Real estate agent Angela Wong showed a suburban Los Angeles home to prospective buyers from Taiwan last month, but after one quick look, the deal was off.
The drawbacks, as Ms. Wong explained it, were in the lot's triangular shape and the home's exposed ceilings. And it was more than just a matter of taste. The couple adheres to the tradition of "feng shui" and triangular shapes and exposed ceilings signify bad luck.
The couple consulted a wise man who looked at the house, its location and even the direction of the wind before rendering their verdict.
For Ms. Wong, it's become a fairly routine process. In a small pocket of the real estate community, knowing different cultural customs like "feng shui," which literally means winds and water, can sometimes be a crucial factor in making a deal.
Real estate traditions of different ethnic groups range from basing a home-buying decision on the reaction of a baby to burying a religious statue in the front yard to the shape of the home determining future prosperity.
Experts say agents should not make generalizations about an ethnic group.
Many residents born in the United State might not follow the same beliefs as those who have recently arrived.
But given the diversity of cultures in Southern California, real estate agents are paying greater attention to home-buying considerations that go beyond price.
In the case of the triangular home in the Los Angeles suburb of West Hills, Ms. Wong said the shape of the lot looked like a funnel to her clients -- and they believed their luck would run out if they bought the home. An exposed ceiling beam looks like a "knife" according to the tradition and this means family members could risk having an operation if they sat or lied under it, she said.
Mike Dix, an agent at Century 21 Barrett Realtors in Newhall, approximately 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, said that he had to find a home with no water pipes in the center of the house for an Asian buyer who believed that "if the pipes broke then the house would collapse
The buyers' final decision to buy a $600,000 home in the area was based on an evaluation of the home's negative energies by fTC a wise man who was paid $1,500, Mr. Dix said.
The buyers' adviser brought a baby to the home and watched what the child did for a half hour, he said.
"I suspect that they were watching if the baby would react adversely, (such as) crying or shying away from a certain area," Dix said. "If the mystic had said no, the sale would not have taken place."
Wong, an agent at a Fred Sands Realtors office in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, said that since 80 percent of her Chinese clients believe in feng shui, she decided to visit a wise man in Hong Kong to learn more about it.
"I deal with this kind of client all the time," Wong said. "Before I joined the business, I didn't believe in (feng shui) but now I do. Things really turn out as they said."
Wong sent a blueprint of her office to the Hong Kong wise man to determine where she should be sitting to sell the most homes. It would have been good luck to face east, but since that wasn't possible, she has placed items on her desk to offset the bad luck including a red belt wrapped in the shape of an oval and a Chinese prayer.
Ms. Wong said that some feng shui concerns relate to the location of the property.
A home situated at the end of a T-intersection or a cul-de-sac signifies a dead end for the owner.
A home facing water or with water nearby is lucky because water represents wealth.
To the Chinese, the combination of numbers in an address can be significant. For example, a home that has "4" in the address is generally considered bad luck because, when translated, the number sounds like the word "death." An "8," though, sounds like "prosperity."