Stoking The Housing Boom – “B.C. should close the bare-trust loophole for owning properties. Former Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong promised to get rid of it, but he reneged.”


The phenomenal popularity of Canada’s new 10-year visas is a key factor behind the latest housing booms in Vancouver and Toronto, say immigration specialists.
“I often travel to China, where I see the great pride many take in investing their money in Canada” —­ particularly by taking advantage of 10-year visas to buy real estate, said George Lee, a Burnaby immigration lawyer.
In 2015, Canadian immigration officials issued 390,000 10-year, multiple-entry visas to residents of Mainland China, the largest cohort, with another 162,000 going to people from India.
The former Conservative government began offering the 10-year visas in February 2014. As a result, in that first year, the number of travel visas handed to Chinese nationals tripled to 337,000.
Lee says the visas, which allow people to travel freely to Canada each year and stay for at least six months at a time, have sparked an explosion in foreign travel and property speculation in Canada, particularly from China.
The multiple-entry visas have caused a migration “chain reaction,” Lee said, which often leads to international students becoming proxies for offshore real-estate investors.

Hyman is particularly concerned about how a diverse range of real-estate speculators in B.C. use various means to obscure the legal ownership of property.
A multiple-entry visa offers “many people exactly what they want,” said Hyman.
“They want to be seen as tourists. They want to be off the radar of the Canada Revenue Agency,” including by being able to claim they’re not residents of Canada for income tax purposes.
The multiple-entry visa gives wealthy foreign nationals increasing opportunities to use their low-income-earning offspring and others as proxies, sometimes called “nominees,” to buy Canadian property on their behalf, according to Lee and Hyman.
Many wealthy foreign nationals employ their international-student children as channels for investing in real estate, they say, noting there are 130,000 foreign students in B.C., 51,000 of whom are from Mainland China.
“Some people are transferring their wealth to their dependents and then relinquishing their permanent resident status in Canada. They’re applying instead for 10-year visitors’ visas,” Hyman said.
He is particularly aware of foreign nationals, as well as domestic Canadians, using “bare trusts” and other loopholes to purchase properties and avoid paying taxes in B.C.
His worries echo a Transparency International report that says stronger tax enforcement is desperately needed in Canada and especially for Metro Vancouver, where governments can’t identify the owners of almost half the region’s 100 most valuable homes.
“B.C. is losing tens of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes related to property,” said Hyman.
Too many dubious ways exist — the immigration lawyer said — for real estate investors to obscure their identities and avoid paying Canadian income taxes, B.C.’s 15-per cent foreign buyers tax, B.C.’s property transfer tax or capital gains tax on real-estate profits.
To combat exploitation of Metro Vancouver’s housing market, Hyman said, one of the first things the new NDP government of B.C. should do is close the bare-trust loophole for owning properties.
Former B.C. Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong promised in October, 2015, to get rid of the loophole, said Hymen, but he reneged.
The Ontario government is far ahead of B.C. on this regulation, Hyman said. It closed the loophole in 1983.

– from ‘New 10-year visas stoke housing booms in Vancouver and Toronto’, Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun, 6 Aug 2017

26 responses to “Stoking The Housing Boom – “B.C. should close the bare-trust loophole for owning properties. Former Liberal finance minister Mike de Jong promised to get rid of it, but he reneged.”

  1. white_angelos_fundamental_frivolity
  2. Right, it’s all locals here. so we issued almost 400K 10 year visas in one year to China, this is along with 200K in various millionaire migration programs. 118 direct flights and increasing on a yearly basis, this doesn’t bode well.

    What we have is an invited mass immigration from China of all places and more broadly Asia. And when they get here, it will pretty much be either Vancouver or Toronto. The scraping of the millionaire immigration program merely delays this as they will simply send their children here which was always the objective anyways and then in four to five years when they finish school we pretty much invite them to immigrate.

    Mark my words, if you think Vancouver prices are bad now, if Vancouver hits the demographic projections shown here for 2031:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Vancouver

    God help those who don’t own property. Because having that many asian people in Vancouver would mean that Vancouver will behave almost entirely like an asian city. And anyone who has been to many asian cities would know that most of their price to average income ratios would put Vancouver to shame.

