Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dream home out of reach

Housewives elbowing and shoving each other at property showrooms, street protests by people bearing mock snail shells, and young couples ending up in ‘naked marriages’ for lack of a house to call their own.

Housing prices are going up and up in places like Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong and Sydney. While developers, property investors and speculators are enjoying the boom, there is a dark side to this: growing frustration and unrest among those at the losing end.

In China, property fever among its 1.3 billion people has led to social lines being redrawn, based on whether you are a home owner – or not.

A popular online quiz taps into this national obsession by asking netizens to pick which tribe of fang nu – ‘housing slave’ – they belong to.

If you are a die-hard buyer willing to cough up for a place regardless of how ridiculous the price, you belong to the gang xu, or ‘rigid demand’ faction. If you are a fresh graduate forced to live in slums on the outskirts of cities like Shanghai, your place is with the ‘ant tribe’.

If you break with tradition and enter marriage without a set of keys to your own house, you have joined the growing band of young Chinese with ‘naked marriages’.

Those unable to afford to rent a bigger place – let alone buy one – may end up as a ding ke – the Chinese translation of Dink, which stands for ‘Double Income No Kids’. Then there is the ‘container villager’ who finds shelter in converted shipping containers.

‘Nowadays, people don’t judge you by your qualifications or how much you earn, but by whether you rent or buy a property. They look at you differently if you’re in your 20s and are able to buy a home,’ said Mr Xu Xiaoguang, 28.

He had a ‘naked wedding’ last month much to the disappointment of his in-laws. ‘I sometimes think I may have to end up as a ding ke, which will be the ultimate disappointment for the elders,’ he said.

China is now ranked as the world’s largest property market after massive loans from stimulus measures in the past year pushed up property sales by 75 per cent to 4.4 trillion yuan (S$896 billion).

Property prices in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have hit record highs. As a result, buyers have got into brawls at new property launches in their frenzy to book units.

A similar scramble is occurring in Hong Kong. On a recent March weekend, thousands of would-be buyers jammed a shopping mall and fought over medium-sized flats in Tai Wai’s Festival City, costing up to HK$12 million (S$2.1 million) each. Developer Cheung Kong pocketed over HK$3 billion from the sale of 300-plus units in just over four hours.

The market bull run started early last year, with home prices surging by 30 per cent for the year. Mr Wong Leung Sing, head of research at Centaline Property Agency, predicts that house prices could hit 1997 peaks by year end. Those at the luxury end of the market have already exceeded that.

As prices spike, so has simmering anger. Questions have been raised about rip-offs by developers, price manipulation and inadequate government action. Accusing fingers are pointed at speculators too.

In Taipei, frustration has erupted into public protest by a group known as the Snails Without Shells Alliance. Housing looks set to be an election issue in mayoral elections later this year.

Rising prices in Taiwan is partly fuelled by ‘the biggest cut in taxes, the longest period of low interest rates and the largest amount of hot money’, said Professor Chuang Meng-han from Tamkang University.

The Taiwan government has announced plans for more affordable housing and suspended land sales to cool the market. The Central Bank has also tightened lending.

In Australia, a booming economy, high immigration numbers, rising interest rates and failure in government planning are some of the reasons cited for pricing young people out of the housing market. With an election looming, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on April 3 a new portfolio, Minister for Population, tasked with looking into the ‘adequacy of housing supply’, among other things.

As for Hong Kong, public pressure is mounting to revive the Home Ownership Scheme that provides subsidised housing.

Beijing has offered to build five million more houses for the poor.

But for the millions more ‘housing slaves’, black humour is their only consolation for now.

Housing Minister Jiang Weixin recently asserted: ‘We can stabilise housing prices. President Hu Jintao has said so, so how could we not do so…Even if we can’t, we can.’ His statement was swiftly lampooned by netizens who suggested a new slogan for the Communist Party: ‘Yes, we can, even if we cannot’ – one up on US President Barack Obama’s catchy campaign slogan ‘Yes we can’.

Source: Sunday Times, 11 Apr 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment