Walking out of a sales office with color-printed floor plans in her hands and images of the fancy prototype room in her head, Wang Wei finishes her fifth house-viewing tour this month.
Outside office building in the southern suburbs of Beijing, the 29-year-old retail business employee says the right time for her to buy a house may have finally arrived.
Potential buyers like Wang in China are once again weighing their options as home prices keep slumping due to government measures designed to regulate the property sector.
"House prices have been dropping this year, so I'm thinking maybe we can afford a two-bedroom apartment around here now," Wang says.
Chinese home-hunters have become used to biding their time to figure out market trends since house prices soared a few years ago. Now, with prices sagging, they find themselves again constantly weighing their choices between buying and waiting.
Of a statistical pool of 70 major Chinese cities, 38 saw new home prices decline in March from a year earlier, compared with 27 cities in February, the National Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday. The figure was the highest since September 2011.
Meanwhile, some cities reported more active transactions in March, which analysts say was partly attributable to price falls.
In Beijing, the number of second-hand homes traded surged 98 percent in March from February and that of new homes rose 23.6 percent, according to statistics from Beijing-based Century 21 China Real Estate. The growth was 64 percent and 87.6 percent, respectively, in Shanghai.
Su Ri, an analyst with Century 21, believes price reductions attracted some buyers but it was just a short-term rebound.
As developers and home sellers scale back discounts over the rising demand, transactions will recede and prices will keep fluctuating slightly in the coming few months, he says.
Market ups and downs have thrown house seekers into a game of evaluating which risk is bigger: buy now and watch house values shrink in future, or wait and miss the bottom of a curve in prices?
"Our customer feedback shows consumers are becoming more uncertain and more people prefer to wait and see how the wind blows," Su explains.
Driven by rapid urbanization and speculation, China's property market sizzled before taking a blow from the global financial crisis in 2009. House prices rebounded in 2010 over economic stimulus policies but that movement has slowed since last year as a result of harsh government controls.
Those who missed the chance of buying low in 2009, either for misjudgment or lack of cash, still sigh with regret.
"The price of new homes nearby was 8,000-9,000 yuan (1,270- 1,429 U.S. dollars) per square meter in 2008, but my husband and I had just graduated and had no money for the down payment," Wang says, referring to a district by Beijing's southern 5th ring road.
"Last year, the prices almost doubled to 17,000-18,000 yuan per square meter, even over 20,000 yuan. Now, they have dipped a little, and we figure we can accept anywhere below 15,000 yuan," says Wang, exchanging a smile with her mother, who accompanies her to the sales office.
Wang's parents plan to contribute their savings for half of the new apartment's down payment, which will account for 30 percent of the total price. Wang has a maximum budget of 1.2 million yuan, about 10 times the couple's combined annual salary.
Chinese value home ownership as a necessity for a newly established family. When house prices are out of reach for young couples, parents often come to help with their life savings.
Wang has a younger brother who also works in Beijing. Xiu Beichu, their mother, says she will also support the son's house purchase if he gets married.
"That's a Chinese tradition. We're parents. We have to take care of them," Xiu says.
Two years have passed since Chinese policy makers initiated a series of measures to tackle growing complaints about runaway house prices in 2010. Authorities tightened lending, raised down payments, imposed purchase restrictions and started building millions of low-income housing units.
But the government faces challenges in persisting with the controls. Property accounts for about a fifth of China's fixed-asset investment, which is a major engine for the world's second-biggest economy.
Flagging exports and restrictions on the property sector pared China's economic growth to 8.1 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace in almost three years.
While some like Wang have the guts to empty their bank accounts now, many others hold firmly to the belief that government controls will press prices lower.
Only 14.1 percent of residents surveyed in the first quarter of this year intended to buy houses in the next three months, the same as the previous quarter and the lowest level since 1999, according to a central bank report released last month.
One investment banking employee told Xinhua he considers current house prices still "unreasonably high" compared with residents' income.
With an annual after-tax income of 1 million yuan, the source -- who would only supply his surname, Ai -- dreams of a 150 square-meter apartment in the central business district of downtown Beijing. He has saved 2 million yuan, only enough for the down payment.
"I'll wait and see. I hope it will come down a little bit," Ai says. "There must be room for more downward adjustment."
Su says the wait-and-see attitude is growing in some cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, where his real estate agency recorded more customer visits to on-sale houses but a lower transaction volume in the past few weeks of this month compared with the same period in March.
Many are betting on the words of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who vowed in March to continue his government's property curbs without wavering this year to bring prices back to "reasonable levels."
Analysts do not expect the property controls to ease this year, but their views diverge on the longer-term outlook for house prices. Some worry they will rebound once restrictions are lifted to support the economy, while others argue an aging society will sap demand.
Property controls won't last long if local governments can't find alternative revenue sources to land sales and development, but an aging society may reduce real estate demand a decade later, Su says.
For Wang Wei, who is planning to have her first baby, buying a house now is her best bet. She believes prices are unlikely to return to the 2008 level soon and that owning a house of her own will save the increasing rental expenditure and the trouble of moving regularly.
"We did think of the possibility that the prices may go down further," Wang says. "But we really need a house, now."