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Is China's housing market bottom in sight?

Updated: 2014-03-13 14:42
By Shan Xueying (

China's housing market, which has maintained robust growth over the past decade, started to show signs of slowing down at the beginning of this year, with most cities recording falling transactions on both a yearly and monthly basis. The cooling market has fueled concerns that China is facing an imminent real estate crash. It is nothing new, given that there's been a lot of talk of that China's housing bubble was about to burst. But to their disappointment, the predictions have never come true. What will happen this time?

There are ample reasons to believe that the government won't sit idle if prices crash, especially considering that this year is expected to be tough for the Chinese economy.

The real estate sector has been known as a significant pillar of China's economy for the last decade. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, real estate investment accounted for 15 percent of China's GDP in 2013. The percentage is higher if related industries, such as construction, steel, cement, and furniture, are taken into consideration. Given the impact property has on the overall economy, the government is expected to bolster property prices if China wants to meet its economic growth target at 7.5% 2014, as pledged by Premier Li Keqiang in his government work report. Once the housing development tumbles, so does the Chinese economy and the government is set to intervene to stabilize the market.

It is also noteworthy that in his government work report on Mar. 5, Premier Li did not mention much about how to regulate China's real estate industry, prompting speculations that the government could loosen its grip on the housing sector. At least, it does not want to see a sharp fall in property prices, which will cause a chain effect and seriously affect the country's GDP growth.

Moreover, falling prices in the housing market, if not addressed, could lead to social unrest, since the Chinese people have invested too heavily in housing and a real estate bust will eventually take a toll on homeowners. As a result, the government would definitely try to prevent this from happening.

The Chinese people have been pouring money into housing over the past decade, since it is traditionally believed that owning a house is a prerequisite for marriage, as well as the fact that there are few investment options for them to park their savings.. According to a Bloomberg report, a national survey of 28,000 households found some 66.1 percent of China's family assets were in housing in 2013. Mortgage debt as a share of disposable income rose from 18 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2013. With so much of household wealth tied up in real estate, a plunge in property prices will raise the risk of social and political unrest.

If uncertainty and fluctuations occurred in the housing market, the government is capable of employing financial and economic leverages and fine-tuning policies to keep the market afloat. In 2008, when China experienced a sudden slump in house prices, the government managed to launch a series of aggressive plans to help bail out the property market. History shows that China is both willing and capable of keeping housing prices stable.

The ongoing urbanization drive, meanwhile, will help boost the real estate industry. China's urbanization rate, which stands at 53 percent, is still far behind the level of the developed countries, which is more than 70 percent on average. There is much room for China's urbanization rate to continue to rise. With more rural people becoming urban residents, there will be a huge demand for residential housing and related industries, which constitutes a great boost for the real estate industry.

So it is too early to conclude that the housing market has been on the brink of a bust, and the future may not be as pessimistic as what doomsayers have claimed.