Amidst signs that housing prices in North Korea are falling due to economic stagnation, the authorities are assessing the state of the housing market in order to implement measures to stabilize the situation.
“The authorities recently began a survey of housing prices and will likely intervene in transactions and setting house prices,” a South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK.
The authorities have also begun to set prices for land designated for urban housing plans as part of efforts to control housing transactions, the source added.
These efforts are ostensibly aimed at setting an upper limit for house prices, but the authorities have yet to announce any official numbers.
The aim appears to be to prevent price spikes and ensure that buyers and sellers can conduct transactions within a stable housing market.
In North Korea, the state traditionally owns all land and housing by law, which is supposed to mean that the government provides housing to its citizens without any monetary transactions.
After the widespread famine in the 1990s, however, residents acquired the “right to use” housing and began conducting housing transactions on the basis of market prices. Even before the economic crisis, North Koreans in the upper class engaged in housing transactions on the black market, although such transactions could typically be considered a form of housing “trade.”
These changes came about because North Koreans began proactively taking advantage of the “right to use” housing. Essentially, the authorities gave them the right to inherit and transfer the ownership of the houses they lived in, and North Koreans actively bought and sold these rights on the market.
“The authorities have invested a massive amount of money in building new housing and these efforts have led to an increase in ‘donju’ who have made money out of the projects,” said the source. “The authorities probably thought they needed to step in and control the housing market because of the sheer number of new apartments.”
Some North Koreans, including construction contractors, buyers and sellers, have expressed concern over the authorities’ efforts to survey housing prices. While government control over housing prices may help to stabilize the market, excessive intervention could lead to a rise in illegal transactions and destabilization. Housing market stakeholders argue that the market should determine house pricing rather than the government, according to a separate source in South Pyongan Province.
The authorities revised the country’s “Housing Act” in 2009 to prohibit the sale or trade of housing for personal profit. There was a drastic fall in transactions involving the “right to use” housing at the time, along with a destabilization of the housing market; however, the increase in black market transactions led to a massive increase in the price of luxury apartments in Pyongyang (with prices rising up to 100 million won), and the government was unable to influence these prices.
“The government’s efforts to control housing transactions in 2005 and 2009 all ended in failure,” the additional source said.
“Time will tell whether its intervention in the housing market will lead to stabilization or destabilization.”