toronto-skyline-chinese-buyers Photo: Michael Swan/Flickr

Foreign ownership — and Chinese buyers, in particular — may be a subject of reports and a recent impassioned public meeting in Vancouver, but by miles the Toronto market is capturing the attention of overseas investors at a higher level than any other Canadian city, a new report suggests.

Together, the Toronto properties that Chinese investors asked sellers about last year via a major overseas listing service are worth billions more than the real estate they looked into across the entire province of BC.

According to Juwai.com, an online real estate marketplace that links Chinese buyers to sellers including developers and agents in other countries, potential buyers from China made enquiries into $7.37 billion worth of property in Toronto alone. At the same time, real estate enquiries totalled $4.54 billion in BC, Juwai.com said (all figures are in US funds).

“Toronto is the most popular Canadian city for Chinese buyers, although I think sometimes Vancouver feels like it is the leader,” said Charles Pittar, Juwai.com’s CEO, in an a statement emailed to BuzzBuzzHome News.

The total number of enquiries from Chinese buyers looking to buy property in Toronto shot up 176 per cent in 2015, compared to the previous year, shy of the 224 per cent year-over-year growth in 2014, said Juwai, which went live in 2011 and features both commercial and residential real estate listings.

Interest in Toronto real estate is in line with a national trend

“Chinese interest in Canadian property increased significantly last year, although at a slower pace than in the prior year,” said Pittar, who pegged the properties in question as being worth $14.9 billion when added together. “Not every one of those would have converted into a sale, but the number does give you a sense of the scale of Chinese interest,” added.

The nine-page report did not provide data for Vancouver, or any other city, specifically. BuzzBuzzHome News sent a followup request for this information, but did not heard back as of publication time. However, a list of top Canadian cities by enquiries, sans values, was included. It positioned Vancouver in the number-two slot behind Toronto. Montreal, Ottawa and Victoria rounded out the five leading markets.

While consumer interest in Toronto trumped every other city by Juwai’s count, Chinese buyers are eyeing other markets increasingly, said Pittar, and the only province hit with a year-over-year decline in interest is Nova Scotia.

Education the biggest motivator for buyers from China

In addition to enquiries and the value of properties associated with them, Juwai tracks consumer motivation across four categories: education, lifestyle and travel, investment and emigration.

“The biggest motivation for buyers is the education of their children,” explained Pittar. “They often combine the goal of providing a home for their children who are studying in Canada with other investment and lifestyle goals,” he said.

“There is a tight link between Chinese participation in Canadian schools and universities and in the country’s property markets. If Chinese student numbers were to decline significantly, you would see some decline in property investment, and if property investment were curtailed, you would soon hear the educational institutions complaining about losing international student revenue,” he said.

In Toronto, education was a motivation for 54 per cent of users looking into addresses on Juwai. Lifestyle and travel followed at 26.4 per cent, ahead of investment and emigration at 25.9 per cent and 20.3 per cent, respectively. “Consumers enquiring about Toronto may be driven by more than one motivation,” the report notes.

Chinese investment in Canadian real estate expected to grow

“Importantly, we see buyer interest spreading across the country,” Pittar said. “The traditional gateways are still important destinations for buyers and immigrants, but the rapid growth of interest in Montreal shows that the city is succeeding in attracting some of this investment,” added Pittar.

Buyer enquiries targeting Quebec shot up 348 per cent year-over-year, the greatest increase seen for any province, while surging 221 per cent in British Columbia and 143 per cent in Ontario. Looking ahead, Pittar expects interest to continue to pour into other markets outside Toronto and Vancouver.

“Barring any big changes in the environment, we expect Chinese investment in Canadian real estate to increase in 2016, and the impacts of that investment to be spread more widely as these buyers move into new markets,” Pittar concludes.

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