CMHC finds foreign ownership of condos low but growing

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has crunched the numbers on foreign ownership of condos in Canadian cities and again concluded that it is low but growing.

In central Vancouver it's 5.4%, central Toronto 5.8%, though CMHC admits more data needed

In the condo towers of central Vancouver, foreign ownership is 5.4 per cent, while in central Toronto it's 5.8 per cent. (CBC)

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has crunched the 2015 numbers on foreign ownership of condos in Canadian cities and again concluded that it is low but growing.

In Vancouver, about 3.5 per cent of condominiums were owned by foreign buyers in 2015, up from 2.3 per cent a year earlier. The percentage jumped in the Burrard Peninsula, Vancouver Westside and Eastside to 5.4 per cent.

In central Toronto, foreign ownership of condos was 5.8 per cent, versus 4.3 per cent a year earlier, while in greater Toronto it was 3.3 per cent, up from 2.4 per cent.

CMHC president Evan Siddall called it a significant change from year to year.

"No surprise: these are Canada's largest and most international cities," Siddall said in a speech in Montreal Thursday.

The other municipalities showing an increase in foreign buying were Winnipeg, where foreign ownership was 2.7 per cent in 2015 and London, Ont., where it was 2.2 per cent.

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Foreign ownership of Canadian real estate has become a hot topic this year with the rapid rise of housing prices in Vancouver and Toronto.

There is anecdotal evidence and studies from real estate brokers that buyers from mainland China are driving the market for luxury properties.

But a similar CMHC study last year on the condo sector failed to turn up any data that showed high foreign ownership.

Might not have full picture

Siddall acknowledged Thursday that CMHC lacks accurate and reliable data on foreign ownership, as landlords may not be honest in reporting to the federal agency.

The CMHC study is done by speaking to property managers and condo boards for every condo building in each of 15 census metropolitan areas in September and October this year.

Its definition of a foreign owner is one who lives outside of Canada, including Canadian-born people who are non-resident, unlike some realtor surveys, which are based on the names of the owners.

In his speech in Montreal, he also acknowledged there is a risk to Canadian housing markets from too much foreign ownership.

"A lack of accurate and reliable data makes it difficult to determine if or how foreign ownership may be affecting the market," he said. "Foreign investment may be more mobile and subject to capital flight, which could increase volatility in domestic housing markets."

The federal housing agency now believes that 11 Canadian cities are experiencing overvalued housing, relative to people's incomes.

Siddall said CMHC is seeking more information on foreign ownership of single family homes and on use of Canadian real estate for investment and may have to survey realtors, builders and lenders to get a more complete picture.

Foreign ownership of condos

City 2014 2015
Victoria 1.1% 1.0%
Vancouver City 3.4 5.4
Vancouver CMA 2.3 3.5
Calgary 0.2 1.1
Winnipeg 0.1 2.7
London, Ont. - 2.2
Toronto Centre 4.3 5.8
Toronto CMA 2.7 3.3
Montreal 1.5 1.3