by Laurent Vu The
VANCOUVER, July 20, 2011 (AFP) - Its quality of life is routinely ranked among the best in the world, but that's only one reason Vancouver real estate prices are red hot.
Wealthy Chinese anxious to raise their families in the West are bidding up the city's limited number of properties in fashionable West Vancouver, sending prices in the city soaring more than 50 percent in the past three years.
Last year, Canada issued 1,600 visas to Chinese investors looking to move to British Columbia.
Su Yi Bin, a trader by profession, is looking to buy a 450-square-meter (4,800-square-foot) house in the area for his family and ready to pay as much as $4.3 million Canadian ($4.5 million US).
Su splits his time between Vancouver and Shanghai. While he's in China, he wants his family to be comfortable as they adapt to their new country.
"For my child, growing up and going to school here will allow him to integrate fully into the world, into an international lifestyle," he said.
"That's just not possible in China."
While prices in Vancouver have risen 54 percent in the past three years, they jumped 13 percent last year alone.
Vancouver real estate agent Clarence Debelle sees the Chinese influx in his business. In just five months, he has seen his Chinese clientele jump from two to 40 potential buyers.
"We do not have that many homes available for sale in West Vancouver, and the Chinese buyers are buying an awful lot of them. So I feel the prices will continue to rise," he said.
Faced with this market assault, Cam Good has opened two apartment showrooms similar to those in Hong Kong and Beijing.
Good credits the interest in Vancouver properties to the restrictions on real estate purchases in China -- in some large cities including Beijing people are generally restricted to no more than two properties.
Seventy square meters (750 square feet) for half a million dollars in Vancouver might look expensive, even with with a view of the sea. But to be able to own property outright is not possible in China, he said, where houses are leased for a maximum of 70 years.
To close his real estate deals, Good's firm, known as "The Key" company, straddles both east and west.
"We consult a feng shui master to make sure that the floor plans and the overall design of the building are appealing to Chinese people," he said, referring to the ancient Chinese system of aesthetics used to lay out homes in the most auspicious way possible.
He's certainly seeing results: of the first 40 sales in his apartment complex, half the purchasers were originally from China.
Local buyers, however, faced with the onslaught of Chinese money, are hurting. The cost of a mortgage, taxes and utilities for an average Vancouver apartment now represent about 70 percent of the average annual salary.
Experts say rising house prices don't necessarily mean the city is in the midst of a real estate bubble.
"I think there is very, very little chance that Canada will see what happened in the United States," said Tsur Somerville, director of the urban economy and real estate center at the University of British Columbia.
"Vancouver is extremely expensive, but it has been that way for a very long time."
And mortgages have also been better monitored in Canada than in the United States, he added.
According to one of Canada's biggest real estate firms, Royal LePage, the housing market has peaked and should slow down in the second half of 2011 to an annual growth rate of some 7.7 percent.
As for Su and his wife, who have not yet decided which house to buy, one thing is sure: "If my wife and I find a house we like, we will buy it, and if the house holds its value, even better."