Chinese home prices rose for a third consecutive month in July, fuelled by a pick-up in sales and market sentiment, a rare counterpoint to a growing list of grim indicators in the world's second-largest economy.
Average new home prices rose 0.3% in July versus June, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, slightly slower than June's 0.4% rise.
Even a modest recovery in a sector that accounts for around 15% of GDP is a welcome boost for an economy heading for its weakest growth in 25 years.
Property sales bottomed out during the first half of 2015 after declining for more than a year, propped up by a barrage of government support measures since last September, including a series of interest rate cuts and lower down payment requirements.
Exports have tumbled, investment growth has hit repeated lows, and the stock market crashed 30% in a matter of weeks, keeping policymakers busy with an unprecedented array of support measures, including a currency devaluation and repeated attempts to increase lending.
While policy measures and increased lending helped fuel a wave of pent-up home buying in recent months, a huge overhang of unsold houses in smaller cities keeps the sector under pressure.
China's overall real estate investment growth continued to slow in the first seven months of 2015, but property sales and housing investment improved.
Compared with a year ago, home prices still fell 3.7% in July, easing from the previous month's 4.9% drop, Reuters calculated from NBS data showed.
China Vanke, the country's largest property developer, said yesterday that the housing market was slowly emerging from a year-long slump, but it would take time to see a full recovery.
"The number of land acquisitions has decreased, and inventory is slowly being digested. It'll take time, but it's confirmed that a recovery is ongoing," said Vanke President Yu Liang.
The NBS data showed home prices across China rose month-on-month in 31 of the 70 major cities monitored, up from 27 in June.
Prices in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have been leading the recovery.
Beijing prices rose 1% last month from a year earlier, reversing June's drop of 1.1%, while Shanghai prices were up 3.1%, compared with 0.3% in June.
The southern city of Shenzhen was the top performer, however, recording the fourth consecutive monthly rebound, up 23.6% in July from a year ago, following a 15.7% rise in June.
"We should pay high attention to overheating risks in some bigger cities," said Yan Yuejin, a property analyst at real estate services firm E-House China EJ.N in Shanghai.