Screenshot/Spacious.hk

An app tracks the locations of grisly deaths to help users land a discount on their next apartment—or avoid the building altogether.

As if the skyrocketing rents and ever-shrinking size of Hong Kong’s apartments aren’t frightening enough, apartment hunters can now use an augmented-reality app to seek out the “haunted” flats of the city.

According to the South Morning China Post, the startup Spacious has taken a cue from the popular Pokemon Go app to let users explore their surroundings through their smartphone cameras. This particular app, however, lets users point their phones at a building in order to see information about available units, including dimensions, price—and any grisly murders or untimely deaths that took place there.

The incidents are unnerving: a couple killed themselves and their pet dog inside their Sha Tin apartment by burning charcoal. Near the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay, a man strangled his wife to death in their home after failing to save the relationship.

Not to mention the multiple accounts of students and workers jumping out of windows or hanging themselves due to stress and mental illness. This is, after all, a city in which mental illness and suicide are sensitive topics that are rarely spoken about in public. It was only in March, after a string of suicides among students ages 11 to 22, that the government announced that they would send psychologists to more than a thousand schools to help administrators identify at-risk behavior.

Each ghost icon offers a short description of an untimely death. (Screengrab/Spacious.hk)

Each death is documented, along with the name of the neighborhood and building where it occurred, and marked by a ghost emoji on Spacious’s map. These properties, according to the handful of sites like Spacious that maintain these databases, can be found all over Hong Kong. They’re known as hongza, which translates to “brutal house” in Cantonese, and records go as far back as the 1970s.

For apartment hunters who don’t want a ghostly encounter, it helps to know which buildings to avoid altogether. For others, keeping track of these unfortunate incidents is a bargaining chip to get real estate companies to lower prices. In one of the more extreme cases, according to Spacious CEO Asif Ghafoor who spoke with Channel News Asia, a unit in a luxurious tower in Wan Chai was listed with at least 30 percent discount after police found the bodies of two murdered women in 2014. In typical cases, untimely deaths have led to a 10 to 15 percent decrease in rents.

The app and the various databases that are sold to renters and real estate agents play on the fear of ghosts and the idea that it’s ominous to live in a setting of a murder or suicide. As CNN reported in 2013, since the databases usually only list the building rather than the particular unit, they can lower the price of all the neighboring apartments by thousands. And though property owners have lodged complaints against the databases, the government has taken little action.

But the stigma these homes carry may not be entirely a curse. The founders behind Spacious particularly cater to expatriates and Millennials, who aren’t as superstitious as Hong Kong’s older generations. According to Vice, the ghost map gets used 5,000 times a month. In fact, the spooky appetite has been so strong that Spacious is planning to take its service to neighboring cities of Shanghai and Taipei—old beliefs be damned.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  2. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  3. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  4. Groups of people look at their phones while sitting in Washington Square Park in Manhattan.
    Life

    How Socially Integrated Is Your City? Ask Twitter.

    Using geotagged tweets, researchers found four types of social connectedness in big U.S. cities, exemplified by New York, San Francisco, Detroit, and Miami.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×