Foreign buyers a tiny fraction of housing market

They pay more but not a major influence in Lower Mainland: report

This house in Vancouver's Shaughnessy neighbourhood

Foreign investors make up a tiny share of the Lower Mainland real estate market but tend to buy much more expensive homes.

Those are the latest conclusions of researchers at Urban Futures who found just 0.4 per cent of all homes sold in the region in 2010 were bought by owners with a foreign mailing address.

“We’re dealing with pretty small numbers here,” Urban Futures economist Ryan Berlin said, adding the proportion rises to 0.7 per cent when just condos and apartments are considered.

Realtors have anecdotally reported an influx of foreign buyers from mainland China and there’s been growing debate on whether the phenomenon is driving housing prices up and hurting home affordability.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently said an influx of Asian wealth is leading to some “extreme” valuations in Vancouver’s housing market.

Berlin simply doesn’t see the evidence.

“There’s very little hard data out there that shows foreign investors are indeed having a significant impact on our real estate markets,” he said.

Urban Futures found a total of 195 sales out of 55,512 in the Lower Mainland last year were to foreign investors.

That doesn’t count foreign buyers who use a local lawyer or building manager to receive mail or immigrants who are buying and perhaps living here part-time.

But even doubling or tripling the number of foreign investor sales to account for those cases still leaves insignificant numbers, he said.

Foreign buyers have a much greater appetite for more expensive homes than local buyers, according to Berlin’s calculations.

The foreign investors who bought in 2010 paid on average twice as much for a condo as other buyers. They paid 60 per cent more on average for detached houses.

A previous report this spring by Landcor Data Corp. had also linked a large proportion of luxury home sales in recent years to buyers from mainland China. Landcor found that activity is concentrated in a few areas, particularly Vancouver’s west side, the North Shore, Richmond and South Surrey.

Berlin said Metro Vancouver residents shouldn’t be spooked by the average real estate prices in the region, which are increasingly deceptive as they are skewed by the most expensive properties on the market.

The region’s average sale price for a detached home hit $810,000 in 2010.

But if you exclude the priciest 20 per cent of homes that went for as much as $17.5 million, Berlin notes, the average price for the rest of the market is $591,000.