For Tang Chao, the apartment in northeast China was where he and his wife started a new life.
They paid tens of thousands of dollars for it. But months after its scheduled completion, a concrete shell with wiring sticking out of the walls and piles of dirt on the floor was all that could be seen of the cost. Soon their marriage also fell apart.
In another town, a man bought space for a grocery store that he thought would help secure a better future for his young son. A woman paid for an apartment where she imagined her toddler would grow up safe and she could have a second child. In Shanghai, a small-town technician thought she had made her parents proud by buying a new home in the big city.
What these and hundreds of thousands of other Chinese home buyers he could not have guessed that the country’s decades-long real estate boom would suddenly come to a screeching halt. Developers ran out of money in the middle of the government intervention against excessive indebtedness and a slowing economy. They stopped building.
All over the country, instead of apartment towers, uninhabitable concrete structures rise from idle, overgrown construction sites. Angry homebuyers in more than 100 cities rose up in a rare act of collective revolt last year, pledging to default on loans on unfinished properties.
Where home buyers said they would stop making mortgage payments
Zhengzhou in Henan province has the most unfinished projects.
Zhengzhou in Henan province has the most unfinished projects.
Source: WeNeedHome GitHub, data as of October 27
Note: Based on crowdsourced reports of letters from homebuyers threatening to stop making mortgage payments if construction does not resume.
We spoke to four people who emptied their life savings and took out huge loans on houses that weren’t finished. They told us of their frustrations and showed us apartments that are now ugly reminders of broken dreams and broken promises.
“It was a simple dream – to have a home, a family,” Mr Tang said.
Daisy Xu, Shanghai
Daisy Xu, a 28-year-old laboratory technician, remembers the day she bought her apartment in Shanghai like it was yesterday.
She waited impatiently with hundreds of other potential buyers in the hotel ballroom for a sales event for Royals Garden, a new project. When it was finally her turn, she was given less than a minute to choose an apartment.
She scanned the wall, which had strips of paper pinned to it with the numbers of apartments that hadn’t yet been sold. She knew she didn’t want a penthouse or anything lower than the fourth floor. She chose an apartment on the eighth floor and told the salesperson. He tore a strip from the wall and handed it to her.
“Congratulations, new home owner!” announced the moderator.
Mrs. Xu was excited. The apartments sold out that day, dashing the hopes of many others who queued behind her.
“I was so excited and happy that I immediately took a picture of the unit number and told the people at home the good news,” Ms. Xu said.
The apartment cost around $495,000, a high price but affordable compared to older houses in Shanghai. She wanted a place with two bathrooms that would give her parents or in-laws more privacy if they visited. The property overlooked the river and was just steps away from a busy street full of restaurants.
Ms Xu was due to receive the keys in September and move in early this year. But the complex is far from complete. The unpainted 16-story building is wrapped in green mesh and surrounded by weeds and debris. It pains her to see the site on her way to work from the apartment she rents nearby.
In China, about 90 percent of new homes are sold before they are even built. This pre-sale model allows developers to raise cash quickly, but shifts much of the risk to buyers like Ms Xu. They are expected to pay in full before construction begins, often taking out mortgages to do so.
Regulations require that pre-sale money be used only for the construction of this project. But until recently, supervision was lax and developers would use the funds for whatever they wanted, including the launch of other projects.
As house prices rose, the government tightened funding rules for property developers in the hope of preventing the housing sector from collapsing. Many large developers – such as China Fortune Land Development’s Royals Garden project in Shanghai – buckled under the weight of massive debt and had to go out of business.
Despite the delay, Ms. Xu continues to pay more than $1,300 each month in mortgage payments.
She said she hid the problem from her parents. Hailing from a small town in southern China, owning a property in Shanghai was the ultimate proof that she could do it.
“I’m avoiding their questions about the apartment, but how much longer can I do this?”
Payment of $203,000
Andie Cao, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province
In the eastern city of Nanchang, a street divides “Xinli City,” a development of more than 4,000 apartments, into two parts. On one side are fully occupied residential towers, surrounded by trees. On the other side, row upon row of unfinished concrete structures, unpainted, windowless – and with no signs of progress.
Andie Cao, a sales representative in her 20s, owns an apartment on the wrong side. Whenever she looks at the finished buildings, she sees the life she was once promised.
