It is common knowledge that Beijing's efforts to take the steam out of the mainland's residential property market have so far met with limited success. But what about the broader picture in the property development and property management sectors?
As Swire Properties' CEO for the mainland, Guy Bradley is ideally placed to comment on some of the major trends. "With the economy booming in the major cities of mainland China, the country offers great opportunities for the real estate industry," says Bradley.
"Until recently, all eyes were on the fast-developing residential market in first- and second-tier cities, but there are already a number of overseas developers engaged in commercial projects on the mainland. This number is growing as many local developers are refocusing away from residential property and on to commercial. This is partly due to the central government's policy initiatives to slow the growth of the residential market and also to the fact that local players are looking for business strategies that are sustainable over the longer term.
"Despite their attractiveness as long-term investments, commercial projects are very capital intensive, so it tends to be the developers with considerable financial strength and reliable cash flows who are best able to engage in such developments."
Swire Properties is one of the developers in a position to take such a strategic view. Its five new mixed-use projects - with a total gross floor area of 12.9 million square feet - are in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu.
Kai Shing Management Services, a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, has been very active in the mainland's thriving property management industry, says K F Chan, the company's deputy managing director.
This level of success has had to be earned. "The major challenge is that the mainland and Hong Kong have different legal and administrative systems," says Chan. "A property management company must acquire either a grade I, II or III licence to conduct property management business on the mainland. The company has to start at the lowest grade III level and then move up. The licence is granted based on whether the operator has substantial capital, sufficient professional staff and its management portfolio."
But it's not only red tape that presents a challenge, according to Chan. "Mainland property practitioners are comparatively weaker than their Hong Kong counterparts in areas like customer service and risk management." He says the group therefore puts a lot of effort and resources into staff training and supervision.
Bradley identifies two macro trends which Swire Properties has to factor into its planning. "The impact of inflation is significant on the overall cost of a project, so it's essential for developers to focus on excellent planning and project management."
Rising prices are not the only side effects of a booming economy. "Finding and retaining the right talent to meet the needs of our business is challenging, as there are ample career development opportunities on the mainland for talented individuals," Bradley says. "This is something we address by offering competitive packages as well as long-term professional development and career advancement opportunities, in the hopes that this will make Swire Properties a preferred employer."
In return, Swire is looking for qualified applicants with a particular outlook. "Whether fresh graduates or individuals who have been in the workforce for a number of years, they must have a passion for what they do, be keenly interested in the real estate industry and possess a desire to grow with the company over the long term," Bradley says.
Chan says his company currently has over 800 staff and is still actively recruiting. "We are looking for candidates who are able to work independently, enthusiastic, dedicated and have good analytical skills. We require applicants to have sensitivity to crisis and the ability to manage crisis. And, of course, they need to be service-oriented and have good interpersonal skills."