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In Arcadia real estate, 4 is a negative number

Many Chinese buyers shy away from 4, because in Cantonese and Mandarin the words for it and death sound similar. A law allowing free address changes may be revived.

May 21, 2011|By Ching-Ching Ni, Los Angeles Times
  • Real estate agent Imy Dulake persuaded the seller of this Arcadia home to get the address changed from 444 to 448.
Real estate agent Imy Dulake persuaded the seller of this Arcadia home to… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Pity the poor Arcadia couple trying to sell a house with a street number 44.

Most local buyers are Chinese — and for them, such a number can kill a deal.

That's because, in Mandarin and Cantonese, the word for four sounds like the word for death. So 44 essentially adds up to double death.

Josh Grohs, managing partner of Sol-Mur Development, LLC, buys up Arcadia houses, tears them down and then builds new homes. He knows his market and the dangers of picking the wrong property.

"This property is worth $1.4 million if the address was not two fours. If they don't change it, that would knock $300,000 to $400,000 off the property," Grohs said of the owners of No. 44, who do not want their street name mentioned for fear of making a bad situation worse.

"No one would have thought anything of it 30 years ago," he said. "Now it definitely, 100%, does not make their home that attractive."

Twenty years ago, Arcadia dealt with similar complaints from residents about numbers when the city started seeing a dramatic rise in Chinese homeownership. At the time, like numerous other San Gabriel Valley cities, it decided to allow people to change inauspicious numbers — for a fee. But five years ago, it abandoned that program after city workers complained about how onerous and confusing the process of changing addresses had become.

Lately though, with Chinese buyers providing the only bright spot in a slow real estate market, complaints about bad numbers have been on the rise again.

"I don't remember the last house I built I sold to a white person in Arcadia, except maybe for one," said Grohs. "The only reason we're not feeling the pain of, say, Glendora and Monrovia is because of the Asians."

This month, the City Council voted 3 to 2 in support of bringing back the old address-changing program, pending a study of the costs. The council will revisit the issue next month.

Some of those facing numbers problems bought their properties many decades ago, before the Asian influx. Asians, predominantly Chinese, now make up nearly 60% of Arcadia's population.

"If we can save somebody from taking a financial bath, we should," said Bob Harbicht, the council member who first brought the topic up.

But his colleagues don't all agree.

"There are 20,000 homes in Arcadia. One in four has a number four in it. That's a potential of 3,000 addresses that could be changed," said Councilman Roger Chandler, who is against restarting the program. "We have people who want to change the entire 1400 block. And a lady who lives in apartment No. 911 who feels it's bad luck. Where do we stop?"

Supporters say changing building numbers isn't such an unusual thing. After all, they say, when President Reagan left office, he and Nancy took up residence at 666 St. Cloud Road in Bel-Air but had the address changed to 668 to avoid the "number of the beast."

"Many high-rises don't have a 13th floor. It's harder to rent them," said Harbricht. "It's strictly a business decision."

Veteran Arcadia real estate agent Imy Dulake of Coldwell Banker tried to show a condominium at 444 W. Huntington Drive to Asian clients about five years ago.

"We drove up there and the buyer saw the number 444 and didn't even want to see it," said Dulake.

At the time, the city still allowed residents to change one digit of an address, but changing the number of a condominium building would have been too hard. Around the same time, though, Dulake got a listing for a house at 444 Oxford Drive. She persuaded the homeowner to get a new number, 448, which was an improvement because eight sounds like "to prosper."

Armed with its new address, the house got multiple offers and sold within a month, she said.

With younger Chinese and very rich buyers from mainland China who pay for multimillion-dollar homes in cash, the number four is not necessarily a deal breaker, but it's not preferred, said real estate agent Cordella Wong of Coldwell Banker.

"Psychologically, changing the number four would make the buyer more comfortable, and it's good for resale value," said Wong, who recently helped a client change an address in San Gabriel, one of several nearby cities where it is allowed.

As for herself, Wong says she once lived in a house numbered 2440. "Nothing bad happened to me," she said.

chingching.ni@latimes.com

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