Tag Archives: China

Foreign Investor Anecdotes from the Globe and Mail – “One of the more expensive homes bought last year is registered to a student who is not living there. It changed ownership three times in five years and is now empty.”

“A Beijing-based private equity manager who bought a $2.3-million home in the hot Vancouver real estate market said he did that while earning just $19,000 a year. He also wired nearly $2-million to his family in Canada during the same period.

Jing Sun is among several foreign investors who bought property in Canada in recent years, but kept the extent of their wealth out of view of the tax authorities and the courts, a Globe and Mail investigation has found.

The Globe’s findings come amid a controversy in Vancouver, where many blame foreign buyers for soaring house prices that have made a single-family home unattainable for some long-time residents. The Urban Development Institute will tackle the topic for the first time in a sold-out public forum on Wednesday in Vancouver.

The subject became an election issue when Conservative Leader Stephen Harper promised to collect data on foreign ownership of Canadian real estate and to consider new taxes and regulations to keep housing affordable.

An in-depth look at public data – including land titles, tax reporting and court records – revealed a distinct pattern, suggesting the typical wealthy foreign family buying Vancouver real estate pays little or no income or capital gains tax.

“I actually have clients in this circumstance,” said David Chodikoff, a Toronto tax lawyer who was a prosecutor but now defends clients who have trouble with the Canada Revenue Agency.

He is among several experts who said most wealthy foreign buyers are not breaking the law, but simply using tax avoidance manoeuvres or loopholes in the system.

“They love to take advantage of Canadian tax law … and it is happening in other communities too,” Mr. Chodikoff said.

Many of the houses being snapped up are not huge mansions. Increasingly, they are family homes priced out of reach for locals whose taxes pay for public services, and some of whom earn more than the incomes reported by buyers such as Mr. Sun.

Court records show Mr. Sun’s wife lived without him in their pricey Vancouver home for six years while he sent her $260,000 a year from China. They paid $40,000 a year for their children to attend private school in Canada.

When the couple broke up, Mr. Sun stopped supporting the family. In his divorce case last year, he claimed he had been making $19,000 a year. The court asked for tax and other financial records, but he failed to produce any, the documents say.

He said his money was loans from friends and family in China. The judge did not believe that, saying his bank would not have approved his financing if he had no wealth of his own.

“In my view, the respondent has yet to overcome the unlikelihood … of a bank advancing him over $1-million [in a home mortgage] on the basis of a $19,000 salary,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Emily Burke said last year.

Accountants and tax lawyers say it is common for investors from China to pay no income tax in Canada while moving their wealth to Canada through spouses and children here.

The Globe discovered one in three multimillion-dollar homes bought recently in Vancouver areas popular with foreign buyers is registered to a homemaker, student or corporation – one indicator of how the identity of the person who actually paid can be hidden.

When a spouse or child sells a property that is registered in their name, the real investor can avoid capital gains taxes – because the relative in Canada can claim it was their primary residence, therefore not an investment.

Other revealing data came from Statistics Canada, which tracks income that households report to the CRA.

In the Vancouver area of Dunbar, which realtors said is a top neighbourhood for Chinese clients, one in four of what Statscan calls “couple families” – excluding seniors – declared income of less than $35,000 in 2013. That puts them in the lowest tax bracket.

Given that the municipal property taxes on a $2-million to $3-million home are about $10,000, those reported income levels are questionable.

Land titles records on 250 houses bought in the past two years for more than $2-million in key Vancouver neighbourhoods indicate that 85 per cent of those new owners have Chinese names. There is no way to tell how many are Canadian. However, 2014 statistics from Macdonald Realty and ReMax show that 70 per cent of their clients were from mainland China.

The records list the occupations of non-corporate owners. The most frequent is “business person.” The next is “homemaker,” then “student.”

“When you sift through the information, you find that the wife [or student] has no income … there is no possible way they could afford to purchase the home,” Mr. Chodikoff said.

Several of the houses visited by The Globe appear to be unoccupied, with cobwebs at the front entrance and mail piled up.

One of the few owners who answered the door was a 25-year-old University of British Columbia science major who did not want to be identified. “My parents bought the house – for me to study here,” she said.

She is the registered owner of the $2-million home – but she said her parents live there too when they are not in China on business. “After I study, they will sell again.”

One of the more expensive homes bought last year – in Point Grey – is registered to a student who is not living there. It was bought for $4.8-million and has a stunning view of the mountains. It changed ownership three times in five years and is now empty.

