In China’s Chongqing, high-rises buck property slowdown

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The Raffles City Chongqing in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality. AFP

(AFP) – In many Chinese cities, government restrictions have cooled formerly feverish property markets, but in the southwestern city of Chongqing, construction is booming and sales soaring as investors rush in.

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The most audacious evidence is one of the newest additions to the city’s skyline, a mega project of eight futuristic high-rises, six of which are connected by a vertiginous skybridge.

The behemoth Raffles City Chongqing looms over a bend in the Jialing river, where its dark-green waters meet the muddy currents of the Yangtze.

The 73-storey towers, part of a project built at a cost of $4.8 billion, are unmistakeable proof that a slowdown which has seen sales slump nationwide has not taken hold in Chongqing.

In recent years, Beijing has banned capital flight, curbing investments in foreign projects like a luxury development built by Chinese developers in Malaysia.

And authorities have tightened regulations in the country’s main cities, requiring buyers to show proof of residence before purchasing homes.

Those rules have benefitted places like Chongqing, a key logistics staging point in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The city is China’s largest market in terms of area of residential apartments sold: some 31.23 million square metres (336 million square feet) of new homes were sold in 2018, with sales of new homes jumping 64.3 percent in March, compared to a 0.6 percent drop nationally.

And the sales came despite Chongqing’s economy losing steam after years of double-digit growth, with its gross domestic product growing just 5.3 percent in 2018 – well below the national pace.

The scale of construction has been so rapid that prices have begun to drop as supply stacks up, but the lower prices are helping attract buyers.

“Chongqing is now at a point where there is an abundance of supply and it’s in a phase of market correction,” said Andrew Deng, managing director for western China at property consultancy CBRE.

“It’s a buyer’s market and many are taking advantage of that,” he added.

Prices for a 98-square-metre one-bedroom unit at Raffles City starts at $4 million yuan ($580,000), and developers say three-quarters of the project’s 1,400 residential units have been sold.

Potential buyers reportedly including diplomatic missions, as well as tech and finance firms.

But for many locals, whose average monthly salary in 2016 was 6,100 yuan ($880), properties like Raffles City represent another out-of-reach part of the cityscape.

“I suppose there will be some influence on the housing price nearby, which will probably go up,” said local Wang Mingjun.

He noted that traditional porters working the docks in the area had been cleared out during the property’s development

“Some people consider that it’s too modern and it will damage the traditional dock culture,” he added.

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