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The CMHC’s latest condo numbers tracking the ownership of condos were part of a concerted effort on the part of the Crown corporation to measure the phenomenon, based on its mandate to gather data on housing, and to foster market stability.(The agency has been roundly criticized in the past for Canada’s dearth of dependable real estate statistics.) By breaking down the numbers according to the age of the building in question, it provided the first reliable indicator of accelerated foreign buying.

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Quebec saw its numbers more than triple, while Alberta’s numbers rose 70 per cent. The stated reasons for such purchases don’t entirely compute (neither seems the likely site, as owners and local officials suggest, for a full-service, self-contained vacation community). Next to China’s own volatile real estate markets, property almost anywhere in the Western world can seem an island of financial sanity, says Matthew Moore, president of Juwai’s North American operations.

Meanwhile, Chinese developers have made buys in locations that have left analysts scratching their heads, including Nova Scotia’s remote Eastern Shore and an abandoned mining town in the B. “The year-on-year property increase in Shenzhen, one of China’s tier-one cities, was close to 60 per cent,” he observes.

Yet the self-same conditions are adding handsomely to the net worth of millions of homeowners, and supporting a constellation of housing-related industries, from real estate sales to interior decoration.

They could be considered the main engine of Canada’s stop-and-go economy, and for those along for the ride—builders, property lawyers, revenue-hungry local politicians—the question isn’t so much what Chinese buyers are doing to the Canadian property market. How far we’ve travelled down this bejewelled highway is only starting to come clear.

Paul Shen can tick off the reasons Mainland Chinese people buy property in Canada as surely as any fast-talking B. The richest, of course, regard homes in the West as stable vessels for disposable cash, but Shen lays no claim to such affluence.

Some long to escape the fouled earth and soupy air of their country’s teeming cities, he explains, while others are following relatives to enclaves so well-populated by other Chinese expats they hardly feel like foreigners.CMHC’s plan now is to produce a more comprehensive report by the fourth quarter of this year, says chief economist Bob Dugan, capturing not just condominiums but all forms of residential property. Gathering the data requires co-operation on the part of everyone from provincial property registries to local realtors—not all of whom are eager to shed light on their lucrative sources of new-found income.It might also require a better understanding of who constitutes a “foreign owner.” The CMHC’s current definition—an owner who does not reside in Canada—excludes all kinds of domestic arrangements under which foreigners purchase homes abroad, suggesting the recent condo numbers understate the influx of outside buyers.It’s common for foreign-based buyers to send their children and spouses here while remaining in their home country.Should such buyers be lumped in with overseas owners of income properties?Last spring, the 39-year-old left behind his middle-management advertising job in Shanghai to seek the dream of home ownership he and his wife couldn’t afford in their home city.

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