Foreigners have snapped up one third of the units in one of Vancouver's most talked-about condominium towers, reflecting their preference for downtown properties in major Canadian cities.

The 59-storey tower, with its unique twisting shape that expands as the building rises, is going up at the northern end of the Granville Street Bridge.

The unique design by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, drew international attention when it was revealed in 2013.

Developer Westbank Corporation said the building is nearly sold out, with 35 per cent of units sold to foreign buyers, but there are still five penthouses remaining, starting at around $5 million dollars.

According to Westbank, the buyers are not just from Asia, but the U.S. and Europe too.

Downtown hot with foreign investors

The sales reflect national figures that show foreign buyers are acquiring real estate in the heart of major Canadian cities, according to Robyn Adamache, a market analyst with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Last year, for the first time, CMHC tracked foreign ownership of rental condos, said Adamache. The fall Rental Market Survey also asked property managers to provide information on the total number of condominium apartment units owned by people whose permanent residence is outside of Canada.

The report found downtown Vancouver has one of the highest rate of foreign ownership of rented condos in the country.

"If you look at just the downtown core, 5.8 per cent of rented condos are owned by foreign investors."

Downtown Montreal and Nun's Island had the country's highest rate of foreign ownership at 6.9 per cent, while downtown Toronto hit 4.3 per cent.

Overall, foreign ownership of rented condos across the wider central metropolitan areas was 2.3 per cent for Vancouver, compared with 2.4 for Toronto and 1.4 per cent in Montreal.

But Adamache cautions the figures only represent a small part of the market, and don't include units that might be owned by foreigners but not rented out to the public.

"The problem with this whole foreign investment or foreign ownership question in the Vancouver market is we don't have  definitive information. There are lots of little pieces of information that don't speak to necessarily the whole market," said Adamache.

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