Newly married and with his first child on the way, Wang, a street car worker, wanted to move into the apartment he bought in Wuhan three years ago, but those hopes were dashed by China’s ballooning property crisis.
Burdened with $300,000 in debt and a room that couldn’t be finished, the 34-year-old decided he’d had enough and stopped making loan payments.
He is among dozens of homebuyers in dozens of cities across China who have withheld payments, fearing their properties will not be completed by cash-strapped and debt-laden developers.
“They said construction will resume soon,” Wang told Agence France-Presse, who gave his name only. But not a single worker came.
Beijing-based Wang plans to start a family after buying the house.
“It was not easy for us to buy this house. It all came from my savings,” Wang said.
“Now there is no house, and we still owe two million yuan ($300,000) in loans.”
After years of booming growth thanks to easy access to credit, Chinese authorities began cracking down on excessive debt in 2020.
That has squeezed financing options for property giants like Evergrande as they struggle to make payments and restructure mountains of debt.
Now they are facing foreclosures and government pressure to surrender homes that have been sold.
In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, buyers like Wang said they received multiple extension notices on their apartments from developer Mayhome Real Estate, months past the promised delivery date of late 2021.
Builder said in this week’s announcement that he was able to release some of the frozen funds. It is expected to complete the Wuhan project by the end of 2022.
Wang said he stopped the payments this month and that the complaint against officials in the city did not make a difference.
“There is no hope in life by making such payments.”
“Our hearts are cold.”
The “crisis of confidence” in China’s housing market points to structural flaws, Andrew Batson of Gavecal Dragonometrics said in a recent report.
Due to their heavy reliance on pre-selling apartments, developers follow business models that expose buyers to the risk of not getting their homes, he said.
As financially strapped firms halt construction on projects, “these risks have become incredibly real.”
The crisis has discouraged home buyers.
“I thought this would never happen,” said Hu, the owner of the Wuhan home, of his unfinished home.
The 25-year-old said his family took out a loan to help make a down payment on a three-bedroom apartment in 2018.
At the time, Wuhan was encouraging college graduates like Hu to take up residence in the city, he said.
Known as “hukou”, these vital government registrations allow access to health care and schools.
“Everybody was buying back then… people were racing,” he said.
Shue, another young home buyer, now spends almost all of his salary on rent and mortgage payments.
“I don’t want to pay more,” said the 24-year-old. “Our hearts are cold.”
“Not to ignore the law or contracts, but this situation puts us under a lot of pressure.”
When he took out a 600,000 yuan loan that he had been paying for two years, Shue’s family put down 800,000 yuan for an apartment.
Buyers in the city of Wuhan told AFP that there had been protests against completed pre-sold houses in the city.
A vicious cycle
Homebuyers in 100 cities — involving more than 300 housing projects — withheld mortgage payments, according to a crowded document titled “WeNeedHome.”
Many are located in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province, where officials have set up a fund to help developers complete projects.
Other affected cities include Chongqing and Changsha.
Allegations of financial mismanagement have also been raised, with some cities calling on banks to tighten controls on fraudulent accounts, local media reported.
Nomura analysts estimate that Chinese developers will deliver only about 60 percent of pre-sold homes between 2013 and 2020.
In those years, China’s high-quality loans rose by 26.3 trillion yuan, Nomura added.
The property sector’s woes were thrown into sharp relief last year when it emerged that Evergrande was struggling to pay its creditors, sparking fears that the industry, which accounts for a quarter of China’s GDP, was on the brink of collapse.
Oxford Economics’ chief economist Tommy Wu said in the report that homebuyers’ ability to repay their loans was not the main issue.
But a lack of confidence in developers will exacerbate the real estate slump, he said.
“Falling home sales and prices, increasing developer anxiety and shrinking local government finances — the potential for a vicious cycle is worrisome.”