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In the past five years, the flow of money from mainland China into Canadian real estate has reached what many consider dangerous levels, contributing to a gold-rush atmosphere in the nation’s leading cities, while stirring anger among young, middle-class Canadians who feel shut out of their hometown markets.Its impact on Vancouver’s gravity-defying boom is the best known—and most hotly debated—example, as eye-popping price gains leave behind such quaint indicators as average household income, or regional economic activity.Quebec saw its numbers more than triple, while Alberta’s numbers rose 70 per cent. The stated reasons for such purchases don’t entirely compute (neither seems the likely site, as owners and local officials suggest, for a full-service, self-contained vacation community). Next to China’s own volatile real estate markets, property almost anywhere in the Western world can seem an island of financial sanity, says Matthew Moore, president of Juwai’s North American operations.Meanwhile, Chinese developers have made buys in locations that have left analysts scratching their heads, including Nova Scotia’s remote Eastern Shore and an abandoned mining town in the B. “The year-on-year property increase in Shenzhen, one of China’s tier-one cities, was close to 60 per cent,” he observes.In Vancouver, for instance, foreign ownership of condos built before 1990 stands at just two per cent.For structures completed since 2010, that number climbs to six per cent.“This is about wealth preservation.” Adding to that sense of urgency: even the most privileged Chinese mainlanders have for decades been shut out of buying property, which Moore describes as the “favourite asset class” of Chinese dating back to its pre-Revolution days.
Should such buyers be lumped in with overseas owners of income properties?Last spring, the 39-year-old left behind his middle-management advertising job in Shanghai to seek the dream of home ownership he and his wife couldn’t afford in their home city.“We just followed our hearts to begin a totally different life,” he tells , adding: “We can make the house dream come true in Canada.” The starting point was one-half of a modest duplex near downtown Victoria, close to the university where his wife is seeking a master’s degree, and priced about right for their limited means.Selling points ranged from the quiet of the street—perfect for their six-year-old son—to the stunning Vancouver Island vistas all around.High on his list, though, was Victoria’s comfortable distance from the bustling Chinese communities of B. As Shen—betraying his limited knowledge of pre-settlement Canadian history—puts it: “We wanted a place that would allow us to live with the natives.” It’s hard not to smile at his idealism.
The CMHC’s latest condo numbers tracking the ownership of condos were part of a concerted effort on the part of the Crown corporation to measure the phenomenon, based on its mandate to gather data on housing, and to foster market stability.