Is China’s Property Bubble Bursting? What recent data tells us…

What is the latest data on the China’s property market? Given the importance of housing to Chinese banks and population, almost 80 percent of people in China owned their own house, a collapse would have direct effects on all income levels in society and the world economy [1,2]. The first map below shows property price in October 2012 which includes all commercial land uses but is dominated by housing.


The east cost of China and large population centres of Chongqing and Sichuan have the most expensive property which should not be a surprise to people familiar with China. The quality of the data will be explained below [note 1] but there is a downward bias in this data as more resent land parcels sold tend to be further from central cities because that is where the undeveloped land is located [1]. These new parcels will be cheaper than central city parcels, on average, creating the downward bias in the data. So the price per meter reported may be much lower than real life. This data is more useful for the purposes of comparisons between provinces than international measures or determining real prices.

The second map below shows the change in price per square meter by month starting December 2011 to October 2012. It shows most provinces with increases in price. This would indicate prices are holding steady. So at first look the answer is no collapse in price.


In provinces that have the same boundaries their major city (Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai) we see two modest declines, and one increase. These cities have had some of the largest increase in housing price per year, over 20 percent from 2003-2011 using a more accurate measurement [1]. One could reasonably expect the collapse in price to start with cities that have experienced the largest increase. This has not been the case.

A more convincing case can be made by looking at what happened between December 2011 and October 2012. Shanghai dropped from ¥14,503 to ¥11,237 the next month but by May 2012 had gone up to ¥12,499 and was down less than 200 yuan by October. Beijing dropped from ¥16,845 to ¥13,000 the next month but by march had increase to ¥14,731 and by October reached ¥18,041 for a net gain. Tianjin started at ¥8,965 dropped slightly to ¥8,239 the next month and stayed flat at ¥8,351 in October 2012 [3]. So all three cities experienced a sharp drop at the end of 2011 but rebounded to some degree. This is the opposite of a bursting bubble. The downward bias of this data will have a much smaller effect at this time scale so the trend in the data should be reliable. This does not mean there is not a bubble or there will not be a decline but that thus far the real estate market has not behaved like western counterparts in 2008.

[Note 1] China unlike the US does not report price by land area but by zoned property area on each parcel. New homes responsible for 87 percent of sales and 64 percent of floor space. Land prices are going to be dominated by new homes particularity in fast growing cities. Repeat sales is generally considered the best measure of price change but that simply is not a practical measure in this environment. Also under reporting for tax purposes is common. Hedonic measures were used in a paper by Dang et al. showed a significant downward bias in the parcel price measure over time[1].

Note [2] The government owns almost all non-developed rural land so the supply aspect of supply-demand is not market based but the price the land is sold for has strong market forces [1,2,4]. They have not had a private land market until recently 1998 [4]. They sell use of the land for 70 years to private developers who then build and sell to citizens or companies. Home purchases of new housing also has strong market forces at work. As stated above there is an 80 percent home ownership rate in China. In recent years to stop speculation the Chinese government has limited the buying of multiple properties for investment or speculation and also increased down payments.

[1] Deng, Y, Gyourko, J, Wu, J. Land And House Price Measurement in China, NBER Working Paper Series 18403. Accessed for a fee

[2] Stein, G., Is China’s Housing Market Heading Toward a US Style Crash? Tennessee College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper Series.  Accessed

[3] Economist Intelligence Unit 2012. Accessed via the Asia reading room in the Library of Congress.


About Matthew Mulbrandon

I really like maps, as I am a geographer, and with the help of my more artistic partner I make cool maps. My focus in work and education has been centred on urban problems particularly housing and transportation. I have built and am working on several agent-based housing models. I am also interested in developing innovative ways to combat urban congestion using buses and electric kick scooters. Also it has led me to more theoretical pursuits such as how we determine if a model or methodology is sound (epistemology). How individuals relate to their social and built environment and their resulting interactions (social theory). Cities and really all our institutions are made of people with all their issues, virtues, and dreams and cannot be discounted when examining policy or predicting behaviours.

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