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Growth in China property investment picks up to 8.1 pct in Jan-Sept

BEIJING, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Real estate investment in China rose 8.1 percent in January-September from the same period a year earlier, quickening modestly from a 7.9 percent gain in the first eight months of 2017, official data showed on Thursday.

Property investment in September alone rose 9.2 percent from a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on the data.

A property boom has been a major growth driver for China's economy this year, but activity has been expected to slow as more cities unveil measures to cool soaring home prices and banks raise mortgage rates.

New construction starts measured by floor area rose 6.8 percent in January-September, compared with a 7.6 percent rise in the first eight months of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

Property sales by floor area grew 10.3 percent, slowing from the 12.7 percent seen in the first eight months of the year.

Taming the overheated property market has been a top priority for China's policymakers this year as they looked to ensure social stability and reduce risks to the financial system ahead of a twice-a-decade Communist Party leadership reshuffle this week.

Home prices in the biggest cities have levelled off and even softened slightly in some areas in response to cooling measures, though there are signs that speculators are now shifting into smaller cities with fewer restrictions. (Reporting by Kevin Yao and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Kim Coghill)