BEIJING, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Home prices in major Chinese cities largely remained stable in May as local governments toughened up restrictions to prevent speculation, official data showed Friday.
On a yearly basis, new residential housing prices in four first-tier cities declined 0.6 percent from a year ago last month, the fourth straight decline, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in a statement. Prices of existing homes dropped for three consecutive months at 0.2 percent.
Meanwhile, home prices in 35 third-tier cities were cooler. There was a slowdown in price growth for four months in a row in new houses, and for 10 months in existing ones.
"The majority of cities saw an ongoing year-on-year downturn or deceleration of growth in home prices," NBS senior statistician Liu Jianwei said. The statistics authority tracks the property markets of 70 major cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
Liu noted new home prices declined year on year in eight of the 15 "hotspot" cities, where speculative home purchases are specifically monitored, with the biggest price drop of 2.8 percent last month, while seven other cities posted growth.
Bucking the trend, 31 second-tier cities witnessed faster home price increases.
During previous years, rocketing housing prices, especially in major cities, had fueled concerns about asset bubbles. To curb speculation, local governments passed or expanded their restrictions on house purchases and increased the minimum downpayment required for a mortgage.
With a flurry of property market controls, authorities have demonstrated their will to keep a lid on housing prices. Over 40 cities unveiled a total of 50 property market regulations in May, a monthly record for frequency, according to the latest statistics from Centaline Property.
An array of measures were rolled out, such as a lottery-like registration system for buying homes and support for rental housing.
Local governments should stick to real estate market management goals and not loosen regulatory measures, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the country's top property regulator, said in a statement last month.
The measures have so far been effective. Apart from tame price changes, property development investment has also cooled down, expanding 10.2 percent year on year in the first five months of this year, slightly slower than 10.3 percent in the January-April period.
But analysts still warned of surging home sales in smaller cities where governments are rebuilding shanty towns to improve people's living standards. Migrant workers were also encouraged to settle down in smaller cities instead of metropolises, which contributed to increasing home purchases.
Bank of Communications said in a report that land sales also have become vigorous in small cities as more developers that used to focus on core urban regions have started to shift their strategies.
The government is working on a long-term mechanism for property regulation that will ensure sustainable and stable development of the real estate market, or simply put a basket of policies ranging from home-leasing and affordable housing to a new tax on home ownership.
This year's government work report reiterated that "houses are for living in, not for speculation."
"China will not waver in its efforts to implement property market regulation and will maintain continuity and stability of policies in 2018," said Wang Menghui, minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.