China's 'Rent-a-Foreigner' industry is booming

Screen Shot 2015 04 28 at 5.06.25 PMScreengrab/New York TimesThese two foreigners were hired by a specialty firm in China to pose as British guards outside of an empty development to make it look more ‘international.’

Foreigners are being hired to pose as celebrities by Chinese real estate developers to help agents sell property in “ghost towns” by making them appear more animated and worldly, according to a new mini-documentary released by the New York Times.

Thanks to China’s overzealous property development, the supply of luxury apartment complexes in some of China’s most rural areas has far exceeded demand. But that doesn’t stop the sales pitches.

The Times’ David Borenstein travelled to provincial West China where he found firms that specialised in recruiting groups of expatriates who they would then rent out to attend events, the majority of which are hosted by real estate companies.

Screen Shot 2015 04 28 at 5.03.08 PMScreengrab/New York TimesOne of the many luxury apartment complexes lying half-developed, and empty, in China.

“There are many places in China, especially in remote places, where the houses are really overvalued,” a real estate agent from the outskirts of Chongqing told the New York Times. “But there is this trick: make it international.”

The client can pick and choose who they want to pose at their event, down to the foreigners’ nationalities and skin colours.

“Now, it is true that the price of white people is expensive,” the same agent told Borenstein. “But it makes the place feel classier.”

If a client can’t afford a white foreigner, he or she is advised to go with a black actor instead who have “a very open personality, yet are quite cheap.”

Screen Shot 2015 04 28 at 5.04.51 PMScreengrab/New York TimesSome of the foreigners hired to pose as celebrities at Chinese real estate events.

If a development filled with luxury apartment buildings is not perceived as “international,” it will not be nearly as desirable to prospective buyers, the real estate agent explained.

“It is a widespread belief in China that if foreigners are hired at an event, the whole thing is bumped up to another level,” she said. “As long as there is a good image, people will be willing to buy.”

Upon signing with these speciality firms, poached foreigners are given new identities and told that they are now “models” and “actors.”

“In China, if you’re from the West, you can be anything without any knowledge or education,” one of these foreign “actors” told the Times. “We just show up to give them a white face.”

The Times notes that while “it is impossible to gauge foreigners’ effect on property sales, the widespread nature of the phenomenon suggests that it works, at least in the eyes of real estate developers.”

Watch the full New York Times op-doc here >>

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