A Markham couple downsizing for retirement got a rude lesson recently in Chinese numerology.

Graham and Lucie Canning moved into a neighbourhood near Highway 7 and Woodbine Avenue in 1984, when it was “pretty much an Anglo community,” Graham Canning says.

Over the years the neighbourhood’s ethnic composition shifted to favour people of Hong Kong origin.

Such changes suited the Cannings, who continued to live happily in the area. But when they recently prepared their house for sale, a real estate agent gave them a surprise. In Hong Kong Cantonese, the word “four” is a homonym for “death” — different meanings, same sound — and the Cannings live at No. 4.

“Tetraphobia,” fear of 4, entered their vocabulary.

Having a four in the address can lower a home’s value — “Agents estimate anywhere between $25,000 and $35,000,” says Graham Canning.

“That’s about right,” says Derek Wu of Concept 100 Transcanada Realty in Markham, who is not the Cannings’ agent but is knowledgeable about such sensitivities.

The Cannings want their house number changed.

Last Tuesday, they appeared before Markham’s development services committee, which rejected their request for a change in a 7-4 vote.