Common taboos that affect properties

Let us go on a journey to find out how social taboos affect property prices particularly in Malaysia.

By Dr Ernest Cheong

Before they decide to buy a property – whether it is a house, condominium, apartment or shop – Malaysians tend to consider many factors that may be considered to be ‘non-scientific’ or even ‘superstitious’.

Within the Malaysian property context, factors like the property’s feng shui – its location at a ‘T’ junction, its location below the road level, and the unit number (address) of the property – are important enough for property buyers not to ignore.

These “non-scientific” factors are very real and you ignore them at your own peril when you want to sell the property later. You either will not be able to sell it or you will be forced to sell the property at a much-reduced price.

The Chinese Taboo on Number 4: To many Chinese, the number ‘4’ is tabooed. It sounds like death in Mandarin and in many other Chinese dialects. Be careful to avoid buying a property with the number 4 as part of its address, especially when the property is located in an area where a majority of the residents are Chinese. When the time comes for you to sell your property, you may encounter difficulties finding a buyer or if a buyer is found, he may want to discount the price on account of the tabooed No. 4.

The International Taboo on No. 13: If you were to enter some office buildings in Kuala Lumpur, you will likely find ‘Level 13’ or the ‘13thFloor’ missing in the lift buttons and on the Tenants Directory.

In place of ‘13’, you will often find ‘12A’. It looks like the number ‘13’ is tabooed in some places. As with No. 4, avoid buying a property with number 13 as part of its address. The taboo against number ‘13’ is not as strong as the taboo against No. 4.

All the same, when it comes to the time to sell your property, you may encounter difficulties finding a buyer or if a buyer is found, he may want to discount the price because of the tabooed number 13.

Property facing a “T” junction: All the three major communities in Malaysia – the Malays, Chinese and Indians – have a dislike for properties facing a ‘T’ junction.

They each have their own reasons for having an aversion to such properties. The Chinese believe that especially during the time of the hungry ghost festival when the gates of hell are open and spirits enter the earthly realm, houses facing ‘T’ junctions are at greater risk of being ‘invaded’ by these “hungry ghosts”.

Property below road level: All the three major communities in Malaysia – the Malays, Chinese and Indians – have a dislike for properties located below the road level. The Chinese believe that with your house located below road level, all the bad luck of residents in the entire neighbourhood that flow onto the road will eventually flow into your house. To the Chinese, this is unacceptable and they will at all costs avoid buying a property located below road level.

Property Sloping Downwards: The Chinese do not like to have a house built on land with a steep slope with the access road sloping down towards the frontage road. The Malay and Indian communities also dislike such houses.

While the Malay and Indian communities have their respective reasons for this aversion, the Chinese believe that the residents’ wealth, prosperity and luck will flow down the sloping road away to his neighbours below them.

Haunted Properties: When you are looking to buy a property, the above taboos are easy to identify because they have physical features that you can look out for. When it comes to making sure that the property is not haunted, it is much harder. How do you know if a house is haunted? You will have to extensively investigate the background and history of that property in question.

The seller will not tell you. The real estate agent will not tell you. What then should you do? My advice is: “If you are in doubt about whether that property is haunted, just give it a pass and move on to other similar properties”.

However, if you like that property very much and will not easily give it up, there are some steps to follow to get the information you want:

  • Check how frequently the tenants move in and out of this property.
  • Was the property vacant or unoccupied when the real estate agent introduced it to you?
  • If it was vacant, find out how long the last tenant stayed before they moved out.
  • Visit the property at night and observe from the outside if you can hear ‘funny noises’.

If, after all these investigations, you still have doubts, move on and give it a miss. However, if you are a fervent believer in the power of your God to help you get rid of the ”evil spirits” there, then by all means go ahead and negotiate for a ”give-away” price as you may be the only buyer the seller has.

Properties near high-tension towers: Properties that are built on land beside high-tension electric power lines are also shunned by all the communities in Malaysia including Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak. They shun such properties for health reasons and not due to cultural taboos.

Studies by scientists have shown that high-tension electric power lines emit radioactive rays like gamma rays. It has also been shown by some scientists that prolonged exposure to radioactive rays like gamma rays, for example on those who live near high-tension electric power lines, can increase the risk of cancer.

When you buy a property from the secondary market, do be careful to make sure the property you are looking at is at least 500 meters from high-tension electric power lines in order to be absolutely sure that you are safe from exposure to gamma ray radiation.

If you are buying a property ‘off-plan’ from a developer, visit the development site and as best as you can, try to ascertain the location of the nearest high-tension electric power lines. If you are unable to find anything and you are still uneasy, engage the services of an electrical engineer to investigate. The electrical engineer knows how and from where to get the information. It is worth the professional fees you pay the electrical engineer.

If the electrical engineer reports that there is a possibility that high-tension electric power lines may be built near the property you intend to purchase – however remote that possibility may be – give it a miss and move on to other development projects. Your family’s health and safety should be above all other considerations.

Dr Ernest Y. Y. Cheong, 68 is a veteran chartered surveyor, registered valuer, auctioneer and arbitrator. He is the principal of Ernest Cheong PTL Chartered Surveyors and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) as well as an MBA from Reading University, England. If you have any query about property and property related issues, e-mail Dr Cheong at or visit He also blogs at


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