Ms. Cao bought a three-bedroom apartment in 2019 for $203,000. The price was high, but she and her husband had just had a baby and were thinking about another. They liked that the developer’s plan for a large apartment complex included a kindergarten and a primary school.
Her apartment was scheduled to be completed in November 2021, just in time for her child to start kindergarten. But the developer, Sinic Holdings Group, stopped work in August 2021 when it ran into financial difficulties, and has yet to finish building the apartments.
Ms. Cao had already handed over more than $80,000 for the apartment, money she had saved from toiling in Shanghai. In July last year, she then joined other homebuyers across the country in a mortgage strike over unfinished homes.
“I won’t pay until they deliver, and until then I’m willing to pay a fine, but we won’t be exploited and bled.
The home buyers’ campaign has attracted the attention of the authorities. The police call her from time to time and warn her not to take any drastic action. Some home buyers who protested were detained.
“What did we do wrong to deserve to be treated like this?” she said. “I just don’t get it.
Ms. Cao and her husband continue to work and pay rent in Shanghai. She doesn’t think the apartment will be finished and she can’t imagine trying to buy another home or have a second child.
“I feel like the last few years of hard work have been for nothing.
Payment of $177,000
Tang Chao, Dalian, Liaoning Province
When Tang Chao and his fiance decided to buy a house in 2019, they were drawn to Haiyi Changzhou, one of the hottest projects in the northeastern city of Dalian. Its developer promised a sprawling complex of high-rise buildings with tranquil landscapes and privacy offering “a beautiful life close to the sea”.
The couple bought a modest two-bedroom apartment for about $177,000. To cover the required $74,000 down payment, they used their savings and got their parents to sign up. Mr. Tang, who works in a restaurant, sold the small house he had outside in the countryside.
They signed the apartment contract in 2019, after which they obtained a marriage license. The plan was to organize a wedding and move in together after the apartment was finished.
“That’s when we told our friends around us that we bought a house here, we were very proud of it,” said Mr. Tang, who spoke on condition that he be identified by his nickname Chao because of political sensitivity. topic. “Coming from the countryside, I felt good that I could buy an apartment somewhere.”
The apartment was supposed to be completed last August, but Sunac China Holdings, the project’s developer, ran into financial problems.
In September, owners of more than 2,600 unfinished units in the Haiyi Changzhou development threatened to default on their mortgages.
Mr Tang said his wife was tired of waiting for a home that might never be finished and a new life that might never begin. They filed for divorce in November. He still pays $550 a month in mortgage payments.
“When I think about that unfinished apartment, it’s like I’m falling from heaven to hell,” Mr. Tang said.
“I have nothing to look forward to in life – no apartment, no woman.”
A letter from the owners of unfinished apartments in Haiyi Changzhou
All owners will
stop the mortgage
apart from each other
We are the owners
All owners will
stop the mortgage
Payment of $163,000
Xu Feng, 31, Nanchang, Jiangxi Province
Xu Feng remembered 2019 as a good year. The grocery store in the eastern city of Nanchang, which he rented and ran with his wife, was doing well. He thought it was time to own his own store.
He found the perfect place: 1,000 square feet for $163,000 on the first floor of a residential tower. It was part of Xinli City, the same giant complex of thousands of apartments where service worker Andie Cao also bought a unit.
Mr. Xu had to sell some goods at a loss to come up with a down payment of about $81,000 and take out a 10-year mortgage. He enrolled his son in an elementary school in Nanchang.
Three years later, Xinli City is still unfinished. Mr Xu said he was under immense financial pressure as he paid rent from their current business in addition to paying the mortgage. He stopped eating out with friends and cut back on spending except for his son’s school fees.
“I never thought this would happen to me,” he said. “I’m afraid of having another baby. Income and expenditure barely balance.’
Frustrated by the delay, Mr. Xu and hundreds of homebuyers have protested several times over the past year.
They gathered in front of the local government, in public squares and even hung banners from the top of the building. But so far nothing has worked and many people have been detained at protests, he said.
In August, Mr. Xu stopped paying his mortgage. This affected his credit rating and forced him to rely on relatives to take out loans to keep his business afloat. But he said he no longer has any hope of the government stepping in to help people like him.
“We’ve been through too much trying to fight for our rights,” he said. “Government officials only care about each other and do nothing good for the common people.”
The New York Times contacted Sunac China, China Fortune Land Development, Sinic Holdings Group, as well as housing regulators at the municipal, provincial and national levels for comment. No one answered.