SHANGHAI, China A housing-market meltdown may be wracking the U.S. economy and shaking the financial markets, but in Asia, the question is how to cool things down.
From China and South Korea to India and Singapore, housing prices are soaring amid strong economic growth and surging demand from developers and upwardly mobile families who want to upgrade their homes.
Of all Asia's markets, China's is the hottest although the boom is creating problems there, too. Housing inflation is pricing some people out of the market, and authorities worried about excessive development are raising interest rates and taking other steps to curb lending.
Experts also warn that many mortgages are risky and suggest the country could face a property crisis of its own someday.
For now, demand is being driven by people like Li Ruoning, a single, 22-year-old public relations company employee in Shanghai just one of millions across Asia whose hearts are set on fulfilling the dream of owning their own home.
She borrowed about $40,000 from her parents in central China for the down payment on a 645-square-foot apartment just five minutes from her job.
What's more, Li says she would buy another apartment as an investment, if she had the money.
"I'm pretty sure that housing prices will not drop, especially with the best locations," she said.
Many Chinese families are already deep into speculating on property, a main driver of the surging prices that have Chinese authorities worried a bubble may be forming. New apartments north of Shanghai's famous Bund waterfront are selling for a record $17,000 per square meter.
Yi Xianrong, a prominent economist at the China Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, is one of those sounding the alarm.
He contends that China's housing loans are riskier than those in the United States because most loan applicants give false information about their assets and income.
"I estimate that the large majority of mortgage holders would not meet the standards for even subprime loans," Yi said in an interview with the state-run magazine Oriental Outlook.
A collapse of China's property market would reverberate throughout the world financial system although few experts believe it would happen anytime soon.
"It's hard to tell what the total exposure to real estate lending is. It's very difficult to judge until you have a price correction," said Nick Lardy of the Peterson Institute, a Washington think tank.
In India, where housing prices have been rising 30 to 40 percent annually the last couple years and have remained firm so far this year, experts see fewer risks.
Families tend to rely more on personal resources, and banks have been steadily raising interest rates and cutting back on lending, which is modestly restraining development. A newly introduced credit score system is expected to help banks do a better job of managing risks.
"The Reserve Bank of India has been keeping a tight lid on banks' exposure to real estate," said Ritesh Maheswari, a credit analyst with Standard & Poor's in Singapore. "We don't foresee large-scale defaults."
Hong Kong is still regaining ground lost during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and provisional government statistics show steady growth through September. Singapore's high-tech boom helped boost private home prices by 8.3 percent in the second quarter from the first, the second-fastest pace on record.
In both cities, the talk is of how to cool, not revive the market.
Meanwhile, property prices in Japan have just begun to rebound after 16 years of declines amid a surge in buying by investment funds, according to the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport.