China cracks down on fake divorces that let people buy more properties

Most Chinese cities limit home-buying demand by capping the number of properties a family can own. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - A resurgence in real estate prices in Shanghai and Shenzhen has prompted the authorities to rein in speculation, in line with the Chinese government's resolve to keep the property market in check.

Shanghai officials unveiled policies late on Thursday (Jan 21) to cool the local market, including a measure designed to plug a loophole long exploited by buyers using fake divorces to become eligible to purchase more properties or obtain mortgages. The city will also levy a tax on sales of houses purchased within five years, up from the previous two-year barrier.

This is "aimed at resolutely enforcing the decisions of the central committee of the Party" and "firmly upholding the policy stance that 'houses are for inhabiting, not for speculation'", the Shanghai municipal government said in a statement, referring to President Xi Jinping's vow first made in 2017 to boost housing affordability.

With the new policy, Shanghai follows big cities, including Shenzhen and Hangzhou, to crack down on housing speculation via fake divorces since 2018, said KE Holdings property analyst Pan Hao.

As most Chinese cities limit home-buying demand by capping the number of properties a family can own, divorce becomes a way to bypass the restriction. In Shanghai, local families are allowed to own two homes. Under the new rule, the number of homes owned by people who have been divorced for less than three years will be counted, based on the total they had when they were still married.

The government of the southern boomtown of Shenzhen also moved to tighten home-purchase rules this month, according to local media reports. With the cost of an apartment equal to 43.5 times a resident's average annual salary, Shenzhen's housing affordability is little better than Hong Kong, the worst among 80 megacities, according to E-House (China) Enterprise Holdings, a real estate firm.

Chinese authorities are determined to control housing risks after monetary easing spurred a rebound in the residential market. The central bank capped loans for the real estate sector earlier this month for the first time.

Existing-home prices of certain popular projects in Shanghai surged more than 30 per cent last year, according to China Real Estate Information Corp. Sales of existing homes in the city almost doubled last month from a year earlier, based on sq m volume, according to KE Holdings.

The new rules in Shanghai add to the tightening of city's already strict home-buying requirements. In 2016, it raised the down-payment threshold to as high as 70 per cent of a residential property's value to cool demand.

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