Property in China is obviously a topic of intense interest and debate. But from the foreigner’s perspective, it sometimes seems that it seems more to do with the macroeconomic effects (is there a bubble? why are prices so craaaaaazy? what moves are the government making to dampen demand?) than the nuts-and-bolts details of home ownership, mortgages and renovation. Maybe it’s just me and the blogs I read? But going by the English language media I see here in China, perhaps not. Buying property here does not seem a common or popular thing for foreigners to do: either you stay a few years, renting a flat, and then head home (perhaps taking a husband or wife with you), or you stay and settle down with a wife or husband and buy a place in her/his name. Either way, there’s not too much about the process. Which is odd, as I say, given the extreme importance of owning property, both in terms of investment and in being suitable for marriage.

Now, fortunately, there is a book elucidating precisely this topic. Christopher  Dillon, who had previously written about the process of buying accommodation in Hong Kong (Landed Hong Kong) and Japan (Landed Japan), extends his series with Landed China. The book is not an treatise on the property sector in China, nor an academic analysis of the construction sector – it is a valuable buyer’s guide to purchasing accommodation in China, with all the risks, processes, legal framework, financing options, renovation possibilities and overview of the largest and most popular city’s for foreigners. As such, the information is real grassroots, nickel-and-dime, street level advice.

Landed China is not just tips on buying door handles, or the percentage required for stamp duty (though it does address both). It opens with a historical overview of the housing market in China, which itself is fascinating, though I would have like this to have been both longer and deeper, before going on to examine current market dynamics, bubble concerns and demographics which will shape the future market. Dillon then goes on to the meat of the book: the “Your New Home” and “Finance” sections. The former examines the process of buying property, advises on what and where to buy, gives good advice on renovations (almost all new apartments being sold as empty concrete shells), and then gives a long, useful but rather worrying section on risks. While buying property here is possible, that does not mean it is easy, with scams coming left, right and center, and the buyer suffering from severe information poverty in comparison to developers, agents and banks. If that doesn’t have you running screaming from the very idea of buying a place here, this might well be the most useful section. The “Finance” section is similarly helpful, working to illuminate the deliberate bureaucratic murk in which Chinese institutions prefer to operate. Again, it might put off many, but for those brave souls who persevere, the section will be very useful. But be prepared to spend considerable checking that you have the right documents.

Closing with a guide to the property market in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and then a list of resources from a list of property developers to sample contracts, Landed China is chockful of helpful tips and sound advice for anyone brave or rich enough to buy property in China.

Published in Agenda Beijing

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