Chinese New Year: A guide to property buying etiquette

Photo: Aotaro

Happy Chinese New Year! Today marks the start of the Year of the Monkey. People born under the sign are traditionally clever – and Chinese investors have certainly been good with their money in recent years, purchasing real estate in the UK, US, Australia and Europe. International clients from China in the 12 months to March 2015 spent $28.6 billion on US real estate alone, more than any other group of international buyers.

Chinese New Year, which is being celebrated around the world today, highlights how much there can be to learn and appreciate about Chinese culture. Did you know red is a lucky colour during the New Year season? Or that white, gold and blue are the lucky colours of the Year of the Monkey?

Almost exactly a year ago, the British Transport Minister, Baroness Susan Kramer, gave a watch to Taipei Mayor Ko wen-je as a gift, but Chinese tradition considers a clock to be a taboo gift, due to the cultural association between time and death.

When dealing with a new target audience, it is important to understand and respect any such customs. But just how different is the culture surrounding buying and selling property for Chinese investors?

We present some useful tips to see in the New Year:

1. Learn some basic phrases

Learning some basic phrases in Chinese can help you to communicate better with buyers or sellers, as well as demonstrate your sincere respect and enthusiasm to work with them.

At this time of year, consider Cantonese phrases such as “Sun Nien Fai Lok” (新年快樂) – “Happy New year!” – or “Sun Tai Geen Gong” (身體健康) – “I wish you health in the New Year!”

2. Present business cards with two hands

Leading Chinese portal notes that both hands should be used to exchange business cards as a gesture of respect, enabling you to give the card your maximum attention before putting it away. This is unlike lai see, which are red packets offered at this time of year, which should be received by making a fist with one hand and putting your other on top before bowing and offering a New Year greeting (see above). While business cards should be perused, lai see should be opened privately, advises Savills.

3. Be serious

There is no guarantee that jokes will translate well between cultures, especially with such a significant language barrier. Slang can also confuse matters, so sticking with simple language and a serious manner are best, cautions Juwai.

4. Be ready to bargain

Bargaining is a key part of Chinese real estate trade. Buyers who do not bargain for something are seen as foolish, whereas as those who successfully negotiate a lower price are considered to have won “face”. Similarly, people show respect to each other by deference, or giving “face”. This could take the form of accepting a lower negotiated price from a buyer. (Some might inflate a property’s sale price first to factor in a discount, but this deception would only offend the buyer, causing them to lose face – and you to lose business.)

5. Lucky number eight

Eight is traditionally a lucky number, while four is traditionally the number that signifies death. Selling a home for $4,444,444, therefore, might be considered bad luck, while selling a home for $8,000,000 (rather than $7,990,000) might work in your favour.

6. Don’t generalise

With all of the above noted, however, it is worth remembering that, as with all cultures, everyone is different: buyers from Taiwan may not think or behave in the same way as buyers from Hong Kong, for example. Some buyers may be superstitious. Some may not. Convention suggests that Chinese buyers tend to prefer new properties with morning sun, rather than afternoon sun, and do not usually desire a swimming pool, but there is no guarantee that such generalisations are accurate.

“Earning their trust is important when dealing with them, regardless of whether it is on the buy or sell side,” concludes Australia’s Property Observer.