Real estate agent lands in hot water after using durians and bananas as ciphers for home prices to evade crackdown

·4-min read

A property agent in Shenzhen that attempted to circumvent government pricing guidelines by using fruit symbols as a code for home prices has received a warning from the authorities for its “misconduct”.

The Macalline Aijia agency inflated the prices of second-hand units well beyond official limits and tried to disguise the fact by displaying a cipher that used durians and bananas in place of numerical values, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said late on Tuesday.

The code, with the fruits representing specific amounts, flouted the standard reference price set by the local authorities as part of efforts to steer prices from their speculative levels, an investigation by the Shenzhen Nanshan Housing and Construction Bureau and the Shenzhen Real Estate Intermediary Association found.

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Macalline Aijia was rebuked for its “misconduct” and “misleading campaign” and has voluntarily shut its doors for a week for self-review, the association told the Post.

A picture taken outside a brunch of Macalline Aijia property agency in Shenzhen. Photo: Xinhua News Agency
A picture taken outside a brunch of Macalline Aijia property agency in Shenzhen. Photo: Xinhua News Agency

“The agents in the district have been informed of the punishment and should take it as a warning. Property agents should follow closely the guiding prices announced by the government, guiding the homebuyers rationally and should not market homes in an non-compliant manner,” said Xinhua, citing the local housing watchdog.

Calls to Macalline Aijia from the Post went unanswered on Tuesday.

The agency’s cheeky attempt to beat the system quickly went viral on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday night after a photograph of an advertising board outside one of its branches was uploaded.

The board showed a list of second-hand flats of varying sizes – but instead of the usual numerical prices, a line of durians and bananas was displayed next to each listing. Online debate raged as thousands of users expressed their astonishment at the fruity cipher.

For example, a flat measuring 117 square metres at Mangrove West Coast in Nanshan district was tagged with two durians and three bananas, while a 323 sq m home was allocated six durians and five bananas on the advertisement.

One durian represented 10 million yuan, while one banana signified a million yuan, Xinhua said, meaning the 117 sq m home had an asking price 23 million yuan and the 323 sq m one was priced at 65 million yuan, or roughly 200,000 yuan per sq m.

That is almost double the guiding price of 110,500 yuan per sq m for the Mangrove West Coast project provided by the Shenzhen housing watchdog.

The Housing and Construction Bureau in February disclosed the indicative prices for 3,595 lived-in residential estates in Shenzhen in a bid to stem a housing market bubble.

“No asking price other than the guiding price is allowed to be given online or even over the phone, and only through person-to-person chat can the real asking price be disclosed. The fruit-price is a way to lure home seekers amid a cooling off in the housing market,” said Fion He, director of Midland Realty’s research unit.

Shenzhen, China’s technology hub, is showing some early signs of success in containing runaway house prices after 13 rounds of market-cooling measures since last July, repairing its reputation as a model city envisioned by President Xi Jinping.

The city saw 2,242 lived-in home sales from May 1 to 24, half of what sold in April, and a third of the number in March, according to data compiled by Midland Realty.

“The housing market in Shenzhen is seriously sick and only the toughest measures introduced by the government can be the cure,” said Li Yujia, senior economist with the Real Estate Assessment and Development Research Centre, a research arm of the Shenzhen government.

Shenzhen’s economy has outgrown Hong Kong’s, and professionals, especially in the technology sector, have swarmed to the city to work for big companies as well as promising start-ups. As a result, the city has seen its home prices soar, buoyed by increasing demand as well as speculation.

The prices of second-hand homes have risen by 20 per cent since April 2019, faster than in any other major mainland Chinese city, according to Fangtianxia, an online property portal.

“The antics of using fruits to show home prices looks ridiculous, but it is the inevitable result of the current government measures, as home seekers still need to get an idea of the housing market with the real asking prices,” said Li.

“The reference price is necessary as a fast fix, but the government should also come up with a long-term mechanism.”

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