What makes for a successful property agent in Manhattan? Experience and exclusive contracts with prominent developers are clearly helpful. But these days, if you cannot say " ni hao" or don't understand why apartment No8 generates more interest than apartment No4, you may want to consider retiring.
Or you could go back to school. For US$550, agents can, over 12 two-hour sessions, learn all the language, manners and fung shui basics they'd need to serve clients from mainland China with deep pockets and the desire to own a piece of New York.
The course, Mandarin for Real Estate Professionals, is offered by the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, at New York University. Launched last month, it is the first college-based training programme of its kind for American real-estate professionals. And the classroom is packed.
The example was set when, in 2011, the Confucius Institute at the State University of New York launched a Putonghua and Chinese business-culture course that quickly became a magnet for brokers. But it's not just paper investments that wealthy mainlanders are interested in: since the first official group of house hunters arrived in the US in 2009, Chinese buyers have grown into a major pillar of the American property market.
Spending an annual US$9 billion, the Chinese (including Hongkongers) had, by March last year, become the second biggest contingent of foreign buyers, after the Canadians, of residential properties in the US (according to the country's National Association of Realtors); and no one in the business wants to miss out just because they didn't pick up a textbook or attend a class.
Now, developers are catching on to fung shui techniques, installing extra rooms for grandparents and powerful ventilation systems for wok-style cooking, and siting their most luxurious apartments on floors with the lucky eight in their number.
Those strategies may be working for now, but will they remain effective when competing agents are actually Chinese? With a number of Chinese companies buying land in the US on which to build condominiums, or investing in such projects, cultural awareness acquired in the classroom may soon be inadequate.