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Realtors' signs are hung outside a newly sold property in a Vancouver neighbourhood where houses regularly sell for C$3-C$4 million ($2.7-3.6 million) September 9, 2014. Last year’s performance of 842 homes that fetched $3-million or more smashed the previous record of 691 luxury sales in 2011

Reuters

The number of posh properties that sold last year in the Vancouver region swelled, setting a new record.

There were 842 homes that fetched $3-million or more in 2014, up 31 per cent from sales volume of 644 in 2013, according to Macdonald Realty Group's compilation of data from two local real estate boards. Last year's performance smashed the previous record of 691 luxury sales in 2011.

In the elite segment, single-family detached houses dominate sales, although many condos also carry big price tags, said Dan Scarrow, vice-president of corporate strategy at Macdonald Realty.

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Ottawa shut down the federal immigrant investor program last February, prompting concerns in the housing industry about the economic impact of a potential decline in sales for the most expensive homes, especially on Vancouver's west side and the district municipality of West Vancouver.

Instead, the number of luxury properties changing hands has soared, said Mr. Scarrow. "Looking at the statistics, I've been surprised that the high-end sales remain so strong, even after the cancellation of the federal program. You would think by now we would have already felt the effects of that," Mr. Scarrow said in an interview.

There were 199 Metro Vancouver properties that sold last year on the Multiple Listing Service for at least $5-million, breaking the previous high of 148 set in 2013.

Some observers say the effect of buyers from mainland China has been exaggerated, but the influx of rich immigrants can't be ignored.

"While recently released Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. data indicates foreign ownership may be lower than previously believed, international investment is still a significant driver in the high end of the Vancouver real estate market," said a report released earlier this month by Sotheby's International Realty Canada.

The price of admission into neighbourhoods on Vancouver's west side is steep. In November, for instance, the selling price for existing homes averaged $2.2-million in Kerrisdale, $4.1-million in Point Grey/University Endowment Lands and $5.6-million in Shaughnessy, according to data collected by Sotheby's.

The broader real estate market in Metro Vancouver – meaning Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – remains buoyant. Volume climbed more than 16 per cent last year for the entire range of single-family detached homes, condos and townhouses in the region, although total sales activity ranked in the middle of the 10-year average.

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A stable B.C. economy, low interest rates and continued migration of people from other provinces and overseas have combined to lift prices generally in Metro Vancouver's real estate sector. The benchmark home index price, which strips out the most expensive resale properties, climbed to a record $1,002,200 last month for a typical detached house in Greater Vancouver. In the Fraser Valley, including the less expensive suburb of Surrey, the index hit $573,100 last month, just shy of the record for a detached property.

Within the City of Vancouver last year, there were 3,134 properties that sold for least $1-million, up 25 per cent from sales volume of 2,505 in 2013, Sotheby's said.

"A million-dollar property isn't even the lot value on Vancouver's west side. A million bucks isn't going to buy you much these days in Vancouver housing," said Mr. Scarrow, who opened a Macdonald Realty office in September in Shanghai.

Research by Andrew Yan, an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, shows that 37,425 homes, or 55.2 per cent of the total detached properties on the assessment rolls, were pegged as being worth at least $1-million in mid-2013 within the City of Vancouver.

In December for detached houses, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver's home price index reached a record $2,325,200 on Vancouver's west side and a near-record $1,998,600 in West Vancouver. Most neighbourhoods in the suburbs of North Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby have detached prices that are typically above $1-million.

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