A real estate bubble? In my China? It's more likely than you think, and real estate agents are feeling the heat. Overbuilt condo communities, housing estates and planned cities remain vacant as China's consumers keep a tight hold on their wallets while a slowing economy has got spenders spooked.
For formerly high-flying realtors, fear of a looming sales crunch has sparked a series of increasingly desperate sales campaigns as an overloaded real estate development sector struggles to divide a steadily shrinking commissions pie.
Trouble is, China's consumers are a savvy bunch and it's no secret the former seller's paradise has flipped over into a buyer's market. Take this snapshot of current conditions: recently published official statistics from Beijing show that between October 1st and 3rd just 268 residential apartments were sold, down a whopping 31 percent from last year. These stats aren't at all uncommon across China these days, and they mark a stunning turnaround in the former “sure thing” real estate market.
Desperate to grab sales any way they can, developers and realtors are exploiting – some say over-exploiting – selling channels that worked quite well when times were good: the Internet. “After a developer bought advertisement on our websites,” explained one website owner, “we would compliment them with a free service of sending a certain number of text messages to their target buyers.”
Lately, however, “a certain number” just doesn't cut it. According to a salesman for a Beijing-based online marketing firm who prefers to remain anonymous, “Not long ago a famous villa developer in Beijing employed my company to send as many as eight million text messages to potential buyers, most of whom are rich people.”
The developer paid 0.03 yuan (about half a cent) per text message... at least somebody's making a buck in bad times, and he may yet make more. “The market remains grim,” said the salesman, “so they (developers) come to me.”
Of course, the marketing firms who send out millions of text messages (real estate spam, in other words) don't care if anyone responds and they could give a hoot if the recipients are annoyed to receive these unsolicited come-ons... and annoyed they are!
“Their intention is nothing but to make you feel annoyed and then persuaded to take out your wallet to buy a house,” raged one netizen commenter. “On the very first day of the National Day holiday, more than 30 spam text messages swarmed into my mobile phone,” complained “Blue Sky”, a netizen posting at a local forum in Zhenjiang. “By 3 pm today (Tuesday), I had been bombarded by 187 messages.”
The problem with mobile phones is that their owners take them wherever they go, even when they've, er, gotta go. “Twelve is the number of advertising messages I received when I was in my washroom!,” an irritated (and possibly constipated) netizen complained to the Yangtze Evening News. “I even didn't have time to delete all of them during my stay in the washroom!” One supposes it could have been worse: he could have dropped his phone in his agitated, dare I say “flushed” state. (via China Daily and What's On Xiamen, top image via The Reformed Broker)