Thu, Mar 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

How a fear of ghosts leads to callous acts

Homeowners are committing all manner of heartless acts to avoid their homes becoming haunted, and this is bearing a direct impact on the housing and insurance market

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

And many don’t want to rent out their property at all, a problem in a place like Taipei with high housing prices and a dearth of affordable housing.

The Taipei City Government recently announced that there are more than 35,000 homes that have been vacant for more than a year.

Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said at a news conference in November last year that the city would offer tax breaks for any landlord willing to rent out an apartment. But even Ko seemed doubtful at the press conference.

“Many landlords are not willing to let out empty units for rent because they are afraid of trouble,” Ko says.

PROTECTING YOURSELF

In September, a woman surnamed Tsai (蔡) committed suicide by hanging in the Chiayi townhouse of her boyfriend’s ex-wife. On the wall Tsai scribbled: “I curse your family to a bad death. Hope you enjoy living in a xiongzhai.”

Liu Wei-te (劉韋德), head of the legal department at Sinyi Realty (信義房屋), Taiwan’s largest real estate company, tells the Taipei Times that Taiwanese will not only have a strong resistance to xiongzhai, but also the apartments next to it, the building it is housed in and, depending on the degree of a person’s fear of ghosts, the complex where the building is located.

In 2011, the company unveiled its “xiongzhai peace of mind guarantee” (凶宅安心保障服務), an assurance that the company will not knowingly sell a xiongzhai.

“When a customer buys a xiongzhai, there is absolutely nothing you can do to console them,” says Jeremy Shive (薛健平), Sinyi’s general manager.

Liu says Sinyi’s market research showed that “94 percent of Taiwanese have a moderate to strong aversion to living in a xiongzhai.”

“If a buyer has a strong resistance to buying a property in a complex that has a xiongzhai, then there is a good chance they won’t find a place to live [in Taipei],” Liu says.

Liu estimates that there are 150,000 of these properties throughout Taiwan.

Liu adds that the market price of a xiongzhai varies according to the nature of the person’s unnatural death. The more violent the death, the more the house plummets in value.

“A suicide by jumping from the 10th floor will not have as much an impact as a murder on the 10th floor,” he says.

Liu cites the murders in Hualien as an example.

“It was a horrific murder. Nobody would dare live there for years,” Liu says.

Lin Mao-hsien disagrees that the degree of fear associated with unnatural death impacts the value of a property. For him, a xiongzhai is a xiongzhai is a xiongzhai, and it is the responsibility of the owner to tear it down, regardless whether a grisly murder, accidental death or drug overdose occurred within its walls.

He cites a partially-constructed building in Chiayi where a man hung himself that would have to be torn down and rebuilt to ensure that the ghost wouldn’t negatively impact the new inhabitants. Lin Mao-hsien says that even a tree can suffer this kind of haunting if, for example, a person commits suicide by hanging from it.

The growing number of suicides and murders, and the media’s incessant reporting on them, led Fubon Insurance (富邦人壽) to introduce a xiongzhai insurance policy — one that is similar to earthquake or flood insurance.

Fubon’s Ingrid Lin (林晨) tells the Taipei Times that the company’s market research estimates that 2,000 homes become xiongzhai every year.

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