Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vancouver enclaves inflating bubble

It's been touted as the centre of Vancouver's so-called property bubble and now somebody has produced the data that just may back up that claim.

Local firm Landcor Data Corp. says it has been tracking property tax assessment bills to pinpoint the percentage of transactions driven by foreign investors in Vancouver's suburbs -a trend the real estate industry says has been driving up average prices in the country's priciest city.

The latest data from the Canadian Real Estate Association shows the average price of a home sold in May in Vancouver was $831,555, a 25.7% increase from a year ago. CREA has said the sale of multimillion-dollar homes has skewed the city's average sale price and done the same nationally.

Richmond and the west side of Vancouver, favourites of Chinese investors, were the focus of a first-quarter report form Landcor's which looked at the profile of buyers from 2008 to 2010. It found buyers from the "Middle Kingdom," as the company put it, dominated purchases.

In 2008, there were 69 sales of homes priced at $3-million or more, the most expensive $10.5-million, and 46% were purchased by Chinese buyers. By 2010, there were 164 sales in the same category, the highestpriced being $17.5-million, and 74% went to Chinese buyers.

"There is only one way to track this and we are as close as anybody is going to get," said Rudy Nielsen, the president of Landcor, about the use of property assessment to track where buyers are from. It also compared names on sales contracts to names common in the People's Republic of China, excluding people with Western first names.

Mr. Nielson acknowledged his methodology is not without flaws, given assessment notices do not necessarily have to be sent to a person's permanent address and could be forwarded to a friend, property manager or lawyer located in B.C.

"There is a lot of hype and it is hard to tell for sure what the impact of the Chinese buyers has been. He doesn't give you a postal code. He's not like the German buyer who gives you a German address," Mr. Nielson says.

If anything, the impact of Chinese buyers in the market could be even greater because of the number of purchasers shielding their identity, he said.

Andrew Ramlo, executive director of The Urban Futures Institute, a Vancouver research firm that worked with Ledcor, says the data prove that influence of foreign investment is not a major factor in most of the Lower Mainland.

His group points out of the 55,512 sales in 2010 only 195 were to people outside of Canada -0.4% of all sales for the year. Furthermore, he says, foreign investors own only 0.5% of the total housing stock of 774,600 residential properties in the Lower Mainland.

"These data contradict what seems to be largely anecdotal evidence indicating foreign investment is a significant driver to residential price increases in the Lower Mainland," he said in a report.

Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist with CIBC World Markets, said he needs to see more data on foreign investment in individual neighbourhoods before he makes conclusions.

"What you could have [in Richmond and west side Vancouver] is a bubble within a bubble or a bubble outside the rest of the real estate market," says Mr. Tal, noting his concern is if prices drop in Vancouver's luxury market it will it affect the rest of the city.

By Garry Marr, Financial Post

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