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Beijing’s hot new business: marrying and divorcing non-Beijingers who want to invest in real estate

This post has been updated.

A recent audit of Beijing real estate purchases revealed a growing side business among real estate brokers: finding an eligible Chinese woman willing to marry a non-Beijinger so that he could buy an apartment or two, and then promptly divorce him (link in Chinese), as the Beijing New reports. The two brokerage agencies that the government cracked down on had already arranged 17 “divorce support” marriages. One Beijing woman involved in the business had married and divorced three men in five months.

Why would either party want to do this? As it is in most Chinese cities, buying homes in Beijing is very difficult for those who don’t hold Beijing residency, or hukou, as it is known. To be eligible, those without Beijing hukou typically must provide the authorities with five consecutive years worth of Chinese tax receipts. That policy has barred newcomers to the city and the unofficially employed from property investment.

However, those married to Beijing hukou-holders are allowed to buy up to two homes, no tax documents needed.

It’s a way of limiting speculative investors from entering the market to keep a lid on the country’s bubbly housing market, long a struggle for the Chinese government and a source of public ire. Around China, divorce is already a popular way of sidestepping property restrictions.

It’s unclear how long the “divorce support” business has been going on, but the Beijing News report said a random sweep of real estate brokerages in one area of Beijing suggests that the practice is fairly widespread. The report said that the fee for “divorce support” runs between $4,900 and $8,150. And it’s not just men who can benefit. Some brokerages offered temporary husbands to enterprising non-Beijing women.

But why would those who aren’t planting roots in Beijing want to buy into the likely property bubble? After all, Beijing’s prices are already off the charts:

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It would take the average Beijinger 22.3 years to pay off his mortgage.Credit Suisse

That might be because the market shows few signs of peaking. Despite slowing growth and new measures to control the market, real estate investment continued to boom in the first half of 2013. Total investment in real estate (including both residential and commercial) surged to nearly $600 billion in H1 2013 (link in Chinese), a 20.3% increase from H1 2012.

Correction, July 18, 7:45 a.m. (EST): This post has been corrected to reflect that property restrictions limit purchases by those without Beijing hukou, not just foreigners, as originally stated.

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