If you consider new properties have purchase taxes and other processing fees, buying 2nd hand isn’t much different – and there are ‘ways’ to avoid 2nd hand transfer fees if you know people 😀
For new purchases you usually have to pay some other fees up front when you take charge of the apartment, namely wuguan/other monthly fees for the first (or until the end of the current) year. You should also keep in mind you’ll have pressure to buy a parking spot, and they’re expensive (mine was 150k rmb, cash). If you don’t drive, keep in mind: if the spots are all sold out..which they sell out fast, and you later want to sell or rent the place but have no spot and the buyer/renter drives, you may end up cutting down the value of your sale/rental.
You can buy apartments at any place that has a foreigner sales certificate or whatever it is. Most any high end development has one, but you should verify that as soon as you walk in to a new development sales office or talk to an agent about 2nd hand apartments.
There are lots of good developers, and more bad ones. Many foreign developers are better but sometimes they offload a lot of the actual development or after-sales service to domestic companies, so it’s not just which developer’s name is on the development but who is actually doing the work/going to be managing the complex afterwards.
I bought a place next to Ikea, City Springs – they’re almost done building the 5 star millenium hotel or whatever in the complex, it’s a Singaporean developer. Happy with everything so far, actually the Wu Guan has been very good to me. Many examples/stories to support that but not enough room in a post 😉 Good WuGuan and making friends with them (and the guards) will make life easier in many instances here.