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Developers innovate to battle industry downturn

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-11-03 16:54

Developers innovate to battle industry downturn

A car passes by a housing block in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, May 17, 2015. [Photo/IC]

BEIJING - Hu Hongyu was required to go through vigorous questioning on her hobbies and dreams before being permitted to rent her apartment in the center of Chongqing.

Her new home is part of communal living project initiated by China's real estate giant Vanke. Unlike most landlords, who simply require identification and deposit, the company is seeking occupants with a lust for life.

Hu, a 21-year-old Latin dance coach, will become the first batch of residents to pass the screening process and move into the "V-Home" on Saturday. Among other successful applicants are travel agent Liao Chuanni, photographer Xie Jing, and startup founder Zhao Ya, who all have distinct hobbies or skills to share with their apartment mates.

With the slogan "living with the ones you like," V-Home is attracting hundreds of youngsters such as Hu, who come fresh out of college and want to make friends with similar values through communal living.

The V-Home project is just one of the many new programs that Chinese real estate giants such as Vanke are piloting at a time when the market is feeling heavy pressure.

Sales have been slow for real estate developers since last year, resulting in overstocked inventories, low demand and slowing investment, particularly in smaller cities.

According to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 665.1 million square meters of commercial housing were up for sale by the end of September. Given the average living space per person of 30 square meters, it is enough to house more than 20 million residents.

By converting existing properties into 35-square-meter apartments, Vanke's V-Home project is trying to reduce inventory while bringing new income streams.

The project has been rolled out in first and second-tier cities such as Guangzhou, Xiamen, and Xi'an, and is expected to have 150,000 apartments for rent by 2017, according to Vanke.

Other real estate developers are testing different innovations to help lift them from the slump.

Country Garden, a leading developer focusing on smaller cities, partnered with Ping An Insurance Company in May to launch the first crowdfunding campaign for a project in Shanghai. Investors can buy part or all of a premise based on area and claim rights to develop, resell, and receive dividends from the property.

Poly Real Estate Group saw potential in the country's aging society. To meet the increased demand for senior housing, it invested in several projects that offer medical resources and nursing services for residents.

"It's inevitable the real estate industry will transform into a service-oriented business," said Wang Xiaoguang, a researcher at the China Academy of Governance, a government think tank. "But that cannot save the real estate industry."

The property market is facing over-supply in both first-tier and smaller cities, Wang said.

By September, the stock-to-sales ratio for commodity housing in 38 first, second, and third-tier cities in China stood at 9.4, 14.9, and 28.9 months respectively, meaning developers will need that long in order to sell existing inventories under current demand, according to data from Tospur Real Estate Consulting Company, a property market research agency.

"Inventories in some third and fourth-tier cities in China are so high that even a government bailout may not prevent a market crash," said Zhang Dawei, analyst with Centaline Property, a major property agency.

New ideas alone are not sufficient to work through the bubble. Over the course of a year, officials have introduced stimulus packages to lower the down payment requirement for second-home purchases and ease policies for the housing provident fund, an employment-based savings scheme that allows homebuyers to apply for low-interest mortgages.

But the traditional strategy of cutting finance costs to boost the real estate market will not work for long either, said Wang Xiaoguang. The best approach would be to simply lower prices to balance supply and demand, he said.

While it's still hard to gauge how innovative projects such as Vanke's V-home will help developers battle the faltering industry, residents like Hu Hongyu are excited to participate.

As she prepares to move into her new home, she's looking forward to meeting people from all walks of life.

"Isn't it like the life in 'Friends'?" she said, referring to the popular American sitcom.

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