'If I Talk About Housing Any More, I Will Cry'

The human face of China's housing bubble.
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A tricycle drives past an large advertisement board of a new apartment complex at a new residential town in Beijing on February 27, 2013. (Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)

As Chinese authorities try-and repeatedly fail-to cool off the nation's red-hot real estate market, the real-world impact of high housing prices is being keenly felt in the nation's capital, Beijing. In a recent viral post on Douban, a Chinese social media platform featuring discussion of books, music, and movies popular among the country's young intelligentsia, user @斯弥的日记 explained exactly how. Tea Leaf Nation translates the post in full, with the user's permission. Please enjoy.

If I Talk About Housing Any More, I Will Cry

It was around the weekend of March 2. Wood and I looked at the real estate agency company's bulletin board downstairs, and realized that the price of our apartment had already risen to 40,000-50,000 RMB [between about US$6,400 and US$8,000] per square meter.

I said to Wood: whatever you do, don't tell the landlord.

Who'd have guessed: the following Monday, we received an email from the landlord. She wanted to sell the house and would come back from abroad to do the paperwork.

Our apartment was relatively cheap when we rented it - 3,300 RMB [about US$530] per month, not including water, electricity, or Internet. It's about 63 square meters [one square meter is about 10.8 square feet]. The only complaint we had about this place is the lack of parking space. We spend a lot of time wandering around the residential unit, finally squeezing the car into any nook or cranny. The light scratches on the car surface as a consequence no longer bother us.

After that, Wood and I have been looking for a new place whenever we have time. All the other similar options are over 5,000 RMB/month, though.

And then there's this "five point plan" thing [referring to a Chinese State Council plan released in February aimed at reducing real estate speculation]. Day and night, the real estate agency's LED screen runs red slogans like "interpreting the five point plan" and "efficient ownership transfer." We've seen a lot more people going in and out of the agency since then.

Housing prices haven't come down, and the rising tide is lifting rental prices alongside it. Apartments in the same residential unit with way worse interior conditions than ours have their price set at 4,600 RMB per month, minimum. It makes sense, though: without notice, the selling price of our residential unit has been raised to 53,000 RMB per square meter. A nearby unit within a 10 minute walk costs almost 100,000 RMB [about US$16,000] per square meter.

Looking back at the house people were talking about in the Wanliu neighborhood -- 8 million RMB for over 140 square meters [or about US$1.3 million for 1,500 square feet] -- I no longer find it expensive.

It's said that the magic of Beijing's real estate market is that regardless of when you enter, you always think you've seen its peak. But within two or three years, you've turned a profit.

Jan Cao is a contributor to Tea Leaf Nation.

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