The Globe found five out of 13 properties owned by students are empty and four are rented out, suggesting they were bought as investments.

A family friend picking up the mail at one house said the real owner is a business person in China who will not be in Canada for months. At another empty student-owned home, the backyard pool is filled with dirty water and garbage.

Many of the properties registered to homemakers are occupied. Several family members at those homes indicated the heads of the households are transferring wealth to Canada – because it is seen as a small, clean, inexpensive haven.

A homemaker listed as the owner of a $3.5-million house bought this year said her husband chose it “because it was good for our daughter’s [public] school to be nearby.”

She said she is staying in Vancouver – primarily so their children can get a Canadian education – while her husband travels back and forth.

She said the couple has permanent resident status in Canada, which benefits the family, but her husband earns good money in China from his food trading business.

A key question is whether foreign ownership actually is inflating the market while locals whose income tax dollars pay for roads and hospitals are squeezed out. If so, Canada would be losing affordable housing as well as much-needed provincial and federal tax revenue.

The data examined by The Globe suggest the foreign buyers have a significant, disproportionate impact on home prices.

One third of the 250 properties increased more than 50 per cent in price since 2010 – some of those more than doubled. They were also resold at least twice in that period.

The price of one property went up 40 per cent, then 123 per cent, in five years. The average single-family home in all of Vancouver increased 21 per cent in the same time period, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.

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Top ten price increases
Vancouver properties in Dunbar, Point Grey and South Granville from a sample of 250 homes purchased in the past two years for more than $2-million

The most revealing picture on tax avoidance emerged in court records from more than 200 B.C. divorces and other disputes involving real estate investors.

In several, the judges suspected or concluded significant overseas income was hidden.

Essentially, CRA rules say a non-resident who buys and sells Canadian property must pay capital gains and other taxes on earnings from those investments. If they have a primary residence and family living in Canada, they must file resident tax returns and report all of their income.

Some cases indicate that millionaires buy properties through relatives in Canada and then claim in their tax returns to be non-residents – which means they pay no Canadian taxes on their worldwide income. Others who file as residents appear to have grossly under-reported or failed to report their earnings.

Several cases involved multiple properties in the names of spouses, children, girlfriends and corporations.

The most clear-cut example of suspected tax evasion was a 2013 spousal support case against Hong Kong businessman David Ho.

The judge determined he had a net worth of $15-million to $20-million when his girlfriend, Jade Chen, came to Canada and started managing assets for him. The court concluded Mr. Ho’s annual income – from one bank account alone – was 100 times higher than the total income he reported to the CRA, which was as little as $1,254 in 2009.

The court concluded that Mr. Ho bought several properties in the Vancouver area. He put one in Ms. Chen’s name, another in his son’s, and two – worth $5-million – in the name of a corporation that had no purpose but to hold his assets in trust.

When a corporation sells property, the shareholders can simply sell the company’s shares to the new buyer, so the home stays in the company name. In that scenario, no one pays the B.C. provincial property transfer tax – $40,000 on a $2-million sale – because no change in owner name is registered. Unlike Ontario, B.C. has not closed this loophole.

Mr. Ho became a Canadian citizen years ago and signed up for B.C. health coverage. Until recently, however, he claimed on his taxes that he was a non-resident.

“[Mr. Ho’s accountant] advised Mr. Ho to break all significant ties with Canada, such as owning property and bank accounts, to ensure that Canadian tax authorities considered him to be non-resident,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Victoria Gray said.

The accountant, Frank Sze of Richmond, said that sometimes owners don’t want their names attached to the properties.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want their names to appear in the land registry. They don’t want to be known,” Mr. Sze told The Globe and Mail. When asked why, he said, “Just because.”

Even after Mr. Ho began paying Canadian income taxes as a resident in 2011, he claimed his income was only $27,500, the court documents said.

“Many of the concerns about Mr. Ho’s evidence related to how he handled assets and how he reported them for tax and legal purposes,” said the judge, who awarded Ms. Chen a quarter of a million dollars.

In some cases, Chinese investors have said their income was from family gifts and loans, which are tax-exempt.

When millionaire Xiong Hu Li’s wife divorced him in 2013, he ignored court orders to produce financial records, including tax returns. Instead, court records say, he claimed that all the money invested in Vancouver while he was in China came from his parents.

His wife, Rong Yao, had a $6-million Vancouver home, a condo, a Porsche and an Audi registered in her name. She testified at one point she owned 16 properties in B.C., until her husband had them transferred into his mother’s name.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan concluded Mr. Li “appears to have significant financial interests in China … millions of dollars … the money in Canada is of less consequence to him than revealing his assets appears to be.”

