Friday, June 11, 2010

Putting Some of the Rich Chinese Investor Myth to rest

Some of the Bear blogs are hitting almost a frenzy over the rich Chinese investors who are buying up the whole lower mainland.

Couple of things I have to throw into this pot:

1) It isn't just the Chinese or other visible minorities. I went to an open house for a fancy suite last week and the two out of town couples looking were form Russia and South Africa. The Asian couple were Canadians who had moved from Calgary. So appearances can deceive.

2) Nevertheless there is significant buying from the Chinese Mainland. However these are generally expensive properties in expensive areas (West Van, Van West, Coal Harbour and Yaletown) . They aren't buying in Maple Ridge or Coquitlam or New West. (generally speaking- I know there were some guys laundering money through Real estate- but that is rare)

So while they may be pricing out the locals on the higher end of the market, they have no effect at the middle or lower end, except by displacement.

And we have all time price highs in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal- is that from Rich Chinese buying too? I doubt it.

There are some good points associated with these Airport-shuttle buyers - they are paying with cash- No CMHC mortgages for these guys, they buy lots of pricey furniture, cars and pay property taxes and strata fees which goes back into the local economy.

Now if they would only move here and pay tax on their worldwide income, things would be perfect.

They also provide employment for locals who built, and then have to repair the badly built units all over again - some days our city looks like half the buildings are under tarp!!

They provide employment for workers to demolish the quaint westside homes and build McMansions in their McPlace .

On the bad side, they often leave the units empty. Now while the City and Province probably regard them as ideal occupants, and wish we could all be like them- pay taxes but stay away and don't use services too much- the truth is that unoccupied units stresses the housing supply in a City with limited space and degrades the standard of living for those that remain.

So Vancouver City officials reading this blog (I know some do) think out of the box- add a 30+% property tax surcharge for any unit unoccupied by owner or a renter for greater than 6 months a year. It would be very simple to verify this from utility bills. Use the money for social/subsidized housing- ooops I forgot there's the Olympic Village bills coming due. Ok use it for that, and the locals would be a lot happier with their rich off-shore neighbours.

The Swiss are the world's safe bankers. They CHARGE you to hold your money. If were have become the world's safe Real Estate bank. lets at least get something in return and not just screw ourselves for a few bucks, lets do it for serious dough :)

Also, Campbell and Harper, please make sure that the chunks of money you are inviting in don't come from theft or bribery or other malfeasance, we already produce enough dirty drug money in our Province, without getting other country's dirty laundry too.

In fact in Coal Harbour there is some social housing, which, from what I understand, was built by the developer to be allowed to put up the luxury units. They sit cheek-by-jowl, right next to each other- different quality of course and one-side is full ++, and the other is almost unoccupied. You can guess which it is.

I sometimes think us bears are not just whining about prices, but hanker for the old Vancouver. Quiet streets, empty trails and about half the number of people we have here now. But for better or worse, we are a large international cosmopolitan city, where a lot of us derive our income directly or indirectly from visitors, ESL students, rich buyers of RE, outside investors etc etc.

It happened elsewhere. Hong Kong was a sleepy fishing village that the Brits decided to make their Far east commercial hub. Taiwan was an equally peaceful sparsely inhabited Island, until mainland Chinese Nationalists moved in en masse.

I am sure those locals weren't too happy with the changes either. We have to go with the flow.

Am I buying RE here though? Nope.

Do I wish I had when I moved here (from another part of BC) nearly a decade ago or even searched for a bargain in the 2008 flash-crash? - Yup (Chad)

I think I will get another chance, Mainland Chinese buyers notwithstanding.