The name for the number four sounds like “death” in Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects. It’s considered so unlucky in Chinese culture that in October, Beijing’s vehicle licensing authority removed it completely from automobile licence plates. Meanwhile, eight sounds like “fortune” and is highly prized; in Guangdong province, licence plate A8888Q recently sold for almost $200,000. These beliefs may seem like interesting quirks, but if you’re holding real estate in a Canadian neighbourhood that has experienced a Chinese influx in recent decades, they are no laughing matter: your address could cost you or earn you extra thousands of dollars.
A new paper from the University of British Columbia’s economics department, “Superstition in the Housing Market,” offers what is probably the best-ever estimate of the relevant amounts.
Taiwanese undergraduate student Jeff Huang approached professor Nicole Fortin with a request to do a Chinese-themed project; the idea snowballed as the team, with Ph.D. student Andrew Hill on board, realized that they were smack dab in the middle of the world’s greatest experiment in Sino-European cultural coexistence. Their study looks at five years’ worth of single-family dwelling sales—nearly 117,000 transactions—in Greater Vancouver, isolating the interaction between local ethnic Chinese concentration and the value of homes with addresses ending in deadly “4” or happy “8.”
They hit pay dirt. On average, in neighbourhoods with a Chinese population of over 18 per cent, addresses ending in “4” sold at a 2.1 per cent discount; ones ending in “8” received a 2.5 per cent bonus. Given the $400,000 average price of the Lower Mainland homes in the study, the value of that “8” works out to $10,000. The effects are somewhat stronger in neighbourhoods that are more Chinese, and disappear in areas with few Chinese residents. “It’s perhaps not the most serious research in the world,” admits Fortin, who is her department’s Canadian Institute for Advanced Research fellow, “but it’s a good, solid measurement of an interesting phenomenon.”