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Friday, January 28, 2011

China's first property taxes kick in

China's long-awaited first property taxes took effect on Friday in Shanghai and the mega-city of Chongqing in the southwest, as the country tries to reform its booming real estate market.

People buying higher-end second homes in Shanghai, China's wealthiest city, and Chongqing, home to 30 million people and the country's fastest-growing municipality, now have to pay a 0.4-1.2 percent annual tax, officials said.

But Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan said the pilot tax programmes were not aimed at clipping the soaring real estate prices that are a top consumer concern across the country.

"People will ask if I think the real estate tax will definitely bring property prices down.... No one believes the property tax will hit the nail on the head and bring prices down," Huang told a news conference late Thursday.

He estimated the tax would generate 150 million yuan ($22.8 million) in revenue for the municipal government this year, according to an official transcript, although state media cited him as saying 200 million yuan.Michael Klibaner, head of China research for property company Jones Lang LaSalle, said the ultimate aim of the tax was not to rein in prices, but rather to prevent hoarding of properties, a pressing problem in recent months.

"Previously there was very little holding cost for residential property because many people paid 100 percent cash for these properties.

Now the holding cost is no longer zero," Klibaner told AFP.

"When the holding cost is zero, it's very easy to let these homes sit idle.

It doesn't cost you anything to let them sit there. It's like gold," he said. "Now there's a holding cost -- the hope is it will change the way people perceive real estate as an asset class.

"The two cities announced different tax pilot projects almost immediately after the State Council, China's cabinet, said it had approved the trials on Thursday.Shanghai announced a flat 0.6 percent tax on new second homes that are double the average market price.

New second homes costing less will be subject to a 0.4 percent tax.Chongqing introduced a progressive tax ranging from 0.5 percent for homes that are double the market average price and rising to a maximum of 1.2 percent depending on the value of the home.

The finance ministry said that if conditions were right, the property tax would be expanded to the rest of the country.

Property prices in China's major cities posted their fourth straight month-on-month rise in December and sales picked up pace, according to the latest government figures.Prices in 70 major cities were up 0.3 percent last month from November and were 6.4 percent higher than a year ago.

The annualised surge peaked in April, when prices soared 12.8 percent, but growth has since slowed.But prices have remained stubbornly high, despite a range of government measures such as hiking minimum down-payments on property transactions to at least 30 percent in a bid to avoid a damaging price bubble.


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