The judge called Mr. Li’s failure to account for his wealth “reprehensible” and awarded Ms. Yao spousal support, plus almost $4-million in assets.

Tax experts told The Globe and Mail Canada’s tax regime is not set up to collect from foreign millionaires who earn money overseas and have homes and family in Canada.

“I think it’s a serious issue and its a problem for the government and a problem for Canadians,” Mr. Chodikoff said.

“There could be a quite significant loss of tax revenue. More resources need to be pumped into the CRA – and more political will – so there is a desire to have stronger laws.”

The CRA indicated it is investigating the situation, but gave no specifics.

“There have been no prosecutions for tax evasion of people in Vancouver who claim to be non-resident or claim China as their primary residence,” a statement from the agency said.

“The CRA can, however, confirm that it has numerous ongoing investigations across Canada, some relating to residential real estate.”

An accountant in Vancouver who spoke on condition that he not be named said that the point is to remove the money from China.

“The picture is, basically, a lot of these people don’t really live here,” said the accountant, who came to Canada several years ago, and has wealthy Chinese clients.

“The guy in China wants to shift the money to the children – to get it out of China. Then if the Chinese government goes after the man, the assets are with the children.”

– from ‘Foreign investors avoid taxes through Canadian real estate’, by Kathy Tomlinson, Globe and Mail, 7 Oct 2015

‘Martin From Richmond’ Update – “Prices are down more than 15%. Another thing worth considering is that 2013 is the Year of the Snake for those of Chinese ancestry.”

“Prices have dropped more than 15 per cent in one popular neighbourhood in Richmond.
Almost a year ago, a 2800 square foot, five bedroom three bath house sold in the Garden City area for $952,000, a bit above asking price in what was described as a cash sale that followed a bidding war between two interest parties.
Within the last week, another house, a 2400 square foot, three bath house on a similar-sized lot sold in the same neighbourhood for $805,000, below the asking price of $838,900 and even below assessed value.
In both cases, the homes didn’t need any work, and were move-in ready, updated, and well-designed.
The $147,000 drop in price works out to be a 15.4 per cent price drop in the area.
And I think it’s an indication that at least one home owner seriously considered “cashing out”, and ultimately did, and that others might do the same, if the real estate industry continues to grind to a halt.
Another thing worth considering is that 2013 is the Year of the Snake for those of Chinese ancestry.
A renowned Richmond fortune teller and feng shui expert predicts that the Year of the Snake will see profit margins slip, and said business will slow down
Whether you believe in Chinese astrology is not the point; considering the influence of foreign and mostly Chinese buyers on the price spikes since late in 2010, it’s whether this significant subset of deep-pocketed people believe it.
The fortune teller said 2013 will see a significant slow down, and said people will be more careful in spending their money.
As with my earlier “self fulfilling prophecy” comment, if Chinese investors really do believe that 2013 will be a slow year, that could influence their decisions, and in fact, result in a slow down. It all depends on if enough people are drinking the Kool-Aid.
But the fortune teller also noted that the “wealthy Chinese” are unlikely to liquidate their assets by taking low-ball offers, and will decide to rather sit on their properties, awaiting better times.
So, recent sales activity (according to the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, January 2013 sales were the second lowest for that month since 2002) combined with the Chinese New Year, could further trigger prices to slide.
Something worth considering for those who are mullling over the possibility of re-entering the world of home ownership.”

– Martin from Richmond, via e-mail to VREAA, 6 Feb 2013

We don’t believe in astrology any more than we believe in leprechauns, but we do ‘believe’ in the fact that others believe in such things, and that those beliefs can influence herd behaviour.
A speculative mania is itself based on false beliefs.
– vreaa

Local Realtor “Cautiously Optimistic”

mike stewart

“Now Andrew had a couple of questions about the Vancouver real estate market… In the media he’d been reading that the Vancouver real estate market had seen a significant drop in the last little while, and he wanted to know what the real situation was.” …
“We’ve seen a lot of changes in the economy in China, so there’s a lot less people coming over from China. We’ve also seen changes in mortgage rules which has also reduced a lot of demand for property here in Vancouver.” …
“What are my predictions for the next six months?.. Our major trading partners (US, China) have been having some issues but their economies seem to be turning the corner. So I’m cautiously optimistic. … In terms of changes to mortgage rules, they came in 3 to 4 months ago, we’re feeling the effect now, in the past after mortgage changes, you get about 3 to 6 months where things soften up, then things begin to pick up. So, you know, I’m cautiously optimistic.”

