"The central bank's policy released last month is expected to change the current uneven house supply situation and ensure the healthy development of China's housing market," said Qin Hong, deputy director with the Policy Research Center under the Ministry of Construction.
Under the new policy, beneficial interest rates on mortgages for common commercial housing will remain, while interest rates on loans for luxury apartments, office buildings and villas could be increased in accordance with the central bank's annual loan-interest-rate guide.
People purchasing a second or subsequent house would also be required to pay a higher down payment. The current minimum down payment - 20 percent - for a first home would remain.
Mortgages would be limited to finished housing. Purchasers of unfinished homes would not qualify for a mortgage.
Central bank official Huang Mudong said the government is considering detailed measures to help low-income families, young graduates with stable incomes and farmer-turned-urban residents during the urbanization process.
"The current minimum down payment for the above groups is expected to go down and they will be easier to own their living places in cities," said Huang.
But industry insiders said the move was aimed at reducing credit risk, maintaining stability in the financial sector and dampening down an overheating real estate market.
Financing real estate is part of the core business of the commercial banks. By April 2003 they had real estate loans standing at some 1,836 billion yuan (US$222 billion) representing no less than 17 percent of their total lending. Mortgages added a further 9 percent to the banks' exposure at about 925 billion yuan (US$112 billion).
Statistics show that 61 percent of capital for real estate comes from the banks. During the development phase, it would be typical for some 20 to 30 percent of start up capital to be borrowed by the developer. Then there are the loans for the 30 to 40 percent of total expenditure that needs to be set aside for the costs of construction.
Even after the developer has sold on the units and repaid these loans the banks will still be heavily involved for the long term as at least half of all house-buyers will have taken out a mortgage.
Huang said central bank intervention will directly curb the surge in real estate borrowing and so address the problems of overheating in some cities. It will also serve to strengthen a banking sector that now finds itself with no choice but to improve the quality of its lending and reduce its exposure to bad debts.
(China Daily July 3, 2003)