B.C. finance minister says data show foreign home buyers mostly from China

VICTORIA – British Columbia has released its first snapshot of foreign real estate transactions, but the Opposition New Democrats say it’s based on unreliable information that doesn’t portray the affordability “crisis” in the province.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said Thursday that just over three per cent of sales between June 10 and June 29 involved foreign buyers, mostly from China.

Forty-seven of those transactions were within the city of Vancouver while 260 included properties around Metro Vancouver.

The figures show the value of all the transactions across the province involving foreign buyers totalled $390 million during the three-week period. That amounts to 5.1 per cent of the $7.6 billion that changed hands in just over 10,000 residential real estate sales around B.C.

De Jong brought in measures in the February budget to track the role of foreign ownership in B.C.’s red-hot housing market after claims that foreign buyers affect affordability and vacancy rates.

Starting last month, the government amended property transfer tax forms to collect data about the citizenship and country of origin of people buying real estate in the province.

However, NDP Leader John Horgan said the self-reported data provide too low a figure about who is buying homes amid widespread concerns that foreigners are hiking up prices but not contributing to the economy because they don’t live or work in British Columbia.

“There are better ways to collect this information,” Horgan said. “Mr. de Jong has had less than three weeks to determine almost $400 million of economic activity in the Lower Mainland as a result of foreign investment. That means that British Columbians have been squeezed out of $400 million worth of real-estate activity. I think that’s wrong.”

He said offshore buyers are snapping up homes as safety deposit boxes for wealth while British Columbians are shut out of the real-estate market and sometimes having to leave the province to afford a home elsewhere.

The party supports an income-tax based system that calls on non-resident property owners to pay a 1.5-per-cent real estate surcharge, based on a model developed by the business school at the University of British Columbia.

“We want to tax those who are coming in based on greed rather than a desire to live and work in British Columbia,” he said.

NDP housing critic David Eby suggested the number of foreign buyers in British Columbia is actually three to four times higher than the government reported based on three weeks of data.

De Jong said the limited data collected by the province is relevant in showing that foreign buyers are driving escalating housing prices and that he didn’t want to wait months before providing the information.

“My sense was that people weren’t going to be very happy with the answer that, ‘Yes, we’re collecting the data but you can’t see it for six months,’ ” he said.

“We know that for the period that we studied foreign nationals are purchasing at higher values than the average Canadian citizen.”

He said there are penalties for lawyers who provide false information on land title forms on behalf of their clients and that auditors will be paying particular attention to the information.

De Jong said he will be reporting data on foreign buyers every month.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter

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