(Photo: Nanfang Daily)
The travails and tribulations of debt-laden property developer China Evergrande Group show that no company can truly be too big to fail. To stay afloat, companies need to be nimble and prudent-that's the takeaway lesson, particularly for those in the real estate sector.
Evergrande's crisis seems to bust the myth that once an enterprise is deeply entwined with the real economy, it cannot fail, and if it's allowed to go bust, there would be an economic catastrophe. The company admitted it has gotten into deep, deep financial trouble all right, but the Chinese economy was by far the strongest among the big ones last year.
Regulators dismissed market fears by saying Evergrande's debt default is no more than a case in isolation. So, as long as property players uphold the principle of "houses are for living in, not for speculation", and cultivate core competitiveness, they can evolve into real estate investment enterprises.
Xie Chen, head of research at CBRE China, called the Evergrande episode a turning point for China's property industry. The era of high leverage, high debt and high turnover has come to an end.
Despite challenges in 2021, many real estate companies took measures to wade through difficulties in their respective segment.
More than 40 sizable property developers adjusted their product development strategies in the first 10 months of 2021, said a white paper issued by China Real Estate Information Corp, also known as CRIC.
The adjustments included upgrading products and services, accommodating customer needs and property developers' strategies, optimizing products and enhancing the layout, decorations, landscape and smart facilities of residential products through innovative designs, the white paper said.
"Our survey found that many property developers no longer seek business expansion. Instead, they focus more on products, customer needs and the nature of living, and try to improve residential products to meet homebuyers' requirements," said Ding Zuyu, CEO of E-House (China) Enterprise Holdings Ltd.
Despite product and service upgrades, real estate developers paid little attention to the standards of delivery and operational efficiency, said Zhang Yan, chief executive officer of CRIC.
"Property developers should focus on their services and capabilities to deliver quality products and achieve operational cost-effectiveness," Zhang said.
Real estate developers should recognize genuine requirements of homebuyers, work hard to mend their defects, pay attention to detail, seek opportunities for collaboration and prepare for greater opportunities, she said.
The annual Central Economic Work Conference in December highlighted the importance of facilitating virtuous and healthy development of the property market.
The meeting emphasized that the property market should explore new development modes and speed up development of the long-term rental housing market while advancing government-subsidized housing projects.
"The market could explore new methods of financing to maintain steady capital inflows and explore digital management, to improve the efficiency and the profit margin of every real estate project, or explore new areas of business inside and outside the real estate sector," said Shaun Brodie, senior director and head of occupier research of China at Cushman& Wakefield.
For real estate enterprises, financing is always a big issue. Rather than waiting for help from the government and banks, they can use real estate investment trusts or REITs, commercial mortgage-backed securities and collaboration with other real estate enterprises as alternatives to reduce financial risks and grow their business sustainably.
Another option is to expand the variety of business offerings. Homebuilders can consider diversifying into commercial real estate projects like hotels and shopping malls.
Real estate enterprises can develop smart real estate hardware and software products or even get involved in the construction of smart cities.
Bolder enterprises may want to venture into emerging high-end industries like real estate-related artificial intelligence services or green/sustainable products.