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Vancouverites shocked as Chinese ‘student’ spends $24 million on mansion

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1989, all over again

“What do you think of Asian investment in Vancouver?” a young Canadian couple were asked.

“I am totally opposed, totally. I don’t think it’s fair at all,” the woman replied. “We can’t afford to buy a house. We save and we save, and it doesn’t matter. The prices keep going up because foreign people keep coming in and buying.”

The conversation was filmed for the Canadian documentary Gold Mountain on Sale, which was broadcast in 1989. Immigrants from Hong Kong had been snapping up real estate and the locals were furious about the impact on prices.

The footage could be rerun today and it would still feel timely. Vancouver has been hit by soaring home prices once again – although this time it is buyers from mainland China that are being blamed.

Discontent hit a new high this month after news that one of the city’s most expensive homes had changed hands. The property in the affluent Port Grey area was sold for C$31 million ($24 million). According to The Province, a local newspaper, the buyer was Zhou Tianyu. The detail that spooked the Canadians, however, was that Zhou’s occupation had been listed as “student”.

The news sparked fierce debate, including suggestions that some of these transactions could be a result of money laundering or capital flight from a corrupt official.

Xinhua agreed, calling some of the buyers tuhao (slang for rich people who lack class) and warning that the suspicions of money laundering are not “without basis”.

David Eby, a local political representative, also cried foul, highlighting findings from a 2015 study by Andy Yan from the University of British Columbia that homemakers and students are often listed as occupations for the owners of newly-bought mansions.

“I don’t know how that can be possible with the income of homemakers and students typically have, which is close to zero,” Eby told the Vancouver Sun.

Yan’s study of home sales also suggested that two-thirds of the houses in three of Vancouver’s most expensive districts had been sold to people with Chinese names, although his methodology was later criticised. Other estimates are that Chinese buyers purchased $9.9 billion of Vancouver real estate last year, about a third of the total, says Bloomberg. Juwai, a property portal for Chinese buyers, told the news agency that enquiries about Canadian homes jumped 134% in the first quarter. “Barring any big changes in the environment, we expect Chinese investment in Canadian real estate to increase in 2016,” predicted Charles Pittar, Juwai’s CEO.

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