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Vancouver foreign buyer tax could prompt ‘mild’ ripples in other markets

An excavator digs at a condominium construction site on what used to be a neighborhood of single family homes in Toronto.

Chris Helgren/Reuters

British Columbia's new tax on foreign buyers in the Vancouver region will have mild ripple effects in other Canadian markets, with Calgary and Toronto positioned to attract some non-resident purchasers, says the head of real-estate firm Royal LePage.

"When people are talking about residential real estate, location is what they are buying first," Phil Soper said in an interview Wednesday. "There is likely a small percentage of foreign investors who are dumping money into property in Canada strictly as an investment, but I believe they represent a tiny portion of the total foreign buyers in this country. Most of it is still tied to a desire to live in a particular place."

On July 25, the B.C. government announced a 15-per-cent tax on purchases by foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver. The tax took effect on Aug. 2.

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"Calgary will maybe see more of an impact than Toronto would because it is a smaller market. Calgary is much more affordable than Toronto and it's a lot closer to Vancouver than Toronto is," said Mr. Soper, who is Royal LePage's chief executive officer, based in Toronto.

Still, he doesn't envisage massive numbers of foreign purchasers, notably from China, shifting their attention to other parts of Canada. Some foreign buyers are bound to look at Calgary and Toronto, while fewer of them will have cities such as Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg on their radars, Mr. Soper said.

He isn't a fan of the new B.C. tax on Metro Vancouver, and argues that it wouldn't make sense for the Ontario government to introduce such a levy for the Greater Toronto Area.

"I don't think that a foreign buyers tax would be an effective tool for controlling asset prices, especially in a housing market as large as the GTA. It would focus a large tax on a single group of buyers, in practice," Mr. Soper said. "The GTA economy has attracted a lot of talented immigrants from around the world."

Royal LePage produces a "price composite" in a formula that focuses on typical properties and excludes sales of luxury mansions. It said its large sampling provides a better barometer of trends than average prices, which are skewed upward by sales of high-end properties.

The company's two-storey price composite for the City of Vancouver climbed to $2.62-million in the third quarter, up 39.2 per cent from the same period last year. The City of Toronto saw a 15.2-per-cent increase to $1.02-million in the two-storey category, while the suburb of Richmond Hill experienced a 25.6-per-cent jump to $1.16-million.

The typical two-storey price is up 33.5 per cent over the past year to a median of $1.58-million in the Vancouver region, compared with a 14.8-per-cent increase to $812,990 in the GTA.

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Nationally, in 53 markets measured, Royal LePage's two-storey price composite advanced to $649,635 in the third quarter, up 13.7 per cent from a year earlier. Over the past year, the national median price for all housing types rose 12 per cent to $545,414, and in the condo market, the price edged up 5.8 per cent to $360,679.

Royal LePage's data show that housing markets in Calgary and Edmonton remain in a slump. The two-storey price composite was $502,213 in the third quarter, down 1.1 per cent from the same period in 2015. In Edmonton, the price fell 3.1 per cent year-over-year to $430,232.

Mr. Soper sees signs of a bottom forming in Alberta's real-estate sector, with sturdy demand anticipated from buyers who are 25 to 45 years old. "The stability of jobs is greater now than it was a year ago, even though oil prices are still depressed. Alberta's economy will be growing off a lower base," he said. "Businesses have adjusted their expectations and downsized."

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