing project had been lowered from 35 percent of the total project cost to 20 percent, a move to reduce developers' investment threshold.
Policymakers in the world's third-largest economy also reduced the minimum down payment ratio for home loans from 30 percent to 20 percent for first-time buyers starting at the end of last year, an apparent move to boost the market.
Qin Rui, a senior analyst with 5i5j, told Xinhua that some homebuyers were "following the crowd" when buying apartments in February, March and April this year as they did in the property buying spree of 2007 when the market was strong.
"However, some cautious home buyers chose to wait and see for awhile after observing what happened last month in Beijing," Qin added.
Transactions rise, then wane
Data from www.bjfdc.gov.cn, a real estate trading information platform run by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, revealed that first- and second-hand home trading volume fell 13.94 percent and 8.27 percent, respectively, in May from April, showing dampened enthusiasm and a wait-and-see attitude among potential buyers.
That reflects a change from the first quarter, when both transactions and prices rose.
Prices rose faster than volume in the first quarter, reflecting pent-up consumer demand and developers' prices hikes to increase their profits, analysts said.
NBS data showed that total national first-hand home sales by area rose 8.2 percent to 113.09 million sq m in the first quarter, while developers' sales revenue jumped 23.1 percent to 505.9 billion yuan.