"Ghost Month," a tradition in China and Taiwan when people honor the dead by leaving food sacrifices and postponing major changes, is a concern to some Los Angeles-area realtors.
They fear that celebration of the ancient custom, which began last week and ends Aug. 30, may slow home sales in communities of recent immigrants.
"People who are really superstitious about it won't make an offer, purchase or move into a new home until the month is over," said Peter Chang, a sales agent at Region 1 Realty in San Marino.
"Ghost Month," which started as a festival in ancient China, is something like Halloween, he explained. "Superstitious people believe it's when a devil in hell opens the door for all the ghosts to come out."
Becky Lieung, who works in the San Marino office of Podley Caughey & Doan, said, "It's when the ghosts go out fo find their replacements, so the ghosts can be reborn. That's why people stay away from many activities."
Some Avoid Weddings
Tricia Lin of Mandarin Realty, Monterey Park, said, "Many people will avoid events like wedding ceremonies and store grand openings at this time, and in China and Taiwan, they leave food in front of their houses to treat the ghosts to a feast."
Chang, who is from Taiwan, says 80% of his home buyers throughout the San Gabriel Valley are Asians, "and even if they come from Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, a lot believe in Ghost Month."
Lin doesn't see any conflict with believers buying a house during the month. "I think it's OK to buy," she said, "but moving in is another story." She figures that the escrow period should provide enough time for the month to pass.
But Michael Shen of Shen Realty in Monterey Park disagrees. "Many Chinese people won't buy homes during the month," he said.
Many believers "will not even arrange anything happy during the month," said Stephen Chui of Jon Douglas Co., Pasadena. Chui is from Hong Kong.
Avoid Buying Real Estate
Robert Liu, an editor of the Monterey Park-headquartered Chinese newspaper World Journal, added, "Many Chinese people will avoid doing things like buying or selling real estate, having surgery or getting married."
Lieung isn't aware of anybody refusing to buy a home because of Ghost Month. "But there could be some who know of the superstition and don't want to take a chance on having bad luck," she said.
Bill Podley, a principal of her firm, noted that half of the San Marino home sales during the past two years were made to Asians.
"Not all Chinese subscribe to the idea (of Ghost Month)," he said, "but those who do, believe bad luck could come with any major step taken during the month."
Some Not So Serious
Lanny Aplanalp of Herbert Hawkins Realtors, Temple City, queried several Chinese agents on his staff and concluded, "Belief in Ghost Month is not so prevalent among the younger generation."
"Some Chinese people here are serious about Ghost Month, and others are not," said Michael Watson of George Realty in San Gabriel.
"But we don't want to mention it in our offices, because we don't want to give anyone a reason to say, 'I can't sell any homes today.' " George Realty has about 300 sales agents, and Watson estimated that 95% of them are Chinese.
Chang doesn't foresee a big drop in home sales resulting from Ghost Month, "because people can still look at properties and make offers later. But I think Ghost Month will have some effect."
It did last year, he noticed, when sales, mainly to new immigrants from Asia, were brisker. "The market is already about 40% slower this year," he said, attributing the decline to reasons other than Ghost Month.
Lilly Lee, a longtime Los Angeles real estate broker, doesn't expect the month to have much effect on home sales, "unless the buyers carry the tradition from China."
The month is the seventh on the lunar calendar, which is observed by many Chinese, but it is the eighth on the Gregorian calendar, used here.
That might offset any bad associations, she suggested, because "8 is a lucky number."