– excerpts from Mike Stewart, local realtor, self posted youtube video, 20 Nov 2012 [hat-tip Anon]

Whenever a speculative mania tops and begins its deflation, participants who don’t understand the fabric of bubbles, and who haven’t seen the mania for what it is, will search for extraneous factors to blame. Sure, some external factors may shape the path of the price descent, but the real cause for the resultant implosion is the fact of the mania.
– vreaa

Quotes from above added to the “It’s Only A Flesh Wound” sidebar post.

“I have a have a good friend whose dad is a developer in China, and he knows some developers here. Here are the possible explanations that he offered for why the influx of foreign cash seems to have dried up.”

“I have a have a good friend who is from mainland China. He rents in Burnaby, and it was pretty easy for me to convince him that right now is not a good time to buy. He is frugal, even though his family could easily afford these outrageous prices for cash. He came here as a business immigrant.
His dad is a developer in China, and he knows some developers here. For example, he recently told me some of his fathers’ friends will be starting a new condo tower build in Richmond.
Here’s are the possible explanation that he offered for why the influx of foreign cash seems to have dried up:
1) In 2010, the law came into effect in China, limiting the purchase properties to two more. I.e. if you have zero, you can buy two more. If you have 20, you can buy two more. Now, those who have the money have already bought 2 more properties, so they can’t buy any more. People who need to sell – e.g. to buy a house in Vancouver – can’t find a buyer. As a result, he says that the prices have taken a tumble in some areas of Beijing from up to $3000 per square meter down to $2000.
2) Chinese people prefer US over Canada – Seattle, San Francisco, LA. According to him, US is the #1 choice. Furthermore, business immigration quotas have been reduced in Canada. He says that it’s now easier (and cheaper) to go the states if you have money. I don’t think I need to spell out the obvious differences in the real estate markets. In his opinion, it’s unlikely that the Chinese would speculate in an area where they can’t live. I.e. he doesn’t think that they would invest in real estate if they can’t get a visa to live here.”

“In addition, let me tell you about a young couple I pried from the hands of the condogeddon. A friend of mine, a young teacher and her boyfriend (engaged) just sold the apartment they shared with his brother. I explained to her the obvious reasons why real estate is overpriced – price to rent, interest rates, speculation, etc. It took no more than 15 minutes. I then provided her the links to this blog, and a couple of other resources to research on her own. They walked away with a profit, and are renting a better place for less than what the mortgage and condo fees were – without the need to share it with his “quirky” brother.”

“Feel free to publish this on your blog.
Furthermore, do you have any questions you’d like me to ask my Chinese friend?”

– this from ‘Some Guy’, via e-mail, 24 Mar 2012

Thank you, Some Guy.
Do any readers have any questions they’d like him to extend to his friend?

‘Sell Your Property In China’ – “This postcard was in my mailbox yesterday. Lots of lucky red colouring.”

– scan of a card flier distributed to residential addresses in Vancouver, e-mailed by ‘J’ to VREAA, 20 Jan 2012. J writes “This postcard was in my mailbox yesterday.  Lots of lucky red colouring.”

“I guess I will keep watching everything and restrain myself from jumping onto the Vancouver housing bandwagon even though I missed the Shanghainese one.”

“I came to Raincouver three years ago. I was working and living in Shanghai for two years: it’s a nice city, more transparent and efficient than its counterparts in inner part of the country. More foreign investments and more job opportunities. And therefore more attractive for young people, either uneducated, educated or over educated :) At that time I remember the main topics between colleague is either stock market or property price. There is pressure for me to buy apartment before I got married with my wife (we both live and work there) but I didn’t go that route by empty my pocket (not much) and by asking my parents for their help (not much they can do either). At that time, 2006-2007, the price of a 2-3 bed apartment in outer skirts of city will cost 7 to 10 times of my annual income with at least one hour (doesn’t matter you drive or not, could be two if you are not living beside subway) commute to work.
Well, I guess I’m lucky not be part of the housing party in Shanghai, but here in Vancouver, it’s definitely another show going. I’ve been here 3 years now and realized the house price was shooting up. I don’t know the exact price range here in Burnaby but some SFH will easily cost you 1mil. Consider all the fun facts undergoing these days: QE3, bailout, Euro crises, BPOE, HAM, I guess I will keep watching everything and restrain myself from jumping onto the Vancouver housing bandwagon even though I’ve missed a Shanghainese one.”

