British Columbia

5 charts showing Metro Vancouver's affordability has become worse despite the foreign buyers tax

Real estate data released last week shows that when it comes to affordability, Metro Vancouver's housing market hasn't substantially improved, despite the implementation of a foreign buyers tax in August 2016.

Detached homes in and around Vancouver have stayed stable but apartments and suburban homes are way up

While the median price of detached homes in Vancouver has stayed about the same in the 16 months since the foreign buyers tax was implemented, the median price of an apartment has risen 24 per cent. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

New real estate data shows that when it comes to affordability, Metro Vancouver's housing market hasn't substantially improved since a regional 15 per cent foreign buyers tax was implemented in August 2016. 

In fact, based on some metrics, things have become much worse. 

"It has not taken us to affordability," said Tsur Sommerville, a professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business.

"You have two effects when you raise the foreign buyers tax. You might chase people totally out of the market but maybe incentivize buying a smaller property. And perversely, that can be bad for affordability."

Here are five charts that show what's changed in the region's housing market.

1. Home prices stable ...

After the tax was implemented, the price of detached homes did fall throughout the region. The average price of a single-family property in the area overseen by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver was at one point down 20 per cent from its monthly high of $1.83 million.

And while figures have crept back up since then, this graph shows the median sale price of detached properties in Vancouver and adjacent municipalities is about the same as before the foreign buyers tax. 

2 ... but apartment prices are up

However, whatever freeze happened for detached homes didn't apply to apartments. 

Since the foreign buyers tax was implemented, the median prices of apartments in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby have risen by between 22 and 29 per cent — around the same rate of growth prior to the tax coming in. 

"Over the last year and a half, there's been a real separation in those two markets," said Tom Davidoff, another professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business, though he said some of the rise could be attributed to presales prior to the foreign buyers tax being recorded as units got completed.

"Not knowing how that might have played out and interacted with foreign buyer purchases makes it a little difficult to drive complete conclusions," he said.

3. Everything up in the suburbs

However, the houses-apartment separation didn't take place as much in the suburbs, where the price of both took a slight pause following the foreign buyers tax, but has continued to increase steadily in the months since, as this chart shows

Last month several milestones were hit for median prices in areas further from Vancouver. Detached homes eclipsed a million dollars for the first time in Squamish, Surrey Central and Port Coquitlam, while in Abbotsford, the median apartment price broke the $250,000 barrier. 

4. Activity up as well

Sometimes, real estate analysts will caution people to look at overall housing activity — that is, new listings and number of sales — over prices as a better indicator of how hot or cool the market is. 

In this chart too, the numbers have increased significantly from one year ago, with October sales of homes and apartments up 20 to 50 per cent from the previous year, depending on the region. 

5. Foreign buyers increasing

Against this backdrop is the increase in foreign investment for residential real estate, which had fallen off dramatically immediately after the tax was implemented. 

Prior to the tax, the only figures the government gave on property transfers involving foreign nationals came over a five-week period on June and July in 2016. 

Last week, the government provided updated numbers, showing an intermittent but steady upward trend in the last year, to where the percentage of sales are approximately half of what they were prior to the tax. 

Despite the correlation, Sommerville cautioned against making any definitive links at the moment. 

"We've got a bit of an uptick, but I don't want to over interpret," he said. 

But he said it was something the new government, which to date has not made any major announcements on general housing affordability, should be watching. 

"In the short run, you have to look to other taxes that might be better targeted," said Sommerville. 

"There's no question that we have not obtained affordability, and, to do that, you have to do more." 


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.