China’s ‘one-percenters’ have changed Vancouver forever

Millennials would like to buy a house and raise a family in Vancouver. It's not going to happen

VANCOUVER, B.C. June 19, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Much has been said about Vancouver’s rollicking real estate market over the past few months, and at the root of the commentary is very little fact.

No agency of the municipal, provincial or federal government seems to know how much mainland Chinese cash is flooding into Richmond and the Point Grey, Kerrisdale, and Dunbar west side. No real estate oversight agency tracks who buys what or what their nationality is. And it would appear that the provincial Liberals are loathe to bite the Mandarin golden goose that has settled in their midst.

After all, local residents who have bought, mortgaged and paid for family homes in these areas over the past few decades have now received capitalism’s ultimate reward: They have become fabulously rich.

And what is also worth noting (especially by those of us who came late to this party), is that they have become multi-millionaires by just turning up. By being there. Almost magically, seemingly overnight, thousands of “old stock” Canadians have become one-percenters. As Woody Allen famously said, “80 per cent of success is showing up.”

This good fortune is much talked about in Vancouver, and interestingly, not so much in the affirmative as the negative.

Thousands of Millennials, just starting down the same real estate path as their parents, would like to buy a house. Nothing fancy right off the bat. Maybe just a Dunbar bungalow on a 50-foot lot, with a small back yard for the kids to play in. When I was a teenager, in the 1960s, those houses went for $25,000. Our family’s cleaning lady, who lived in the same neighbourhood as us, lived in one.

Back then housing was affordable. And when adults gathered to talk about investment, they talked about buying shares in thriving B.C. companies, like MacMillan-Bloedel or Woodward’s, or Nelson Brothers’ Fisheries (Gosh – where did they all go? But that’s another piece).

The point is that I have the figures that everyone is looking for. I have empirical evidence of what is going on in the Vancouver real estate market. It actually was available on the internet by Googling. You can find it too: just Google “China population”. My search yielded “1.357 billion (2013)”.

The number is no doubt higher now. But don’t worry; just do a little more basic math. Ask: how big is China’s “one per cent” – you know, its share of the world’s wealthiest folks. After all, China has the world’s second largest economy, and it has created a formidable wealthy elite. One per cent of 1.35 billion is 13.35 million.

Now let’s do the same Google search for Canada. It yields “35.16 million (2013)”. And let’s calculate our one per cent. It’s 351,600.

I don’t think the Vancouver housing market analysis has to get very much more complicated. There are simply so many super wealthy Chinese that Canadian buyers cannot compete when it comes to our highest echelon real estate in the city with the attributes that most travelling (I don’t think vacationing is quite the right one-percenter term?) one-percenters fancy: clean climate, proximity to home via an international jet-service airport, stable and friendly banks, high-end shopping districts, and polite locals with an interesting culture.

Vancouver is blessed with all of the above. Our obliging Immigrant Investor Program has also made it possible to buy citizenship, and the international one-percenters who needed to, did.

So where does this leave us? Will Vancouver house prices continue to skyrocket? Will thousands more mainland Chinese one-percenters arrive at YVR with images of Dunbar bungalows dancing in their heads? Will Canadian Vancouverite Millennials have to choose Regina, Markham and Rocky Harbour instead? I increasingly think the writing is on the wall.

I have been helped to this conclusion by several of my B.C. First Nations’ friends. They, too, are watching the phenomenon of wildly escalating Vancouver house prices, and wondering where it all will stop. “How does it feel so far, Mike?” said one of my pals recently.

The comment made me smile and think at the same time.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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