Mainland Chinese buyers account for 70 per cent of market. But what does that even mean?

A breakdown of the occupations of the owners of the 172 houses.

Plus, tolls might be the answer to Vancouver’s traffic woes and two donair kings square off

Westside detached
It’s a number that’s been bandied around for at least the last five years: 70 per cent of all houses on Vancouver’s west side are purchased by buyers with Mainland Chinese names. And new numbers back it up, or at least shine a little light into the buyers driving the housing market on Vancouver’s west side. In a study of 172 sales of detached houses in Point Grey and Dunbar, Andy Yan, a planner at Bing Thom Associates, came up with the following findings:

  • 36 per cent of homes were purchased by students or housewives
  • 18 per cent of the houses showed no mortgages on the title
  • 28 per cent of mortgages were issued by CIBC, 25 per cent by HSBC, 16 per cent by BMO
  • 5 per cent of the houses were owned by corporations

The headlines in the Globe and Mail and National Post gravitated to one number in particular: 66 per cent of the houses were purchased by buyers with Mainland Chinese names. That figure echoed two reports from Macdonald Realty Ltd., one from the summer and another from 2013, that buyers from Mainland China accounted for 70 per cent of the company’s sales over $3 million. Further back, a 2011 study by Landcor Data found that 74 per cent of luxury buyers had names with Mandarin spellings. (You can read a particularly entertaining account in which BCBusiness contributor Frank O’Hara described how his house—a $1.8 million Tudor in Kerrisdale—was scoped out by a buyer in China, sight unseen).

But what does that number mean? And in a city where where one in three claim Chinese heritage, can that number mean anything at all? And as Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council notes, narratives based on race have dangerous historical predecents. But that doesn’t mean ignore the facts. Here’s how Yan interprets his findings: “[The study] assumes that a non-Anglicized name suggests that the owner is a new immigrant,” writes Yan, acknowledging that “there may be some miscategorization…as a non-Anglicized Chinese name could be a locally born person, but after an external review, we feel this is minimal.”

In the Globe article, MLA David Eby, who supplied Yan with the data, also noted how the findings should be interpreted.

Mr. Eby cautioned that the aim of gathering the data was not to try to point fingers at one group of investors. Instead, he said, it was to bring attention to a system failure.

“There are always a few racist morons out there, but there are way more people who say B.C. was built through the efforts of immigrants and more immigrants are great,” Mr. Eby said.

Or as reporter Frances Bula noted on Twitter (in reference to sale price angst in San Francisco): “As housing prices skyrocket, people go to war against what they think are the causes.”

For whom the bridge tolls
Here’s a surprise: when you toll one bridge and leave another free, traffic ensues. It’s one of a handful of findings from a report by Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission that argues that the Lower Mainland’s traffic problems could be lessened if the province brought in tolls.

Here’s how report author Christopher Ragan, a McGill economics prof, describes the region’s traffic problems:

“Metro Vancouver’s traffic congestion challenge is shaped by numerous factors: a constrained geography bounded by mountains and ocean, polycentric travel patterns with multiple hubs of activity, and a complex governance structure. Applying variable pricing (i.e., a fee aligned with peak traffic times) to each of the region’s water crossings would target traffic in key driving arteries and reduce regional congestion.”

Tolls, eh? In the wake of the spring’s transit referendum, the region’s mayors asked Premier Christy Clark to look at mobility pricing as a way to pay for transit infrastructure (TransLink and the province are responsible for the lion’s share of crossings in the region). Her answer in October was a strong No, unless the mayors want to go to another vote. But as Vaughn Palmer noted over the summer, it may be impossible to avoid the toll question, that is if the province wants to build a multi-billion replacement to the George Massey Tunnel.

Donair v. donair
A Burnaby donair shop called Donair King has been served with a suit alleging trademark infringement by a Halifax business called King of Donair, seeking punitive and exemplary damages and legal costs. In case you weren’t aware, donair is big business in Halifax. Donair King has since said that it will stop using the name and trademark, as long as King of Donair dismisses the suit. (via Chronicle Herald)