China property vacancies have climbed to more than 20 percent of sold units, fresh data show, but analysts remain divided on whether a real estate crash is in the offing.
The numbers are high, with around 22.4 percent of sold residential homes in urban areas sitting empty in 2013, or a total of 49 million homes, while the number of unsold units is estimated at 3.5 million units, according to the Survey and Research Center for China Household Finance.
But regionally, second and third-tier cities have a vacancy rate of 27.6 percent each, 9.2 percent higher than the larger first-tier cities, the data show.
"The issue with the property sector, which a lot of people are getting very worried about, is more a question not so much of oversupply as the fact that they've been building the units in the wrong place," Stephen Davies, CEO of Javelin Wealth Management, told CNBC.
China's planned reforms of property ownership and migration rules will mean "more properties being built in the places people actually want to live," he added.
The latest data appear more dire than a CLSA survey published in May which found a 15 percent vacancy rate for properties completed over the past five years, for a total of 10.2 million empty units, with vacancies in tier-one cities at a healthy 10 percent, while tier-two and tier-three cities had rates around 13-17 percent. Projects completed in 2007-08 were only about 8.6 percent vacant, CLSA said.
China's tier system ranks cities on their population size, services standards and stage of infrastructure.