Evergrande, China's second biggest property developer, announced a nationwide 30% discount on all of its properties until the end of the week-long holidays in early October, traditionally China's peak home buying season.
The move is aimed at boosting sales and cash flow at China's most indebted developer at a time when profits have weakened.
Steeper discounts from developers come against the backdrop of a sluggish recovery in home prices in smaller cities and ebbing appetite for property market speculation outside major cities due to uncertain economic conditions.
A Country Garden source said the company is planning to launch a campaign in response to Evergrande's price cut, but the rate of discount may be lower.
The person, who asked not to be named because the plans are yet to be finalised, added it is not unusual for the company to introduce promotions in September and October.
Commenting to Reuters, Country Garden said it currently does not have plans to launch steep price cuts for its projects nationwide to boost sales, adding its operational cash flow is stable and healthy.
The developer and Evergrande have similar project footprints in the country, focusing on tier-3 and 4 cities and peripheral locations in bigger cities.
Other major developers told Reuters they won't offer across-the-board or steep discounts to compete with Evergrande because their projects are in very different locations and the bigger cities are selling well.
According to data of 18 major cities real estate researcher CREIS tracks, home transactions in August rose 3.4% from July, and 26.7% from a year earlier.
"Developers will face pressure; they're watching closely, but it'll be mostly those who have projects next to Evergrande's only," said Andy Lee, realtor Centaline's South China CEO.
"Because a 30% discount basically wipes out all the profits; it's mostly for driving sales volume."
HIGH DEBT LOAD
Previous discounts have come at a cost to Evergrande's margins. Last week, it posted a 37% slump in first-half core profit despite a 24% increase in sales.
Its total borrowings climbed 2.7% during the period to 835.5 billion yuan ($122 billion). The company has targeted sales of 800 billion yuan in 2020.
Matthew Chow, a director at rating agency S&P Global, said Evergrande's deep discount offer is likely to be "company specific" because it has short-term debt obligations coming due.
"Evergrande relies a lot on its cash generation to tackle all the upcoming obligations; sales is obviously one of Evergrande's key cash inflow," Chow said.
($1 = 6.8468 Chinese yuan renminbi)
By Clare Jim