  3. How are RE taxes being avoided? Do properties held in bare-trust don’t have to pay property taxes? Do they not have to pay PPT on purchase? Bunch of blaming on evil foreigner buyers dodging taxes.

    Oh wait, I know, if only those 10 year visa holders had PR status, they would be taxed! WRONG! Most of them would have applied for PR and still bought properties. Yes, it would be more paperwork for them but you know what? If you can afford a $3M dollar house and send your kid to study here at $3K/course, you can afford a 500 RMB to 1000 RMB fee to have someone do all the paperwork for you.

    If people really cared about “lost” tax, the solution is simple. Jack up the property tax and purchase tax to be a graduated tax system like income tax, and make them deductible against provincial income tax.

    • I like the idea of the property tax with income deduction, but it has the nasty side effect of affecting some “locals” as well, and that will cause some outrage

      • Honestly, any measure will hit locals because we gave away citizenship. So now it’s all the same now. That’s why it’s dilusional to think that government can solve this issue. Because now everyone is the same. The engine that drives this boat is ever closer connection between Vancouver and Asia. Unless you are willing to severe that connection (which no one will now that a lot of the voters are asian), you will see a gradual move to ratios seen by first line chinese cities. Hint, it’s A LOT worse than Vancouver.

      • The government can solve the problem but it will piss off a lot of locals who don’t think they’re part of the problem (they are)

        They could seriously beef up their AML enforcement resources, and beef up the reporting requirements for certain banks and professionals who claim it’s not their problem

  4. People here have no idea of the coming pace of change. Shanghai alone is pretty much the population of Canada; cities of 10 million plus are common. Brian’s point about the Chinese Canadian voters is correct. They will vote in their best interests.
    That aside, most of the rest of Canadians would live here if they could swing it. Think just of retiring Ottawa bureaucrats with fat pensions. Think they want to spend their golden years skating on the Rideau Canal and eating beaver tails? Think again. I’ve been in Ottawa in the winter; other Canadian cities too. It’s miserable. This past winter in Vancouver was the worst I’ve seen, but it was manageable. How about St. John’s Nfld.? As they say there: Lord luvva Jesus it’s cold.
    I cycled the Seawall today – are the banks of the Seine any better?

  5. The biggest loophole is income tax — period. If only the provincial and federal governments taxed property instead of income — just like municipalities do — this entire problem disappears.

    • Agreed on this one. But this one will hit locals hard as well and god knows that seniors will NEVER go for this. Also means that if you rent, you will never really pay much taxes which isn’t the goal. I think there needs to be more of a balance similar to what Space suggested, which is property taxes that is deductible using income tax. That way, it’s more balanced.

      • Bitter Renter

        Renters will pay property taxes indirectly through their rent. Property taxes are an expense that landlords have to recover by setting the rent high enough just like they do for other expenses. That’s the beauty of property taxes — everyone pays because everyone has to live somewhere. Owner-occupiers pay property taxes directly; renters pay property taxes indirectly through their rent. Maybe a hybrid system with property tax deductible from income tax could work. It would have to be carefully designed though.

      • Except it would be landlord who are getting the benefit of property tax deduction, not the renter who is indirectly paying the property tax. Maybe the pass-through wouldn’t be 100% or something, but without giving the renter a property tax / rent deduction against income tax, it would further encourage home ownership and/or disadvantage the poorer people who have to rent.

  6. I think we will need tax reform and some kind of capital based taxes eventually. It’s best to start slow and gradual. As for seniors, well, there are already tons of programs and exemptions for them so I can’t see why politicians can’t come up with another exemption for them with regard to higher property taxes. However, once the exemption is in place, it will never go away even 50 years from now when the existing young people retires having no need of the exemption anymore.

  7. Btw, since rent is supposed to cover the cost of providing a service, any property based taxes should in theory be passed through to the renter – maybe not 100%, but not 0% either. Or the existing residential rental agreement would move towards more like the triple net commercial leases where the tenant is responsible for the property tax and therefore would get the property tax credit.

    Either way, if people really worried about tax leakage by foreigners, graduated property tax is going to be easiest and simplest way to go, and least amount of loophole IMHO. Any other methods where we try to be “fair” to locals are simply going to be way too complex and have too many exemptions and loopholes to be useful (well, except accountants and government bureaucrats).

