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Realtors abandoning China's resort island as sales plunge


Hong Kong

TOUGH measures to cool the property market in China's resort island of Hainan have put the brakes on a real estate boom and underscore the policy risks developers and investors face as the government tries to rein in prices.

Home prices in Hainan, known for its resort-lined beaches, recorded China's second-fastest monthly price increase in April, spurred by Beijing's commitment to promote the island province as a tourism hub and free trade zone.

But new measures in April restricting non-residents from buying homes on the island, where non-locals normally comprise about 80 per cent of purchases, have caused sales to plunge.

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Home transactions in Hainan in terms of area fell 14 per cent in May compared with April, and were down 41 per cent from a year ago, according to the real estate research firm CRIC. Official home price data for May is due to be released on Friday.

The slide comes as the State Council maps out plans to transform Hainan into China's largest free trade zone and upgrade its core industries to include not only tourism, but also modern services and high technology.

China has been imposing controls across the country to rein in rocketing property prices, often fuelled by speculators.

The tough new measures in Hainan came after prices jumped by more than 50 per cent in some developments after Beijing announced the creation of the free trade zone in mid-April.

"A free trade zone provides good prospects to the long-term economy so our clients are very positive about it," said Andy Lee, chief executive with Centaline South China, a realtor. "The irony is, even though they are positive they can't buy any properties."

Property agents on the resort island are now packing their bags as they seek greener pastures in other provinces.

Li Xuelong, a Hainan property agent, said a number of colleagues had left the island in the past month, while many clients had cancelled purchases after authorities introduced what they described as China's "most stringent tightening measures".

"Many of my colleagues have moved to Guangxi and Yunnan to look for business opportunities," he said, referring to two provinces nearby that are also popular with tourists.

The cooling property market could have a ripple effect on tourism projects in the resort province, industry watchers said. REUTERS