Cashing yin

US developers lure Chinese buyers with feng shui

Sky View Parc w

<i>Feng shui</i>-friendly Sky View Parc

The geomantic practice of feng shui teaches that a building’s structural and interior design can have profound effects on aspects of the inhabitant’s life. Most often people who consult feng shui masters are concerned with ensuring their continued wealth and health.

In 1995, an article in The Independent featured Mary, a newly divorced woman who hired a feng shui consultant to assess her house in west London. She was told her wealth was flowing down the stairs and out her door, so she needed a picture of a boat to counter it. The consultant, Patrick Wong, charged £500 ($765) for his services, and Mary was pleased.

Twenty years later and Wong was flown to Miami to consult on the feng shui aspects of a new condominium development being built on Miami Beach. With prices for the units ranging between $2 million and $40 million, Wong’s consultation fee will be a bit steeper than what he charged Mary.

Earlier this year, a report from the National Association of Realtors showed that Chinese purchasers of residential property had become the largest percentage of foreign buyers in the American market, surpassing Canadians, at 16%. As a demographic they spent $28.6 billion on residential property between April 2014 and March 2015, with an average property price of $831,000 – more than three times that paid by their American counterparts.

Bearing these numbers in mind, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate surveyed 500 Chinese-Americans to determine what influence feng shui has on their property interests. You could say the response was overwhelming: 86% said that a consideration of feng shui would influence their decision and 79% said that good feng shui would command a higher price.

Fortune magazine highlights Sky View Parc, a luxury residential complex in Queens, New York, as an example of where feng shui masters have been consulted on the design. As a result, the condominium tactfully balances the “five elements” of metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and the entrances to its rooftop park are situated so as to “counter negative energies”, as are the strategic placing of stones, plants, water and wood. The estate’s website boasts that “fashion, function and feng shui live in every detail.”

In some instances, however, a property’s good feng shui is somewhat more serendipitous than by design. The developers of 50 West, a residential tower in Manhattan, with units valued at up to $22 million, were unaware of the building’s auspicious geomancy until Chinese buyers began mentioning it. The building overlooks running water to the south and west, and has a curved design, which helps contain the qi [i.e. positive energy flow]. Half of the 191 units have already been sold.

OneWorld Properties hired feng shui experts not only to consult on design, but also to coach the sales team on how to more effectively pitch the feature. Company CEO Peggy Fucci says the agency “want[s] to make sure our brokers know what this represents to the buyer”. Taking time to learn can’t hurt: according to the Better Homes and Gardens survey, 36% of prospective Chinese buyers avoid agents who are unaware of feng shui principles.

What to fear if you are an American trying to sell your home to a Chinese? Almost a third told the survey they didn’t like properties in dead-end streets, while 29% wouldn’t touch a house whose stairs directly face the door (sloping gardens are also a problem).

But perhaps feng shui’s most transformational impact is being felt in Arcadia, a city in California that the LA Times estimates is “60% Asian”.

It reports that two rival architects, Robert Tong (a 54 year-old from Sichuan province) and the younger Philip Chan (31) have been refashioning Arcadia into “the Chinese Beverly Hills”. Chan is responsible for 75 residential designs in the area, and Tong a lot more, says the paper. Their strategy is to work with Chinese clients to buy properties in the most auspicious areas of estates and then bulldoze them and rebuild a perfect feng shui-based property from scratch.

One Tong-consulted tear-down was purchased for $1.6 million in 2011. The new house – built to Tong’s design – has since appreciated in value to $7.8 million. Evidence, perhaps, that good feng shui works.

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