    Granted, some people like seniors will be doubly hit since they did pay a lifetime of income tax already. But then they also consumed the most service and left so much debt that their grandchildren will still be paying for it. So, unfortunate yes, but on balance it’s not really that unfair. Also, a slow adoption rate would mitigate that issue as well – eg. switching 0.5% of income tax take to property tax instead a year.

  8. white_angelos_fundamental_frivolity
  9. 3381 23rd Ave E: what rodents and builders lie in wait for – a little old lady ready for the care home and croaking. A fascinating interior. A historical snapshot. The only nod to modernity is some type of video player beneath the tv. No fancy internet here. Not even a kitchen hood. Classic Salvation Army furniture – except it was bought new. Love the antique stove and green backsplash. Odds of this squatty escaping the wrecker are small, though it could survive another generation.

  10. The only way to “win” the Vancouver RE game is if you posses a EU or US or Australian passport (basically a first world passport and work/business prospects for a country that has much more to offer not only weather wise), cash out on what I call your “Vancouver tulip” and leave for an actual interesting city with better weather and a lower cost of living. I left Vancouver in 2002 after only 3 years (other then the beautiful scenery, beautiful but hardly unique, there was not really anything else for that city to offer) and I did not play the RE game (maybe I should have).
    My very good friends won their Vancouver lottery ticket today, they are leaving Vancouver after 17 years, catching a flight tonight (15 Aug.) back to Europe.
    They could not believe how much they got out of their (mortgage free) 44 years old cardboard shoe box, with that sum they will buy a much newer attic (actually made of concrete, steel and marble floors and with all the modern amenities you can imagine) in beautiful central Valencia, Spain (beautiful weather, great food, rich of actual culture and history, super clean and with first class infrastructure, in few words an actually real high quality of life) and other 2 condos for investment…….and he got much more interesting job opportunities as well.
    They had a rather long closing deal (over one moth) and they were terrified at the (unlikely but still possible) possibility that buyers would renege on the deal. They sincerely felt bad for the new owners on what (little) they are getting for their hard earned $$$ (these are working people, they are getting a mortgage, is not a cash transaction)
    That is how you win this game, if you actually have other options….if you are trapped in Vancouver (or Canada) you are just trading a tulip for another one or trading your tulip for a lower cost of living in a god-awful weather city somewhere else in the country (I remember the comments, “we moved from Vancouver to Edmonton, or Calgary or <>) , we are doing better financially but we have to shovel snow out of our driveway, in winter, the cold, etc…”)
    That is my suggestion to home owners that want to “cash out”….get the cash and work on a strategy to actually get out of the country.

    • Well said, if you have no attachment to Asian culture, the mediterranean cities of either Spain or the cote d’azur region in France offer a much better existence. Actually make that most of developed Europe. I have been there for travel and I love it so much for a month long trip. But I would never live there long term because there is nothing that would entice an Asian person like me to stay there given that I am attached to asian culture. However, if you do not have any attachment and are more into European cultures (there are many who are like that), I would highly suggest you take this author’s advice because there are much more interesting cities in that regard than Vancouver for much less. The thing that makes Vancouver expensive is just this, it is one of the few first world cities that have a significant Asian culture. If you go through every city in the western world that has this trait they are all very expensive. (San Fran, New York, Sydney, Singapore… etc)

  11. Brian that is very true, unfortunately it is because the Asians have decided to hitch their wagons to the Anglo culture so English speaking cities have become their first “go to” places out of Asia…however things are changing and a lot of Asians have interest in non English speaking countries to invest and live…..Spain is on their radar too now.
    However the Vancouver situation is particularly bad cost of living wise (unfortunately for Canadians) because it is basically the only major city in Canada with a livable winter weather. In the US or in Australia you have many other options and choices other than Sydney or San Francisco…and even these two cities at least offer world class career opportunities (and world class arts and entertainment scene) that Vancouver simply lacks….Vancouver economically is Portland (or even less) with New York cost of living. I totally understand your perspective as an Asian person but I really struggle to comprehend in general the allure to live in Vancouver if you have other first world options.
    Since I moved to Seattle I never looked back but I still have friends in Vancouver and half of them would leave if they could. I cannot imagine a place where the is as much disconnect between the myth (or the propaganda, whatever you want to call it) and the reality on the ground.

