Chinese women enter property market

By Li Xuanmin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/10 17:44:37

Young female homeowners seek security in real estate, not marriage

A woman check outs home sales planning in Ganzhou, East China's Jiangxi Province. Photo: VCG

Inset: A female buyer looks at a home model. File Photo: VCG

When Zhou Zhenzhen (pseudonym), a 20-something white-collar worker in Beijing, broke up with her ex-boyfriend two years ago, she bought an 87-square-meter apartment in Beijing's Chaoyang district for around 5 million yuan ($744,524).  

"Owning a house gives me such a strong sense of security… it is even more reliable than having a boyfriend," Zhou, who graduated from a well-known UK university in 2014 and has been working at a financial institution for five years, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"A man can easily disappoint you, but a house will never let you down. It will, at least, hedge against economic risks and preserve your fortune," Zhou said. 

Zhou remains single, but she said she is not afraid to begin or end a relationship, and she doesn't fear staying unmarried. 

"This is because I know that I don't need to count on a man for financial support to buy an apartment or afford living expenses. I'm financially independent and marriage is not a necessity," Zhou explained. 

Across China, more white-collar women like Zhou are buying property before marriage, a departure from the Chinese convention in which the man provides an apartment after getting married. Observers said the trend mirrors the rising social and economic status of Chinese women who pursue independence and personal fulfillment. 

Last year, about 47.9 percent of homebuyers were female, according to a report issued recently by Beike, a Chinese real estate platform. In 2014, women only accounted for 30 percent of homebuyers.

The report also showed that about 47 percent of single women over the age of 30 have bought apartments. 

The results were based on 67,724 second-hand home transactions in 12 major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen on Beike's platform in 2018. 

Song Ding, a research fellow at the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, told the Global Times on Monday that the soaring percentage of female homebuyers "is a normal and concomitant social phenomenon as China further opens up and its economy develops in a healthy way, which empowers modern Chinese women to upgrade their views on consumption and perceptions of wealth." 

Women's rising incomes 

Zheng Duoduo, a Beijing-based real estate broker at property agency Maitian, has also noticed the growing role Chinese women play in buying property in the past two years.

"I could obviously see that more single women were looking at properties last year, with some accompanied by their parents. It was about a 30-percent year-on-year increase from 2017," Zheng told the Global Times on Tuesday.

According to a report issued by Maitian in November, women accounted for 52 percent of the singles who bought apartments, while men only represented 48 percent. 

As such, women could potentially help shape the future of the real estate industry as more property developers have shifted to cater to their preferences, the industry insider said. 

According to Zheng, young women do not care much about the size of an apartment, but instead focus on interior design, whether the apartment has a cloakroom and good views, and proximity to transportation when making a decision.

The large dressing space at her apartment in Beijing's Chaoyang district was a major selling point for one young resident of the Chinese capital. 

The 27-year-old, surnamed Li, bought the 115-square-meter apartment in 2015 with financial support from her parents for the down payment. She now pays 7,000 yuan a month for the mortgage, which is less than one third of her monthly income and "barely creates any financial burden," the young homeowner said. The average monthly salary of employees in Beijing is about 10,670 yuan, according to a report issued by online job website 

In 2019, about 24.7 percent of working women purchased their first homes independently, up 12 percent from 2018, according to a report jointly issued by and Anjuke in March. 

The rising economic strength of Chinese women like Li has laid the foundation for their decision to buy property. For decades, it was often regarded as a Chinese man's responsibility to buy a home when a couple gets married, as men used to earn more. "It was traditionally said that Chinese women, due to their lack of income, had to pin their hopes of living a good life on finding a wealthy husband," Song explained.

But with the increasing female labor participation rate, the norm has changed—illustrated not only by female homebuyers like Li and Zhou but also the millions of well-educated Chinese women who have taken high-paid jobs typically held by men in sectors such as finance, securities and the internet.

China now has one of the Asia-Pacific's highest labor force participation rates for women. As of the end of 2017, women accounted for 43.5 percent of China's total workforce, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Meanwhile, urban female workers reached 65.45 million in 2017, up 16.84 million from 2010. 

Preparing for the future

For financially independent young women like Zhou and Li, buying a home is more than having a place to live. 

"I have made a smart decision with my money…. As long as I live a quality life, I could dedicate myself to developing my career. It is also a fixed-asset investment tool to expand my wealth," Li told the Global Times on Tuesday. In China, property represents 78 percent of a family's wealth, according to China Newsweek's report in April.  

The value of Li's apartment has doubled so far, pushing her wealth above 10 million yuan now, while data from the NBS showed that China has had an inflation rate of about 7 percent in the past four years. 

Li, who now has a boyfriend and plans to get married in the next few years, also equates home ownership with a sense of security. "I'm preparing for future risks associated with marriage. What if I quarrel with my husband after getting married? At least I could walk out of his home, tell him that I cannot stay with him anymore and return to my own apartment," Li explained.

Home ownership can also prepare unmarried women for worst-case scenarios, analysts pointed out. 

In 2011, China issued a judicial guidance that stipulated that real estate should not be divided between spouses after divorce and should remain the property of the person whose name is on the deed. Some believed the regulation gave an advantage to men, because in Chinese convention, men provide a house for marriage while women pay for the cost of decoration, electric appliances and furniture. 

"Buying a home in fact guarantees your future married life," Zhou noted. 

Dwindling marriage rate 

However, the growing number of female homebuyers who are independent and career-oriented also comes against the backdrop of a dwindling marriage rate, which has been declining for five years in a row. 

In 2018, the marriage rate hit a five-year low of 7.2 per 1,000 people, down from 9.9 per 1,000 in 2013, according to data from the NBS and the Ministry of Civil Affairs

Li Jing, 29, a Beijing employee at a prestigious foreign firm, at first thought that having an apartment would make her more appealing to potential marriage partners in the dating market when she bought a flat last year in Beijing's Haidian district. 

But Li found that was not the case. 

"Some men said that they feel pressured when dating a woman who owns her own property. They worried that they couldn't live up to my expectations and preferred someone who would listen to their opinion and is easier to control," Li Jing told the Global Times on Monday. 

But Li did not regret her decision. "I'm not in a rush to marry someone and prefer to wait until my soul mate shows up," she said. And whenever she's anxious, knowing she owns her own home soothes her nerves. 

The attitude of young Chinese women toward marriage is also changing, with more choosing to marry later or forego a family altogether.

On China's Twitter-like Weibo, posts declaring, "I'd rather live a high-quality single life than a low-quality married life" have become popular among young women. 

Song, the analyst, predicted that as women's wealth and confidence continue to rise, more and more women will buy property and build personal wealth while delaying their plans for marriage in order to find the "right person." 

"This is a normal phenomenon and society should consider it rationally," he noted.

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