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Eli Bildner senior contributor

Chinese Web Users Marvel at Detroit, Where a Home Is ‘as Cheap as a Pair of Shoes’

(via Bigstockphoto)

The news for aspiring Chinese homeowners continues to get worse.

Despite a series of government measures aimed at curbing speculation in China’s torrid housing market, real estate prices throughout the country continue to soar. Just this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that home prices in 66 of 70 major Chinese cities rose from January to February. According to a People’s Bank of China survey, 68% of Chinese citizens consider current housing prices “too high” and “difficult to accept.” And in some Beijing neighborhoods, apartments sell for over $16,000 per square meter — a steeper bill than one might face in areas of Manhattan.

Given this rather bleak picture, perhaps it’s unsurprising that Chinese netizens are taking interest in a real estate market six thousand miles away — one where a house can be had for the price of a high-end pair of heels.

This week, a Chinese Central Television (CCTV) report on the real estate market in Detroit, Michigan drew thousands of comments and retweets on Sina Weibo, one of China’s largest social networks.

The television spot came on the heels of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s declaration of a “fiscal state of emergency” in Detroit, and his subsequent appointment of an outside manager to oversee the city’s finances. Detroit carries over $14 billion in financial liabilities and faces a declining tax base due to a sagging population and the continuing travails of the area’s once-powerful auto manufacturers.

CCTV’s interview with real estate investor Jasmine McMorris quickly went viral. (Via Weibo)

But according to the CCTV report, Detroit’s decay has also opened up opportunities for savvy real estate investors. The 3.5-minute CCTV segment profiles one such investor — a local real estate agent named Jasmine McMorris — who says she’s purchased over 360 Detroit-area properties. The clip highlights one of McMorris’ acquisitions, a 230-square-meter storefront that five years ago retailed for around $450,000. This year, McMorris bought the store for just $2,300; she’s landed other properties for as little as $500.

In addition to a million-plus hashtag mentions for “#Detroit” (“#底特律#”), over a thousand Sina Weibo users commented on the CCTV segment. For some respondents, CCTV’s tale of bargain-bin houses left them eager to pack their bags.

“Damn it,” wrote one such user, @武藤要开始努力了.”I’ve got to immigrate.”

Another Sina Weibo user, @快乐grisha, further drew out the differences between a Chinese city and Detroit: “Seven-hundred thousand people, quiet, clean air, no pollution, democracy — what are you waiting for?”

Not all respondents, however, were equally sanguine about the prospects for Detroit’s real estate market.

“The public safety situation in Detroit is terrible,” wrote @J童木. “Buy a house and you’ll regret it.”

A more waggish commenter responded to the video with a list of suggested reminders Detroit real estate brokers should give to Chinese clients:

Do you have your gun ready? Better get in some practice before you get here. Is your pocketbook full? We can sell you a thousand houses. Do you have a lawyer? If your house ends up unused it’ll become a hangout for tramps.

But while their appraisals of the Detroit property market may vary, netizens would almost certainly share one hope: that price tags for houses in China begin to look just a bit more like those in Detroit.

Or as one Weibo user succinctly put it: “I wish China could be like this.”

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Eli Bildner

Since moving to China after graduating from college, Eli Bildner has lived in Yunnan, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. You can read more of his essays and poetry at www.elibildner.com.
  • BobbyWong

    “I wish China could be like this.”

    Do the Chinese netters really know about how ghetto inner city Detroit is? The crime rate? Drugs and gun violence? Poor schools as legacy of racial discrimination?

    I don’t think even the “need a gun” comment describe just how bad things are there. Some parts of downtown Detroit look worse than Baghdad, you need your own army of Blackwater operatives. Bad neighborhoods look like ghost towns cuz sitting on your own porch will get you shot.

  • MM

    “I wish China could be like this.” Said one of a billion foolish and ignorant Chinese netizens. Be careful of what you wish for, dumb asses.