  12. Brian I have a question for you…for an Asian person would not be much more interesting anyway to live in one of the bustling real Asian cities in Asia?? I frankly do not get the Vancouver allure for Asians as well….at least the ones that still have to work for a living, not the independently wealthy

  13. @Dominic, I have lived in those bustling Asian cities but there is something largely missing, ie. the clean air, the feeling of a nice city. Vancouver went through a smog in the last two weeks and it has been brutal, it reminded me of beijing. That is not a good feeling. At the same time, to have zero asian culture is also not acceptable. This is why Vancouver is so attractive. It practically amalgamates elements of asian culture with a nice western city. If you don’t believe me, look at the demographics of vancouver, no city in the world has had this kind of demographic shift this quickly. We have gone from less than 10% asian in the 80s to about 30% east asian plus another 12% south asian today. And we are projected to be a majority asian city in another decade. We have 118 direct flights to every chinese city that you could name, some that I didn’t even know before.

    As to the anglo speaking cities part. Spain is definitely on their radar now. But one thing I need to make very clear, Vancouver isn’t my top choice, San Fran is. But Vancouver is a close second. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be the top dog to have your real estate market turned upside down. You just have to be in the top 10. This is because like you said, Vancouver’s economy is tiny compared to the other cities. So we can’t handle the kind of asian migration that has been happening the way that a New York or San Fran can. If you compare real estate market data, it shows quickly that if a large group of people of any race shows up quickly and decides to all buy we will have a huge surge. Vancouver just isn’t large enough or well supplied enough.

    Btw, as for attractiveness to Asia, we are on the list, we are always ranked in the top 5, sometimes we are 1, sometimes we are 3, sometimes we are 5. It doesn’t really matter, we have been in the top 5 for like a decade now and will remain here now that we have such a strong connection to Asia. As long as we are in the top 5 you will see more and more migration which leads to higher real estate values. Think of it this way, once Vancouver becomes a majority Asian city, it will probably have a lower price to income ratio than most cities in Asia. Most chinese people who come to Vancouver actually finds the real estate here cheap. Hong Kong has a price to income of 19 which is probably inline with most chinese first line cities (beijing, guangzhou, shanghai, shenzhen, chongqing, etc) They don’t release this data because getting average income data in China is pretty hard. But from annecdotal evidence the ratio is somewhere there.

  14. @Dominic – with regard to your question about why Vancouver is so alluring to Chinese, I will relate to you what I’ve been told by one of my friends who moved to Seattle since 2008. Last time we met this year, this topic came up and I was surprised by her answer because Vancouver and Seattle are considered similar. Here are what she said:
    1 – You can’t get around speaking Chinese / Mandarin in Seattle like you can here
    2 – Lack of Chinese critical mass – meaning less Chinese feeling, restaurants, shops, etc that cater to the Chinese taste. This is despite the fact that they live in Redmond, her hubby works at MS, and they have the “Microsoft” wives club – basically wives whose husband works in MS but they can’t because they came with their hubbies and aren’t allowed to have a work permit.
    3 – Second class citizen feeling – yes, she said at the end of the day, she feels she’s a second class citizen to White Americans. Nothing overt, but there is a lingering feeling. She doesn’t feel this in Vancouver
    4 – Better Asian food in Vancouver – yes Chinese girls are obsessed about food…but this is changing in Seattle as more Chinese restaurants brands / chefs from mainland China are opening up there
    5 – Better environment – she doesn’t like the gun culture, and the higher crime rate in Seattle / US in general
    6 – More laid back and relaxed feel in Vancouver compared to Seattle.

    She does say that Seattle has better job opportunities, cheaper living costs / houses, education system especially US university, etc. However, she said she can’t use those advantages and so they are moot. Note – at that time she’s not allowed to work in US.

    So in the end, she still prefers to come back to Vancouver if she can and retire, as things stand now.

    Fast forward to current day, she can now work in US and she has become a realtor and things are freaking hot in Seattle Housing Market due to Chinese money.

  15. The other thing I will mention is that housing prices in Vancouver is still CHEAP compared to cities in China. YES – CHEAP!

