About a year ago, Hong Kong’s plethora of cut-rate, ghost-inflicted properties were selling like gangbusters to discount-seeking foreign buyers who didn’t mind if their investment happened to be the scene of a grisly “Final Destination”-style dispatch.
Now, it would appears that the city, home to the most prohibitively priced real estate in the world, is running short on its once-abundant supply of hongza — stigmatized properties that have been legally declared as haunted because the previous owner and/or resident(s) committed suicide, was murdered or murdered someone else, was involved in a fatal accident, or expired in any other “unnatural” way.
It would be nice to think that Hong Kong’s dearth of available hongza is the result of a decrease in citizens throwing themselves off of balconies, inhaling carbon monoxide fumes, or stabbing their mistresses. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Hong Kong’s recent real estate boom and the skyrocketing prices that accompany it are the reason that the hongza market has all but dried up. Where a non-superstitious expat or shrewd local investor could have once gotten a serious deal (discounts, once upon a time, were as high 40 percent) on an afflicted three-bedroom flat, rising demand has brought the formerly generous hongza discount down to just five percent below market rate, if that. According to the Journal, even properties located near funeral homes, cemeteries, and other spooky locales traditionally shunned by locals have been subject to sharp price increases.
"The market is crazy now," says Ng Goo Lau, a fellow who has built himself quite the reputation as Hong Kong's “go-to guy” for those looking to rent or buy a home that comes equipped with a rather unfortunate, sometimes bloody history. The 62-year-old former shark fin seller has flipped more than 20 hongza over the past 10 or so years starting with his very own home (a worker was electrocuted during renovations). As a result of the boom, Ng only purchased one hongza in 2012. He's also been joined by more than a dozen aggressive competitors specializing in hongza flipping, a trade that he pioneered. "I learned it by myself. Nobody taught me. It's not my fate or luckiness, but my boldness,” says Ng of his given profession before referring to his new competition as “amateurs.”
Although Ng’s once-busy business — an obituary-scanning-centric profession that once enabled him to buy properties at a third of the market rate and sell them back to foreigners at inflated prices for a handsome profit — has come to a near-standstill, he’s still having no problem renting out haunted apartments to expats at market rate. “All my tenants are very happy. No one has complained that they've seen ghosts,” explains Ng.
Well, that’s a relief. Aaron Bleasdale, an attorney and hongza-renter says of his experience living in a bargain-priced penthouse in one of Hong Kong’s most desirable neighborhoods: “The [ghosts] here probably wouldn't speak English anyway, so I don't think they would bother me.” Curiously enough, the Journal points out that Bleasdale has since moved to another apartment. Is there something he isn’t telling us?
More on Hong Kong’s hongza shortage over at the Wall Street Journal. There's also an accompanying video in which Ng explains the tier associated with buying and selling haunted houses: the two most preferred hongza scenarios are suicide by jumping from a building (hey, the death technically happens outside of the apartment) and suicide by inhaling charcoal fumes (“because he dies in his dream without any pain.") Apartments where the previous tenants hung themselves or were the victim of murder can, understandably, be a bit harder to unload.
And I've asked it before and I'll ask it again: Have you purchased or would you purchase a seriously discounted home knowing that something "bad" happened to the previous owner? Would you sign the lease on a steal of a rental even if you were fully aware that the previous tenant brutally murdered his entire family with an electric saw?