GuyInBurnaby at VREAA 30 Nov 2011 12:59pm, commenting on “If I’d paid for it all myself, the price cut wouldn’t bother me as much, but there’s a lifetime of my parent’s blood and sweat in it. Developers’ profits are outrageous. The price they set when the housing market kept going up was far more than the real value.”

“If I’d paid for it all myself, the price cut wouldn’t bother me as much, but there’s a lifetime of my parent’s blood and sweat in it. Developers’ profits are outrageous. The price they set when the housing market kept going up was far more than the real value.”

Danny Deng and his bride-to-be dreamed of their lives together as they walked through the showroom for a Shanghai housing project almost three months ago. Pooling his own and his parents’ savings, a loan from his boss and a 1.1 million yuan ($172,000) mortgage, he bought an apartment and secured his fiancee’s hand.
On Nov. 19, Deng faced off a ring of security guards three rows deep wearing camouflage and carrying shields as he joined more than 100 homeowners rallying in front of the development’s sales office. His transformation from newlywed to street protester came after China Vanke Co. slashed prices for future buyers at the Qinglinjing complex, erasing about 20 percent of the value of his three-bedroom unit overnight.
“If I’d paid for it all myself, the price cut wouldn’t bother me as much, but there’s a lifetime of my parent’s blood and sweat in it,” said Deng, a 30-year-old electrical systems salesman. “Developers’ profits are outrageous. The price they set when the housing market kept going up was far more than the real value.”

– from ‘Shanghaied Home Buyers Take to Street’, Bloomberg, 29 Nov 2011

Then why, Danny, did you buy it?
We know: Because you thought that prices would continue to go up, and up, and up, right? Right.
And if they had, you’d be taking credit, not complaining, right? Right.
Speculators are the same everywhere: Shanghai, Sydney, Spain, Ireland, Vancouver.
The outcomes of speculative manias know no cultural bounds.
– vreaa

More of Danny’s story from the article:
For Deng, the pain is more than financial. Tears swell in his eyes as he recounts the moment his father handed him access to his life savings of 360,000 yuan to help make the down payment.
The gift made Deng consider himself a member of the “ken lao” generation, meaning to gnaw on the elderly.
“I was depressed, uncertain, touched and a bit ashamed,” he said, asking not to be identified by his full Chinese name because of the personal nature of his story. “I had been proud and didn’t think it was their business. But when the moment really came, I knew it was impossible to manage only by myself.”
Deng had moved to Shanghai three years earlier from a small city in the north to be closer to a girl he met in college. When talk turned to marriage, his girlfriend insisted they buy an apartment first, he said.
“At my age, I should get married and I should have my own home whether or not I can afford it so that I can be the same as my classmates,” Deng said.
Deng saw an ad on Soufun.com for pre-sales of a project called Qinglinjing, meaning “Clear Forest Path,” that was being constructed near a soon-to-be built subway station next to the future home of the Shanghai Disney Resort. Deng and his girlfriend visited a showroom to walk the wooden floors of the replica 96-square-meter (1,033-square-foot) apartment, planning how they would fill its two bedrooms, living room and study.
“We loved it,” Deng said. “It suits us for the next three to five years because we plan to raise a child soon.”
The snag was its 1.7 million yuan price tag. Chinese policy requires a minimum 30 percent deposit. Deng had saved 70,000 — not enough. That’s when he called his parents, then borrowed another 50,000 yuan from his boss, and secured a loan of 1.1 million yuan paying as much as 7.8 percent interest from Agricultural Bank of China, he said.
On Sept. 28, Deng and his girlfriend signed a contract with the developer, happy after winning discounts including 40,000 yuan off for being a member for the Soufun.com website and a 20,000 yuan markdown by collecting 20 stamps on a red “home- passport” issued by Vanke. The end price: 1.58 million, or about 13 times Deng’s annual wage.
The next month, they got married. Paying the mortgage will take up 40 percent of the new couple’s combined salary.
… “I didn’t have a choice,” Deng said of the decision to buy. “I don’t want to be too different. Otherwise, maybe for a long time, I would be alone.”

Wow. Poignant story.
And so many similarities to what is going on to Vancouver: Bank of Mom and Pop; ‘girlfriend insisted they buy an apartment’; plans to move in 3-5 years (but now likely stuck); etc.
Also, some differences, too: 40% of income? (low for Vancouver); 1,033-square-foot apartment (MASSIVE by Vancouver standards), etc.
– ed.