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In China, buyers occupy ‘rotting’ unfinished homes

STORY: China’s so-called ‘rotting’ apartments are a far cry from what these home buyers were promised. When Mrs. Xu bought her new build in the city of Guilin three years ago the property brochure said riverfront views and clean city air. The reality is unpainted walls, holes where electric sockets should be, no gas or running water and bleak living conditions. Every day she climbs up and down several flights of stairs carrying heavy water bottles filled from a hose outside.When Xu bought her flat in early 2019, the apartment was already under construction – so she invested all her family’s savings to secure it. It’s developer, Jiadengbao Real Estate, was well underway marketing the flats which would come with under floor heating and – they said – a shared swimming pool.But in mid-2020 – construction stalled as China entered a deep real estate slump forcing cash-strapped builders to down tools. Being unemployed and with no other savings – Xu had no choice but to move in. Now instead of a swimming pool, she and about 20 other buyers living in the complex share a makeshift outdoor toilet and gather during the day at a table and benches in the central courtyard.They are part of a movement of home buyers around China who have moved into what they call “rotting” apartments, either to pressure developers and authorities to complete them or out of financial necessity. “I bought this apartment in 2019 when they were advertising it so strongly.”“It’s not easy for the common folk to buy a house during their lifetime, so we have to fight for our rights and interests.””Sometimes we buy water to drink and save the bottles, these bottles, to fill up with water. We had no other choice when moved in here but to set up a water pipe here (for dispensing water). Us flat owners wash our clothes and hair here. Since there’s no hot water, no water and no electricity, so we wait until after the water from the hose here has warmed up by the sun, then we wash our hair. We just wait for it (to warm up) then wash our hair.”Since the debt crisis erupted in 2021, thousands more home buyers have been caught in similar predicaments as developers went bankrupt or abandoned struggling projects.The proliferation of unfinished apartments has sparked unprecedented collective disobedience, fuelled by social media.In late June, thousands of home buyers in at least 100 cities threatened to halt mortgage payments to protest stalled construction.Nor Jiadengbao Real Estate or the local city government responded to a requests for comment.Last November local authorities said they had set up a group to resolves issues in the area. While some local governments have taken steps to prop up the property market by setting up bailout funds, buyers like Xu, who paid deposits in advance and are on the hook for mortgages, remain in limbo.”It feels like suddenly crashing from paradise back to the ground. All the family’s efforts were invested in this house. Originally, my son was old enough (to get married), so that I bought him this flat. He wanted to start his own business in this city, but I didn’t expect the building to be rotten. Now in my family, my son doesn’t talk to me and my husband doesn’t talk to me either.”

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