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POLL-China home prices to rise faster in 2020, but growth seen slowing as Beijing talks tough

* cpurl://apps.cp./cms/?pageId=house-poll poll data

* Home prices forecast to grow 4.8% in 2020, better than June poll

* Sales seen flat with last year, property investment up 6%

* Government shifts to tighten screws as economic recovery sustains

BEIJING, Sept 29 (Reuters) - China’s home prices are expected to rise slightly more this year than expected, though at a slower pace than last year, as Beijing shifts to de-leverage the sector amid an economic recovery, a Reuters poll showed.

The pick-up could offer much-needed support to the country as it emerges from a coronavirus-induced economic slump. But policymakers are conscious of a property bubble risk, with new restrictions rolled out recently to prevent sharp price rises and control financing activity by developers.

Average residential property prices are estimated to rise 4.8% in 2020, according to 13 analysts and economists surveyed from Sept. 21-29.

The forecast was firmer than a 3.75% gain found in a June survey, but down from 6.6% growth in 2019. Home prices are seen slowing to 3% in the first half of 2021.

Daniel Yao, head of research for China at JLL, a commercial property services provider, said the relaxation on price ceilings and urban-residency permits in larger Chinese cities have supported the modest increase in overall home prices, while the improving land market and higher transaction premiums also helped buoy expectations on housing prices.

Property transactions are expected to be flat relative to last year, compared with a 4.5% drop in previous poll, and versus a 0.1% drop in 2019.

Investments are estimated to rise 6% this year, against 5% growth projected in the previous poll.

Since the second quarter, the real estate market has been the main driver behind China’s post-coronavirus recovery, analysts say. Growth of property investment, which accounts for about 20% of total investment, has been well outstripping manufacturing and infrastructure investments.

Many top-tier cities, including Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Ningbo have seen upswings in local housing markets after reopening from lockdowns.

But as China’s recovery is getting on firmer footing, the government is likely to remain aware of the spilling-over effect of high home prices on the rest of the economy.

Since July, more than 20 cities have imposed new rules to prevent sharp price rises. Regulators last month also vowed to outline stringent rules to contain property developers’ debt levels to tackle unbridled borrowing in the sector.

“The tightening financing rules will likely push some developers to scale back their land purchase in order to lower leverage, thus would help lower the land auction premiums and lead to softer home prices growth,” said senior property analyst Zhao Ke of China Merchants Securities.

Most survey respondents say the government will further guide the sector into a narrower growth band and may slightly ease restrictions in smaller cities, which saw home prices drop to prevent a burst of the bubble.

Asked to rate the affordability of Chinese housing on a scale, with 1 being the cheapest and 10 the most expensive, analysts’ median answer was 7, in line with the last poll.

(For other stories from the Reuters quarterly housing market polls:)

Additional Reporting by Jenny Su; Editing by Gerry Doyle

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