“Hutong Economics”

Evan Osnos, on the rapid decomposition of his new house in Beijing:

He had an alternative idea: he proposed tacking a large sheet of metal across the bottom of the door to stop the wood from swelling. I pictured the reaction I’d get when Sarabeth returned to find our doors reinforced with makeshift tin-plating. Instead, I asked why the doors were rotting in the first place after only four years. He laughed harder this time.

“When I renovated this house, the landlord only wanted to pay for materials that would last five years, because his lease—from the landlord above him—only lasts five years. So when it came to choosing the metal and the wood and the details, we only bought materials that would last for five years.”

In the spirit of Beijing these days, it had a certain logic. We often see houses in the neighborhood demolished and rebuilt in the course of a few weeks, so it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the lifetime of a house in terms of a few years. Chinese friends who are among the wave of new homeowners these days often complain that their buildings look decrepit after five years.

I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how this ties in with the property bubble and construction industries.

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