Chinese investment surge hits housing market

Stable Canadian economy and good quality of life is luring 'planeloads' of overseas buyers eager to invest

Good, president of The Key, a Vancouver-based sales and marketing firm that's focusing on a new wave of Chinese buyers, figures he's sold more than 500 homes to mainland Chinese investors and immigrants in January and February in Vancouver and Toronto.

He's also opened an office in Beijing's business district -The Key China -where Chinese buyers can purchase Canadian condos from a presentation centre and view videos that showcase various condo developments and the virtues of Canada.

"[Chinese investors] have really picked up a lot of steam in the last two or three months," Good said in an interview. "And I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. There's an über-wealthy upper class forming and there's a strong middle class growing in China. This massive middle class is now getting to a point where they can afford international real estate. And Canada is viewed by the Chinese as a very stable place to put their money.

"There are literally planeloads of Chinese coming here to buy real estate."

Wednesday's attraction was Avra, a 17-storey condominium tower that's slated to be built over the next two years, and Good took along a busload of investors -some from China and some already living here -and their agents to view the plans.

But it's not just condos that are attracting Chinese buyers, with single-family homes and large lots topping the list.

Across the Lower Mainland, especially Richmond and Vancouver's west side, mainland Chinese buyers and immigrants are becoming a major part of the market, in some cases competing with each other through multiple offers.

But the phenomenon is starting to spread to other areas including Burnaby, West Vancouver, White Rock and beyond.

"We predict that this will be a dominant trend for a long time," Scott Brown, senior vicepresident, Western Canada for Colliers International residential marketing, said in an interview. "Some of the most expensive [Vancouver] real estate is only being marketed to Chinese buyers. And Vancouver and Toronto are very popular."

According to a report on new multi-family home sales in the Lower Mainland by Colliers, which recently opened a dedicated office in Shanghai to deal with the increasing demand, a total of 2,711 new multi-family units were sold in the region in the fourth quarter of 2010, making it the most active quarter of the past year.

"As in each quarter in 2010, the health of the market is expected to continue to be positively impacted by increasing Asian immigrant and investment demand," the report, prepared by Colliers and Urban Analytics, concluded.

Scott said the expected offshore demand will continue to be "the dominant story in 2011 that it was in every quarter of 2010 especially in Vancouver-west, Metrotown and Richmond."

The demand for Vancouver properties appears to be fuelled by many factors -including, ironically, a crackdown on property purchases in mainland China that may be moving much of that investment overseas, particularly to Canada.

Local real estate companies are tapping into the demand, which realtors say is also partly fuelled by an easing of travel restrictions by China with the granting of approved destination status to Canada.

As well, local Vancouver area Chinese-language newspapers are being used by realtors and agents to specifically target mainland Chinese buyers, citing Canada and Vancouver's stability and strong local real estate returns.

A recent report in the China Daily, a state-run publication based in Beijing, said Canada was "the most popular choice" for overseas investors while "growing restrictions on property purchases in major Chinese cities [are driving] the country's nouveau riche to look overseas for investment opportunities."

The newspaper noted that most overseas property purchases are motivated by a combination of factors including immigration, education and investment, with Canada, Australia and the U.K. topping the list of destinations.

The China Daily report also said buyers from the Chinese mainland represent between 40 and 50 per cent of the current market for pre-sale projects in Vancouver.

But China's effort to cool an overheating market is just one reason investment is pouring into Canada.

Brown believes there are many factors, especially Canada's image as a great country to live in and a safe place to invest money. "There's no one easy answer, but one of the main drivers is [they] believe that having their children educated in Canada [is good]. The other driver is that Vancouver is a beautiful, livable city and they want to buy their own piece of it."

One recent buyer is former Beijing resident Yang Yang, who moved to B.C. with her husband and young daughter last summer, purchased a detached house in Surrey, and accompanied Good to the White Rock condo showing.

"We prefer the peaceful life here," Yang said in an interview. "Beijing is very crowded and the air pollution is bad there."

Yang said that she and her husband, an IT engineer, are considering a condo at Avra as a place to retire when they no longer need their larger home.

Yang's realtor, Hong Lui, with Interlink Realty in Richmond, said she first noticed a surge in mainland Chinese interest last spring and it's grown increasingly stronger, with a mix of investors, including those who want to immigrate to Canada and others who are looking here after the Chinese government restricted their ability to own several homes.

Richmond MacDonald Realty realtor David Lindsay said: "January and February has been almost exclusively mainland Chinese buyers of big lots, with a house of little value on it. And we're getting multiple offers."

He said, for example, that a typical lot in the Seafair area, which sold for $800,000 in October, is now selling in the $1.2-million range. "I sold one last Sunday and we had four offers. The winning bid was $1.03 million. It was on the market for $968,000." Lindsay believes there's speculation is going on, because some buyers are getting an accepted contract with a clause that allows them to assign the contract to a third party before the sale is completed. "One buyer didn't even set foot on the property."

Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver president Jake Moldowan said he believes lifestyle is the core reason for the interest. "Vancouver is an extremely desirable place to be."

He said that Richmond lots are now going for $1 million to $1.3 million. "And I know that there have been realtors from Hong Kong and mainland China, who fly over there, put packages together, and then bring people over."

Meanwhile, Bosa Properties announced this week that its 34-storey Sovereign tower in Burnaby's Metrotown sold out immediately, surpassing the single day sales record in the Burnaby market by selling $98-million worth of real estate.

- source, Global TV, BC

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