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The Chinese housing bubble

More Chinese get a taste of what Americans have been suffering. They don't like it.

Visitors look at model apartments at a real estate exhibition in Shenyang, Liaoning province, March 18, 2009. (Sheng Li/Reuters)

BEIJING — Ten days before the summer Olympics, Zhang Yong took the plunge and bought his first home.

Engaged to be married later this year, Zhang, a 29-year-old sales manager in Beijing, chose a three-bedroom apartment in an up-and-coming eastern suburb of the capital. His neighbors would be educated and middle-class. The neatly planned compound of high rises — still under construction — would include a pre-school, a gym and all the other trappings of modern suburban life.

The $180,000 apartment seemed a great investment and the perfect way to start off married life. Zhang jumped at the chance.

“I saw it in the morning and bought it in the afternoon,” Zhang says, sipping a cappuccino in a rooftop coffee shop at his downtown office building. “I thought the prices would go up even higher after the Olympics because prices were always going up, never down,” he said. “I didn’t know this would happen.”

Only a month after making a 25 percent down payment, Zhang’s dream home became a burden. Indeed, more Chinese are getting a taste of what American homeowners have been suffering for much of the past year.

Still months away from completion, Zhang's apartment-to-be lost a quarter of its value as Beijing’s housing bubble burst in dramatic fashion. As the walls and the wiring took shape, appliances and furniture were moved in, its value continued to decline. Eight months after he bought his home, apartments in the same complex are selling for 40 percent less per square meter than Zhang paid.

Zhang and dozens of others who bought in the compound before the pre-Olympics property bubble popped have tried fruitlessly for months to get some concessions from the developer. They asked for furnishings, fixtures or cash to make up for the value that disappeared from their as-yet unlived in apartments. Most simply gave up and are hoping property values will rise in years to come, after they finally move in this spring.

“We just accepted our bad luck,” said Zhang. “Now we hope we can simply have a comfortable life there.”