China is trying to cool its expensive and dangerously debt-ridden housing market, where high prices and borrowing and spending levels are seen as a national threat.
But as the trouble of a major property developer and its $300 billion in debt looms large as the government tries to contain the crisis, Beijing risks hurting a key driver of its vital economic growth engine: He Qiang. home buyers.
Mr. He was so optimistic about property in China that he bought an apartment from that property developer, China Evergrande Group, then became a real estate agent himself, selling the company’s apartments to hundreds of other families. “It was the pinnacle of Evergrande’s glory,” said Mr.
He’s a lot more pessimistic these days. Mr He, who hails from the southern city of Yuyang, has not yet moved into his apartment as Evergrande has stopped construction. So many people are terrified of buying a home, he said, that he is considering going back on selling the car.
“People are no longer in the mood to buy property,” said Mr.
The real estate boom that once attracted young professionals like Mr. Way is experiencing a dramatic turnaround. At one point, shopping was so frenzied that properties sold out within minutes of being offered. Speculation sent prices skyrocketing. Real estate grew to provide more than a quarter of the country’s economic growth by some estimates, with homes becoming the main savings vehicle for Chinese households.
Nearly three-quarters of household wealth in China is now property linked. The lack of confidence in the market can spread due to low sales of cars and equipment, which can further damage the economy. Already, weak retail sales in China have indicated that consumers are feeling increasingly insecure. As more buyers shy away from home sales, experts say Beijing’s decision to intervene in the market and curb debt could threaten overall growth.
“We are actually seeing a very severe slowdown in the property market with falling prices, sales and construction activity, and this could drag down economic growth over the next few quarters,” said Arthur Krober, managing director of Gavecall Dragonomics. An independent economic research firm.
Evergrande was once the epitome of China’s real estate boom. Recently, however, it has rocked global markets with news of a possible collapse. It has missed several major payments to foreign investors in recent weeks, including Monday. Waiting for a lifeline, it halted its shares last week and announced a potential sale of a lucrative unit.
The company’s troubles sparked recent comments from central bankers around the world and even the US Secretary of State, who urged China to “act responsibly” in handling Evergrande’s future.
China’s 100 largest real estate companies are expected to report sales in September down more than a third from a year earlier, according to China Real Estate Information Corp., an industry data provider. Fantasia, a developer known for luxury properties, unexpectedly missed out last week, sending shock waves through the financial markets.
The month could be bad for Evergrande. The developer has already warned investors that it expects a “significant sustained decline” in sales. And as its cranes and hammers stop in cities across the country, nearly 1.6 million home buyers lie in limbo waiting for their apartments.
Mr. He said that his friends and neighbors who were once interested in buying real estate now tell him that they worry about levying a down payment on an apartment that may never be built. Families, once lured by Evergrande’s sleek sales office and influencer marketing, are staying away. “People worry, ‘If I buy now, what if the developer has a sale later? Mr he said.
He doesn’t blame them.
Evergrande stopped working in his own apartment in June. In three other mega projects in his city, construction has either stalled or is expected to come to a halt as builders said they have not been paid. Dramatic headlines focused on property in China are likely to keep home buyers away for more than just a month or two.
Online government forums designed to elicit feedback from local citizens are now full of complaints from angry families who bought apartments from Evergrande. Some wondered whether they should keep paying mortgages on assets that have not been fulfilled. One used the forum to ask whether her lifetime savings would only be “thrown overboard” if Evergrande went bankrupt.
A group of home buyers at a forum in Guangzhou said they learned that Evergrande had kept the money from their down payment in a private bank account and not another closely monitored one set by a local authority. Another home buyer in the city of Meishan in China’s Sichuan province used the platform to request authorities, “Please maintain justice for your people!”
Even as major investors question whether Evergrande’s collapse could lead to China’s so-called Lehman moment, Beijing remains largely silent, referring to the investment bank that triggered the 2008 global financial crisis. Now rescue companies are no longer considered the huge ones it once was. failed. Many local officials have been left on their own to respond to the growing frustration.
Understand China’s new economy
an economic restructuring. China is taking new measures to limit how trade works and the power of officials. Driven by state control and a desire for self-reliance, these changes marked the end of a gilded era for private business that made the country a manufacturing powerhouse and the nexus of innovation.
Mayors, police chiefs and local banking officials in far-flung cities such as Shayan, Shenyang and Chongqing have set up special government task forces to help manage the potential fallout. An official in the southern city of Shifang, responding to complaints at a government forum, said he would investigate the whereabouts of the missing funds and inform developers and contractors about the “serious consequences” that were caused by the delay in construction.
Regulators that have caused the asset slump have started taking steps to strengthen the sector if things turn bad. China’s central bank issued a rare comment last month, saying it would monitor the real estate market. While financial markets are unlikely to count, the central bank has also opened emergency spigots to make it easier for local banks to withdraw more money, just in case.
“It’s preparing firefighting equipment,” said Dini McMahon, an analyst at Trivium, a consultant focused on China. “The way things are going, clearly financial regulators are starting to get a little nervous.”
Without a clear message that Beijing will help Evergrande and other developers to continue construction projects and deal with huge debt, many Chinese families are clinging to their money and putting off buying new homes.
Mr. He is still waiting to hear about his apartment from Evergrande. Although the developer hasn’t sent him a notice of delay, he can see that construction on his building stopped several months ago, and he had to reconsider his plans to get married next May. The apartment was to be finished by the end of the year, giving it time to decorate so that the space could feature prominently in wedding celebrations.
“Now with this delayed construction,” he said, “the wedding will also be postponed.”