There were 4.7 billion square metres of housing under construction but not yet available for sale at the end of last year, up by 25% from the end of 2011; 452 million square metres of housing were on sale, nearly three times as much as at the end of 2011. Some provinces and cities are drafting plans to convert unsold homes into subsidised housing for poorer residents. Xi Jinping, China’s president, has said that reducing property inventory is a “battle of annihilation” that must be won to revitalise the economy. Revived demand for new construction, in short, is a long way off.
The exception is sure to be China’s biggest cities, where there clearly is an imbalance between supply and demand. Shenzhen and Shanghai, in particular, are popular with the young and the highly educated, just the kinds of people that push up housing prices. They are two of China’s best-run cities, offering good transport links, good jobs and, by Chinese standards, good air. Unsold housing inventories cover just about five months of demand at the current pace of sales, indicating that more construction is needed.