    Given that the people we are attracting basically came here for political reasons, leisure & retirement, make money in Asia or have enough nest egg, are used to high housing prices, I don’t think it’s a surprise that Vancouver housing prices have gone through the roof.

    Remember in the late 80s / early 90s, the HK immigrants wave is due to the 96 HK handover. Most of the immigrants still had business in HK and their kids upon graduating university here went back to be managers in family business. There wasn’t much intention to stay here at all.

    The 90s Taiwan immigrant wave is due to fear of Taiwan independence. Most families still made money in Taiwan and their kids went back to Taiwan / China after graduating university.

    The current mainland immigrants wave are drive in part by fleeing corrupt officials and rich parents who don’t want to subject their kids to the horrors of Chinese education system. So the latter group are basically buying an university degree for their kid and either have enough money or connections that their kid can go back to China for an easy job at ridiculous salaries in either family business or whatnot. There are lots of stories of university grads with mediocre or maybe good grades who can’t find jobs here, went back to China, and are now making 1M RMB /yr (~ $200K+ CAD /yr) AFTER TAX, managing people who graduated from Chinese universities that they have no hope of even entering.

  16. Space889

    Yes I met quite few wealthy Asians living in Vancouver…..even in my limited experience in interacting with few of them, the stereotypes seem to be true, they parked their families in Vancouver and keep doing business in Asia.
    About the Chinese money in Seattle it is true, actually I wish my water view on a hill house would appreciate at the same torrid pace as Vancouver…I would bolt out of here in no time (cannot stand the Northwest weather) but I think it will not get as bad as Vancouver mainly for 3 reasons

    1) To immigrate to the US is still significantly more difficult even if you have financial means and requires a real commitment (in order to get a business visas) to build a viable enterprise creating full time jobs.

    2) If you are able to actually get a Green Card or Business visa for the US, there are simply so many choices other than Seattle even limited to the west coast alone….Vancouver is the only large west coast Canadian city and the only one in the country with an acceptable winter weather…if I were restricted to live only in Canada I would not live anywhere else other than Vancouver…

    3) US more adversarial position towards China compared to Canada that could keep some from pursuing a US permanent residence and, as you have already mentioned, the perceived “less safe” social environment in America (more perception than reality) compared to north of the border.

    I do not agree with you friend about feeling “second class citizen” in Seattle (or the US). The US is very welcoming if you actually embrace the culture (the famous Melting Pot).
    I know many Asians (working professionals, not part of the “wealth wave”) perfectly fully integrated, they are as American as any white person…they go to baseball games, football games, BBQ with neighbors in the backyard, actually put effort in speaking perfect English, etc….in few words they are more willing to integrate.
    In this regard I found the US more welcoming than Canada (again my personal experience)…the strong “keep your culture” attitude in Canada (you can keep your culture here too by the way, nothing prevent you from doing it) to me is a code word for cultural segregation and I noticed that the white Anglo Canadians in Vancouver tend to be very cliquey, not welcoming of people outside of their group…less so in Seattle and even less the more south you go on the West Coast.

    Regards!

  17. @Dominic – For the 2nd class citizen thing, it is her comment. I think it’s not that she feels she has less rights or whatever as other Americans or that people are openly hostile to her. I think it might just be a general feeling she gets that she’s just not viewed as “true” American by others, or being treated slightly differently by others due to biases or whatever. I don’t think it’s like overt or open racism or anything like that. Probably just subtle feelings or actions that you can’t put a finger on but yet get that unwelcome / inferior feeling. It might even just be down to simple cultural differences as well. Who knows. But it is something that she feels as different living between Seattle vs. Vancouver.

    As for immigration issues, yes it is a lot harder to immigrate to US vs Canada, and hence why I think Australia, Canada, and probably New Zealand and a few other places are much more popular. I think Canada and Vancouver occupy a special spot because of the HK & Taiwan immigration waves earlier, Lai Changshin which Canada refused to deport until China promised to drop death penalty and his safety, and popular culture as Vancouver has been heavily featured now in several movies & TV series.

  18. @space889

    I think that probably your friend simply feels more at home in Vancouver due to the much larger Asian presence which allows for less cultural adjustment.

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