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Vancouver real estate website gives Chinese-language speakers an advantage

[Screengrab of Vanfun.com’s home page]

Chinese-speaking real estate investors are getting a bit of a jump on buyers using the public Multiple Listing Service (MLS) website thanks to a Shanghai-based website posting Vancouver listings from the realtor MLS up to a few days before they’re publicly available.

In Canada, licensed realtors get the opportunity to see new listings 48 hours before they hit the public MLS site. But Dan Morrison of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver told Global News that the Chinese-language Vanfun.com skirts that process.

“It’s pretty frustrating. It’s taking our copyrighted information and using it against our rules,” Morrison told the news outlet. “If they are getting access to our information on our system, if someone is giving them those numbers…that’s clearly against our rules.”

Although the website, owned by Shanghai Ruiying Internet Technology, doesn’t seem to have ties to any Vancouver real estate agencies, it offers tours, splits commissions with local realtors, and claims to be working with major banks.

“That they’re taking a share of commissions is pretty unusual,” says Thomas Davidoff, housing economist and professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “(But) it looks like it’s open season.”

ALSO READ: Vancouver realtor wants shadow flipping rules to have teeth

Foreign investment in Vancouver’s red-hot real estate market has spurred some controversy.

Presently, there is no hard data on the volume of international investors, but the Liberal government earmarked $500,000 in the budget to help reconcile the “astonishing lack of data” with research from StatsCan.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation study pegs foreign ownership rates of new Vancouver condominiums around six per cent and National Bank of Canada economists estimate Chinese investors spent about C$12.7 billion on real estate in Vancouver last year, which accounts for 33 per cent of the C$38.5 billion in 2015’s total sales.

In January, Davidoff and a team of nine academics from both UBC and Simon Fraser University proposed a 1.5 per cent property tax surcharge designed so homeowners living on the property and paying income taxes in the province would be exempt.

By the proposal, dubbed the BC Housing Affordability Fund, owners of, for sake of example, a $1 million home would pay a $15,000 surcharge. If they paid more than that in income taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency, that surcharge would be zero. Veterans, retirees and those with disabilities would be exempt altogether from the fee.

“There’s a lot of good things you could do with the revenue and we don’t have a particularly strong stand on that as long as it’s used to somehow benefit people who are struggling with prices,” Davidoff told Business Vancouver back in January when the potential solution was tabled.

In the meantime, Davidoff says he doesn’t see a slowdown in foreign investment.

“China is not a great place to invest and relatively Canada is, it’s certainly getting very expensive by western standards but it still appears to be cheap by major Chinese city standards,” he told Yahoo Canada Finance.

A graphic on VanFun.com’s social media site echoes Davidoff’s sentiments comparing the average per-square-metre cost of property in Shanghai at 120,000 RMB (around $24,000) to Vancouver at 20,000 RMB (about $4,000).

“The reason you are still investing in Beijing and Shanghai is because you don’t know about Vancouver!” says the website.

“I’m not sure if that’s true but if it is, it tells you where things are headed,” says Davidoff.

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