The ongoing trial of British banker Rurik Jutting in Hong Kong is surfacing the bizarre and twisted narrative of an alleged double-murder in 2014. Jutting is said to have tortured and killed two migrant workers in his luxurious one-bedroom apartment that he rented for nearly $4,000 a month. The gruesome saga involves sex toys, cocaine, a serrated knife, and an iPhone camera.
Now, Jutting's former apartment is a shining example of Hong Kong's hung jaak—Cantonese for the city's haunted houses that drop in price after tragic events. Many Chinese fear these properties because of their traditional belief in ghosts, a part of the ancient harmonizing philosophy feng shui. But the discounts are embraced by local millennials and expats alike. And one pioneering tech startup, spacious.hk, found a unique way to take advantage of these discounts for those unafraid of the supernatural.
When spacious.hk started, it mapped out data points of where these tragic events occurred and laid them over a map of the city. Now, the house-hunting service is taking things a step further by moving into augmented reality with a just-launched app that allows users to hunt haunted houses in real time. Naturally, it's inspired by Pokémon Go.
"Pokémon Go gave the world a crash course in augmented reality," said James Fisher, spacious.hk's director of analysis and analytics. "It's in the hands of everyone."
Following the release of Pokémon Go, the team at spacious.hk, which currently has about 1,300 tragic events listed on its database, wanted to capitalize on how much augmented reality could boost the value of a map-based app. "And we all know how important location is to real estate," Fisher told me at a café in Hong Kong's prime Sheung Wan neighborhood, where just one square foot ran an average of $2,955 last year.
"There are so many haunted properties, if you want to walk around and spook yourself," added Fisher, whose team collects the data to map out haunted houses.
We're joined by spacious.hk founder Asif Ghafoor, who opens up the app to put it to the test. Listings pop up on the screen and hover over apartment buildings we can also see from the window. Next, the friendly ghost icon I recognize from spacious.hk's website appears above one of the listings. We take a closer look by tapping on the listing, and the apartment is going at a lower price because of a suicide.
"You're creating interactivity with the real world," Ghafoor said. "And saying, 'Augmented reality, like Pokémon Go,' makes it much easier to market."
In Asia, there are rarely "for sale" signs on a property. Ghafoor said that he hopes that the app will serve as a guide, with users being able to "see, smell, and touch" where they'll live next.
"This is the next incarnation—to see the listings, to see the ghosts in the real world, and get a pinpoint location of where your new home will be," Ghafoor said. He added that he hopes Chinese users with traditional values might download the app to avoid haunted houses.
Most tragic events are suicides, like hangings, jumping out of windows and off the roof, and suffocation by burning charcoal indoors. In Hong Kong, where a traditional society keeps mostly mum on mental health issues, jumping accounted for more than half of the city's suicides last year. Jutting's alleged murders is a rare instance of homicide, and so is the dramatic 50 percent price drop on his former apartment.
"Next, the app will be about going into apartments and houses, and overlaying things like furniture—anything to help people visualize an empty room," said Ghafoor.
Fisher, meanwhile, said that he wanted to build a game into the app where you could zap the ghosts while apartment hunting, to make it even more like Pokémon Go—but hasn't cracked how to make it relevant to real estate yet.
The app also opens up the possibility of turning on your phone and seeing that a tragic event has occurred in your own home. "The app's revealed a fact—ignorance is not bliss," Ghafoor said. "If you rent an apartment and discover you're in a haunted house, you should be able to get a discount."
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