Rick Fletcher is really, really happy that MBK Homes decided not to name its Gardena, Calif., townhome project “Four Gardens.”
“If we had, I wouldn’t be talking to you today” about how successful the community is, says Fletcher, vice president of sales and marketing for the Irvine, Calif.–based builder.
The word for “four” in Chinese sounds similar to the word for “death,” so it would have been the equivalent of calling it “Death Gardens” to many Asian buyers, Fletcher explains. Many assiduously avoid the number, to the point where they won’t consider buying a home with a four in the address, much less in the community’s name, he adds.
Instead, MBK dubbed the live/work infill project 1600 Artesia Square and within nine months more than half of the 97-unit project was sold, 90 percent purchased by buyers of various Asian backgrounds.
During the peak of the recession, when it was especially difficult to find buyers who could qualify for mortgages, MBK began working to market to Asian buyers.
“The Chinese buyer, particularly, was among the best qualified buyer out in the market place,” Fletcher says. “They tended to be cash buyers, and they had great credit scores.”
MBK also reached out to other ethnic groups. In addition to Chinese versions of its websites, it also created Spanish versions. And it hired sales agents fluent in Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
The company altered floor plans to appeal to those who adhere to feng shui principles. MBK hired practitioners of the art, which is based on a belief that objects—including houses—can foster positive and negative energy depending on placement, to review its plans.
In some plans the builder eliminated staircases facing the front door or revised views from the front door that extended through to the back of the home, as well as adjusting other configurations thought to be negative by some buyers. And it did its best to remove the number four from addresses and to orient homes to the more favored north-south orientation, Fletcher says.
The multicultural marketing and design approach paid off at the Artesia project, located in a very ethnically diverse urban area south of Los Angeles, close to the South Bay areas of Torrance and Redondo Beach.
“We knew that we would have a very diverse cultural mix of prospective buyers [for Artesia Square], but we didn’t know at the time that it would be so heavily skewed toward Asian, over 90 percent,” Fletcher says.
Of particular appeal to many Asian buyers are the live/work units that make up a third of the homes in Artesia Square. The units have ground-floor retail zoning that allows small-business owners to work on the first floor and live on the second and third floors.
“Many immigrants from China, Japan, and Korea come here and open their own businesses,” Fletcher explains.
MBK advertised the project in local Chinese, Korean, and Japanese publications and on Chinese radio stations. It put flyers inside popular Asian grocery store chains, joined the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and participated in the Asian American Real Estate Association. Agents also went door-to-door to businesses in the community, passing out flyers about the live/work units and showing examples of how consolidating their business with their home could save dollars.
The intensive targeted marketing has been more than worth the effort, Fletcher says. The builder has been able to increase prices slightly. “The good news is we didn’t name it Four Gardens.”