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Did a Chinese Film Really Boost Seattle Home Purchasing?

Phil Hall
Sep 29, 2014
A member of the Seattle City Council is offering a proposal to expand existing legislation on the construction of backyard cottages and so-called “mother-in-law units” as a strategy to alleviate problems in the local housing market

Is a Chinese romantic comedy fueling a rush in trans-Pacific investment in pricey Seattle real estate? Or is this simply a case of movie-fueled wishful thinking? According to an article in The New York Times, wealthy Chinese buyers constitute up to one-third of $1-million-plus homes sold in the Seattle metro area, mostly in the city’s affluent suburbs.

The Times’ coverage credits the primary causes of the Chinese interest in Seattle with the city’s schools, air quality, its “longtime Chinese population” and a 2013 romantic comedy film known in China as Beijing Meets Seattle, but better known in English-language markets as Finding Mr. Right. Although the film, about a pregnant woman who arrives in Seattle from China and falls in love with another expatriate–a Chinese ex-doctor working as a taxi driver–was mostly shot in Vancouver, the Times insisted that the film “struck a chord with younger Chinese, who saw Seattle as a liberating, romantic escape from the intense materialism of China.”

However, the Times did not offer any specific data to connect the rush of Chinese real estate investment in Seattle with Finding Mr. Right. Instead, it quoted a single source–a Chinese-born project manager at the Seattle-based builder Lochwood-Lozier Custom Homes–who offered a personal observation that the film sparked a new Chinese frenzy in Seattle.

“People my age in China suddenly started talking about Seattle,” said Bangze Wang, whose company caters to Chinese property buyers, according to the Times.

The Times’ article was widely quoted and reprinted last week, with coverage ranging from The Hollywood Reporter to Britain’s The Guardian. It a fun story, to be certain, but is it correct?

Shane Burridge, a New Zealand film critic and teacher living in China, found the news that Finding Mr. Right set off a new wave of Seattle-based luxury real estate purchases to be very surprising. “Actually, Finding Mr. Right was not really that popular here,” he said. “There have been bigger hits.”

Burridge noted that any Chinese interest in Seattle would have already been established two decades ago by a classic American film that was cited in Finding Mr. Right. “There's a bit in the film where the customs officer asks why she's coming to the city and she quickly improvs, ‘Oh, Sleepless in Seattle!’–because that film has always been popular in China,” Burridge stated. “So the Seattle real estate buying would have just as much to do with that as it does the current film.  It's sort of life imitating art imitating life imitating art.”

It is not unusual for movie locations to inspire tourism to areas where classic sequences were shot. And according to Joe Meyers, entertainment writer and film critic for The Connecticut Post, there have been rare occasions when Hollywood helped to boost the real estate cred of a specific market, most notably 50 years ago when the sleepy Mexican resort of Puerto Vallarta was thrust into the center of paparazzi frenzy when Richard Burton arrived on location for the production of The Night of the Iguana with his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor.

“Puerto Vallarta is probably the most dramatic example because it went from nothing to becoming a major resort,” Meyers said. “I can’t think of anything else on that scale, although some people say that Paul Mazursky’s setting a lot of An Unmarried Woman in New York’s SoHo not only boosted the funky neighborhood’s fortunes, but also introduced people all over the country to the notion of living in a loft.”

As for the suggestion that Finding Mr. Right is fueling a Chinese mania for Seattle real estate, Gabe Leibowitz, president and CEO of New York-based Skygroup Realty–who is also a long-time online film critic–was skeptical that movie madness was a primary inspiration of Chinese property transactions.

“From what I can tell, though, the majority of Chinese buying here are doing so because they view it as a safe place to park money, not due to being star-struck by the cinema—though I’m sure those exist!” he said.

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