Construction cranes stand idle in China’s Yunnan Province, on the easternmost edge of the Himalayas. Building has ground to a halt on Hainan, off the coast of Vietnam, and up in Heilongjiang, along the Russian border.

Across China, tens of millions of square feet of unfinished apartment buildings -- the legacy of a real estate boom gone awry in 2021 -- are derailing countless dreams of owning a home.

In a country where private homeownership was only legalized two decades ago, ordinary Chinese are discovering how quickly fortunes can turn in the housing market. Creeping price declines and plummeting sales in recent months have called into question the way freewheeling property developers have financed, built and marketed homes to the masses.

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