The House Made Out of Smartphones?

If you want to buy a house, in many places, you don’t need to have cash on hand to meet the full purchase price — few can ever afford to do that. Rather, you can get a loan from the bank — a mortgage — for the vast majority of the cost. But that said, you still need a good chunk of change, typically around 20%, for the down payment. Some people have family money, win the lottery, or get a huge bonus from their employers, but most people save up for years to afford that lump sum.

And then there’s the story of a Chinese woman, only known as Xiaoli, who got the money from her boyfriend. And her boyfriend. And her boyfriend. And —well, you’ll see.

On September 16, 2016, Apple debuted the iPhone 7, to much fanfare globally. Many people waited in line outside of Apple stores to get their hands on the latest and greatest phone tech (which, seven years later, seems uncommonly silly — I mean, the iPhone 7 only had one rear-facing camera, how did people survive like that???). Xiaoli, the hero of our story, was not one of those people. She didn’t have to — because she had a better way of getting a new phone. She asked her boyfriend to buy her one, as a gift.

That’s not all that unusual of a request, and Xiaoli’s boyfriend didn’t balk at it; he gave her a brand new, state-of-the-art iPhone just weeks after it first hit the stores. And that wasn’t unique — certainly, many other beaus bought new phones for their sweethearts during the fall of 2017. But what Xiaoli’s boyfriend didn’t know was just how unique he wasn’t. Xiaoli, it turns out, had 19 other boyfriends — and she convinced each of them to buy her a new iPhone, too.

Xiaoli wasn’t trying to become a champion Pokemon Go player so having that many iPhones had its utilitarian limits. And that wasn’t her goal anyway. Her plan was to buy a house. Xiaoli sold each of the phones to a company called Hui Shou Bao which buys used phones and resells them. Because each of Xiaoli’s phones was unopened and the newest iPhone available, she was able to get a premium price for them, too. According to the BBC, “a company spokesperson confirmed that they had indeed purchased 20 iPhones from a female client at the beginning of October and paid 6,000 Chinese yuan (about £725 [or about $850]) for each one.”

Xiaoli used that $17,000 and change for the down payment for a house. As her work colleague penned under the name “Proud Qiaoba” on the Chinese social media site Weibo (via the BBC), Xiaoli “is not from a wealthy family. Her mum is a housewife and her dad is a migrant worker, and she is the oldest daughter. Her parents are getting old and she might be under a lot pressure hoping to buy them a house.” The 20-boyfriend iPhone ruse seemed as good of a way as any.

The story made headlines in China after Proud Qiaoba’s story went viral, and many other Weibo users shared their comments (as people often do). Some were impressed with Xiaoli, others called her shameless and likely worse. Still others were skeptical that the stoy was even true — with some thinking that the whole tale was concocted by Hui Shou Bao’s marketing department. The BBC, in its report, shared that skepticism, joking that  “if we hadn’t been able to verify it ourselves, [it] would seem like the plot of a pretty average airport romance novel.” 

The British media giant never spoke with Xiaoli herself, though. After her story began to spread, so did the embarrassment that came with it — plenty of people in her place of work and beyond knew how she amassed enough cash to buy her house. The BBC asked Hui Shou Bao to connect them with Xiaoli, and they tried, but she declined. Per the company spokesperson, “Her day-to-day life has been affected (from the local media attention) and she doesn’t want the media to continue covering this story, so she has turned down your interview request.” Also, it’s unclear if she still has a phone.

Bonus fact: The iPhone dominates the mobile phone market with the Google/Samsung phones in second. There are few, if any, Microsoft smartphones out there, though. But back in 2010, Microsoft was convinced they were going to bury the competition — at least, if their launch campaign for their phone was any proof. As CNet reported (with pictures!), Microsoft’s “celebration” of the Windows Phone 7 “include[d] two hearses and a mock funeral for the iPhone,” and “a staging of the Zombie dance number from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.” The phone, however, was met with mixed reviews and failed to gain a following.

From the Archives: iRich: The iPhone app that required you to sell two iPhones to afford.