Foreign buyers big spenders in West Van prior to 15 % tax

Foreigners bought almost 24 per cent of West Vancouver real estate sold in the weeks before the province brought in its 15 per cent foreign buyers tax last summer.

That makes West Vancouver’s high-end real estate market an area with one of the highest proportions of foreign real estate sales prior to the imposition of the tax, just behind Richmond, where foreign buyers accounted for 27 per cent of sales volume, and Burnaby, where 24 per cent of sales went to foreigners during the same time period.

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Across Metro Vancouver as a whole, 16.5 per cent of real estate dollars that changed hands during that time involved foreign buyers.

The number of actual transactions that involved foreign buyers in West Vancouver was 47 out of 252 in the seven weeks preceding the tax – about 19 per cent.

Figures also show foreigners forked over significantly more cash for their properties than locals did. In West Vancouver, foreign nationals spent an average of $4 million per property transaction compared to $2.8 million for Canadians and permanent residents.

After the foreign buyers’ tax was imposed Aug. 1, sales to foreign citizens fell off a cliff. In the month of August, fewer than five transactions in West Vancouver involved foreign nationals. That pattern continued throughout the rest of 2016.

Figures on foreign real estate purchases on the North Shore were obtained by the North Shore News through a Freedom of Information request after the province previously refused to provide a breakdown of real estate transactions involving foreigners in North Vancouver and West Vancouver. The information for the period before the 15 per cent tax was brought in shows that foreign buyers were a significant factor in West Vancouver real estate sales, accounting for $195 million out of $821 million in real estate that changed hands between June 10 and Aug. 1 last year.

Foreign buyers were also active in North Vancouver real estate, although to a lesser extent.

In the seven weeks before the foreign buyers’ tax was imposed, 11.6 per cent of property sold in North Vancouver was sold to foreigners. That accounted for 56 of 616 total transactions, or about nine per cent of the total. After the tax was imposed, that figure plunged to about one per cent.

Foreigners also bought more expensive properties than locals in North Vancouver. Canadians and permanent residents bought property worth just over $1 million on average, while foreigners bought property with an average value of $1.8 million.

Andy Yan, a Simon Fraser University professor who has studied the impact of foreigners on the Vancouver real estate market, said the North Shore figures fit a pattern of high-end property being sold to foreign buyers. “Housing in Vancouver is unaffordable for local incomes,” he said.

Brent Eilers, a West Vancouver Realtor, said he thinks the numbers are likely conservative, and that much more West Vancouver real estate may have been purchased by foreign buyers using local proxies. “There’s no way we have of enforcing what agreements are going on behind the scenes,” he said.

“I think there’s lots of people who would consider the 15 per cent tax just the cost of doing business,” he said. For others, “they are creative and they’ll find a way to get around it.”

Last week, the province introduced some minor changes to the foreign buyers tax, granting exemptions to those who obtain permanent residency or Canadian citizenship within one year of purchasing a property in B.C. The changes also exempt those who are part of a provincial program to fast-track foreign workers with skills in high demand and business owners with a high net worth.

Eilers said he doubts the changes will have much of an impact on the market.

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