Just a few days after Vancouver announced a tax on foreign property investors, Seattle real estate broker Lili Shang received a WeChat message from a wealthy Chinese businessman who wanted to sell a home in Canada and buy in her area.
After a week of showings, he purchased a $1 million property in Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle. He soon returned to buy two more, including a $2.2 million house in Clyde Hill paid for with a single cashier’s check.
Shang says she’s been inundated with similar requests from China and Hong Kong after Vancouver’s provincial government enacted a 15 percent tax on foreign homebuyers in August to help cool soaring real estate values. With Chinese investors -- the largest pool of foreign capital -- looking for a place to put their cash, the unintended consequence of the fee has been to push demand to cities such as Seattle and Toronto.
“The tax was the trigger of this new wave of investment now coming to Seattle," Shang said. “Why pay more for the same thing?"
For Vancouver investors, Seattle is a lure because it’s a waterfront city just a few hours away by car. It’s also more affordable than other West Coast destinations. Toronto, as one of the world’s financial capitals, already has an established base of foreign investment in condominiums and a large Asian population.
“Chinese money isn’t going to sit and wait," said David Ley, a Vancouver-based professor at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Geography, who focuses on housing. “Investors are going to find another city," and Toronto and Seattle are the top two contenders, he said.