When is it a good time to buy a home? That's been a no-brainer for the Chinese for decades. The simple, timetested, indisputable answer has been: "At the earliest".
For, a nanosecond of hesitation may cost you a chance to buy that dream home and live happily ever after.
But, as Nobel laureate Bob Dylan wrote, times they are a-changin'.
A friend of mine once said the worst bit of a homebuying experience in Shanghai is neither the potentially prohibitive price nor the steep property agent commission, but the possibility of failing to buy an ideal apartment after you sell your old home.
As it transpired, she and her family had made what turned out to be an unwise decision of selling their home first and then failing to buy a potentially better one at the right time.
They didn't sew up the deal in time, and the apartment's price soared by up to 2 million yuan (7,460) in less than two months.
Such life experiences are not uncommon. A young white-collar couple had to fork out half-a-million yuan more in the space of a few minutes, during which they pondered options over a breakfast.
The story, probably apocryphal, goes that the couple thought the non-refundable 18,000 yuan earnest money deposit for an apartment located in Tongzhou of Beijing was a bit on the higher side. They couldn't make up their minds. So, they decided to think through while savoring pancakes during breakfast at a restaurant near the property project.
The pancakes were delicious all right but turned out to be their most expensive breakfast ever. By the time they finished eating, the apartment, the last one available, sold out. Chastened, they settled for a flat of the same size in a different housing project, which was to be launched later, but paid 500,000 yuan more eventually.
The face of China's residential property market started changing when it went hyper-commercial in 1998 and never stopped growing since, surprising everybody year after year.
Last December, Shanghai's new home prices skyrocketed to reach 49,648 yuan per square meter. So, to rein in the runaway prices, the municipal government stipulated that buyers have to be local residents. Families without permanent residency of Shanghai need to have paid tax for at least five years in a row before they could buy a property in the city.
That's a contrast to the scene years back. I can still remember an advertisement about an apartment in my hometown in Zhejiang province, about 120 kilometers from Shanghai. It was priced about 2,000 yuan per sq m in 1999. A big draw was whoever bought the flat stood to receive a local hukou, or household registration, for free.
In 2004, another friend of mine failed to buy a 40-sq-m apartment in Xuhui district of Shanghai for 420,000 yuan. Today, its value has appreciated more than six times.
Rising home prices are a reflection of the surging income of people. Average annual salary in Shanghai in 1999 was 14,148 yuan. Per capita disposable income reached 58,988 yuan in 2017.
But rules and regulations relating to ownership and resale of new and pre-owned homes have been tightened. The cost of selling an old home to finance the purchase of a new one has also risen. And home prices have stabilized as runaway surges have been reined in. Seems property value is no longer ever-appreciating.
The Average new home price in Shanghai reached 43,000 yuan (,825) per sq m in January, its lowest level for the past year, according to China Real Estate Information Corp.
The latest Central Economic Work Conference in December noted that the country will improve the long-term mechanisms to ensure stable and healthy development of the real estate market. Both home purchases and rentals will be encouraged.
I expect buying an ideal property will be akin to finding a compatible life partner, a task requiring a cautious decision-making process.
So, when is it a good time to buy a home? The right answer could be: "Whenever you are able to afford one."