Vancouver’s coastal setting and its proximity to the North Shore Mountains, goes some way to explaining why it frequently tops the Economist Intelligence Unit’s worldwide city livability index. Canada’s sixth-largest city, which has a population of 603,000 spread over a small peninsula of 115 sq km, is surrounded by rivers and inlets and boasts 18km of beaches. The excellent transport links and competitive choice of schools also enhance its appeal, especially for the growing number of Chinese people choosing to relocate to the city from mainland China.
Vancouver’s relationship with the Chinese is nothing new. At the turn of the 20th century, migrant labourers were employed to work in the region’s coal mines.
In the 1980s, Hong Kong businessmen capitalised on the city’s cheap land to make multimillion dollar property developments. And today, one quarter of the city’s residents speak Cantonese or Mandarin as their first language.
Vancouver’s prestigious schools, colleges and universities are now one of the biggest draws for international buyers, and the majority of the city’s best-performing schools lie in the desirable West Side, home to some of Canada’s most expensive property.
Bob Rennie, founder of estate agents Rennie & Associates Realty, estimates that 80 per cent of West Side houses worth more than $2m are sold to Chinese buyers wanting to live near schools such as West Point Grey Academy, Saint George’s and Crofton House.
A five-bedroom house with views overlooking the sea and mountains is on the market in West Point with Rennie & Associates Realty for C$4.98m ($4.83m). Relax is also selling a seven-bedroom house in the West Side with an indoor pool and 1.15 acres of land for C$17.8m.
West Side’s well-performing University of British Columbia has also attracted buyers to the area. Ross McCredie, president and chief executive of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, estimates that 10-15 per cent of condominiums in Westside are owned by international buyers. “A lot will buy housing for their children out here while they are studying, as they see it as a safe investment,” he says.
Vancouver is seen as a relatively safe investment due to its healthy housing market. Although house prices declined towards the end of 2012, the market recovered from the 2008 property crash within 18 months. “The Chinese look more favourably on Canada than America as a place to buy,” says Andrea Eng, a Vancouver-based independent investment broker. “The market is more robust, and there are not as many limitations put on foreigners entering the country as there are in America.”
Richmond is a southern suburb of Vancouver and its academic state schools rival Westside’s private institutions. Built on a grid system, the area is safe with plenty of green spaces, as well as detached houses with driveways. The suburb is 8km from Vancouver’s international airport, which makes it a highly desirable location for international buyers.
Since the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver has improved its transport links from the city centre to the airport. The Canada Line, an extension of the metro system, runs vertically through the city and it now takes 25 minutes to travel from downtown Vancouver to the airport.
Condominium blocks developed in proximity to the Canada Line have attracted high demand.
Marine Gateway, for example, a development of 414 apartments near to Marine Drive station on the Canada line, sold out completely in its presage weekend in March 2012.
However, the increased interest in condominiums from buyers is not limited to the Canada Line; it is a shift that agents have noticed throughout the city.
Baby boomers, estimated to have C$88bn in mortgage-free equity in Greater Vancouver, are downsizing to help their children on to the property ladder. And they are choosing to move into the city to enjoy a more convenient lifestyle, while keeping a holiday home in nearby Whistler or by the coast in West Vancouver.
“In the past five years we’ve seen a shift in buyers’ attitudes,” says McCredie. “People are spending the time to work out where they want to live, where the good restaurants are and where the good transport links are.”
Canada House, the former residence of Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics, is one of the developments catering to that lifestyle. The former Olympic Village has been renovated into upmarket sea-fronted apartments, priced between C$2.4m and C$6.3m.
Situated to the east of the city centre in False Creek, Canada House is a 20-minute walk from the city’s lively Yaletown and Downtown districts. Alternatively, residents can take a five-minute train journey on the Canada Line into the city centre to enjoy Vancouver’s fine-dining restaurants, such as the award-winning Hawksworth, which specialises in contemporary Canadian cuisine.
● Vancouver’s climate is one of the mildest in Canada, but with an average rainfall of 116cm a year
● Serious reported crime was down 9 per cent in Vancouver in 2011.
● When an offer is made on a property in Canada it becomes legally binding and a buyer can be sued if they walk away
● Non-residents are classed as those who live in Canada for six months of the year or less. They are typically required to put down a 35 per cent deposit
● Property tax in British Columbia is 1 per cent of the first C$200,000 of a home’s value plus 2 per cent of the remaining value above C$200,000
What you can buy for …
C$500,000 A two-bedroom apartment in centrally located West End or Downtown
C$1,000,000 A four-bedroom detached house in the city’s suburbs
C$5,000,000 A five-bedroom detached house on the waterfront in desirable Westside