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Limited impact seen for property registry

Zheng Yangpeng
Updated: Dec 23,2014 10:00 AM     China Daily

Workers demolish an old building in Nantong, Jiangsu province. Provisional rules for a unified national property registry were released on Dec 22, ending a system overseen by various agencies.[Photo by Xu Congjun/China Daily]

Long-awaited provisional rules for a unified national property registry were released on Dec 22, but analysts said that the market impact will be limited for now.

The regulations give the Ministry of Land and Resources a mandate to guide and supervise real estate registration work nationwide, ending a patchwork system overseen by various agencies.

Every government jurisdiction that is at or above the county level is supposed to establish a special agency to be responsible for real estate registration.

A “unified information platform” will be established and begin trial operations in July, and it will become fully operational by 2017, said Wang Guanghua, an official with the Ministry of Land and Resources, who is in charge of the matter.

By that point, real estate approvals, transactions and registration information will be shared among different agencies, eliminating the previously “isolated information islands”.

Ownership, exploitation and operating rights are to be registered for seven major types of real estate, including farmland, apartments, forests, fields and maritime areas.

The regulations will be effective from March 1.

The development of the regulations has been in the spotlight, with the public and some media outlets speculating that anti-corruption efforts and a drive to levy taxes would be major goals of the move.

Originally, the regulations were to have been announced in June, but they were delayed by a number of issues.

The government made several statements, reiterating that the move has nothing to do with anti-corruption efforts.

Sun Xianzhong, a law researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the top government think tank, said that the regulations are in a “totally different arena” with those laws that guarantee the transparency of officials’ assets. The information in the property registry will only be available to people who have a direct interest in a real estate deal, instead of everyone.

Cheng Xiao, a law professor with Tsinghua University who helped draw up the regulations, said that the major objective is to clarify property rights, because clear property rights are the bedrock of the efficient functioning of a market economy.

The clarity of “who owns what” is critical for enabling market deals and ensuring the security of transactions, Cheng said. There have been many cases in which a buyer found that their newly purchased house did not belong to those who sold it, or the unit had been sealed by the public security bureau.

“Unified real estate registration is an ‘infrastructure project’. It can facilitate anti-corruption and tax collection efforts. But that’s an incidental function, not the original purpose,” Cheng said.

There is still much to be done before the registry can be relied upon to identify corrupt officials, analysts said.

Gu Yunchang, a property policy adviser with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said that even though the registration lays the foundation for imposing property tax, it will take several years to complete the registration process, so the effect will fall short of public expectations.

“It is too early to talk about the impact. Actually, other factors have a greater impact on home prices, including demand and supply, taxation and overall economic conditions,” Gu said.

However, Guo Yi, chief marketing officer of Yahao Real Estate Selling and Consulting Solution Agency, said that in the short term, the regulations may have some impact on high-end, pre-owned apartments, because owners unload them under pressure.

The increase in supply would rein in the rise of pre-owned home prices.