Non-resident home sales below 5 per cent in May after Ontario imposes a foreign buyers tax

In the month following the adoption of a foreign buyer's tax in Ontario, just 4.7 per cent of home sales in the Greater Golden Horseshoe involved non-residents, according to provincial data released Tuesday.

Ontario implemented 15% non-resident speculation tax on April 20, days before the data was collected

Data released by the province found that just 4.7 per cent of homebuyers in the Golden Horseshoe between April 24 and May 26 were non-residents. (David Donnelly/CBC)

In the month following the adoption of a foreign buyer's tax in Ontario, just 4.7 per cent of home sales in the Greater Golden Horseshoe involved non-residents, according to provincial data released Tuesday.

The figures track the number of so-called foreign buyers involved in the roughly 18,282 real estate transactions that took place in the region between April 24 and May 26. 

It's unclear, however, whether the 15 per cent levy on non-resident buyers, which came into effect on April 20, had an influence on foreign speculation.

It's the first time the province has released such figures so there's no empirical measuring stick with which to compare.

Real estate analyst John Pasalis, however, said that it's unlikely the speculation tax had any effect on the number of foreign buyers in the market.

The vast majority — if not all — of the sales figures released Tuesday would actually have been sold before the tax went into effect. The data reflected the closing dates of the transactions, something that typically happens between one and three months after the sale goes through.

"What we're seeing right now is just a market that's cooling down organically," said Pasalis, the president of Realosophy brokerage. "This is just the real estate market adjusting to a 33 per cent increase in house prices in March and is now kind of falling back to where it should be."

John Pasalis, a Toronto real estate broker, says the non-resident speculation tax has had little effect on the market. (CBC)

But he cautioned against adopting the idea that losing five per cent of the real estate market — likely closer to eight per cent in the Greater Toronto Area, Pasalis suggested — has little effect.

"That's not insignificant — I mean, that's 7,000 families who want to buy a home, who pay taxes, who can't because we have policies that encourage speculation to non-residents and I think that's a problem."

A cooler market

The Ontario Liberals announced the speculation tax in the spring. It was part of a package meant to cool down a sizzling housing market in the Greater Toronto Area and its surrounding suburbs, which have seen year-over-year price increases in the double digits. 

There are signs, as Pasalis said, that the temperature is dropping. 

Figures from the Toronto Real Estate Board for both May and the first half of June found that home prices have declined month-over-month — even though they still represent an increase compared to this time last year. 

The market has peaked because it has simply become unaffordable for Ontarians, real estate analyst Garth Turner said.

Turner, a former federal cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney's government, was quick to slam the Liberal government for its speculation tax. The figures released Tuesday prove that non-residents are not the cause of the inflated market, he said.

"The bottom line here is that if we want to blame someone for ridiculous house prices you're going to have to look at yourself or look at your neighbour," he said. "Because it's not guys coming over by  the planeload from mainland China."

The Ontario Real Estate Association echoed Turner, saying municipal and provincial governments should make it easier for developers to build and increase housing supply — rather than focusing solely on foreign buyers.

With files from Greg Ross