The changing Asian market
by Joyeeta Ray
The Handover: Homeownership in Canada shifts from Hong Kong Chinese to Mainlanders
The city of Vancouver has another name among the locals, “Hongcouver”, thanks to the strong Cantonese influence. The unmistakable whiff of dim sum and fried rice hits you when you stroll down the streets in many parts of Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, such as Markham, to endorse this.
There are pockets that are exclusively Chinese. Richmond Hill once had so many signs in Chinese that a bylaw was passed that stated all signs must be bilingual (English and Chinese). The T&T Chinese Supermarket opened its doors at Metrotown 20 years back. Today, it has 22 locations across Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and the GTA.
But there is a difference that is invisible to Canadians outside the Chinese community. The demographics in the community have silently shifted.
No more do you hear much Cantonese on the streets. The dominant language is now Mandarin. Money has changed hands, too. The dollars are more in the pockets of the wealthy Mainland Chinese from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and other parts of China who are pouring it into real estate. In contrast, the Hong Kongers are packing up their bags to head back to their vibrant little island.
Even a decade ago, this story would have been hard to believe.
The Hong Kong Chinese began flocking to Canada in droves starting in 1991 and peaked during the handover in 1997. They represented almost all Chinese immigrants to Canada between 1970 and 1997, according to Hong Kong’s top newspaper, The South China Morning Post. But since 2000, the number of Hong Kong immigrants began to decline significantly. Now more immigrants are migrating from Mainland China. This vast shift is now shaping real estate trends.
In the GTA, the immigrant population has reached its highest in nearly a century. According to the 2016 census, the total number of mainland China immigrants in the GTA was 270,405. Hong Kongers in the GTA was barely 100,795.
In 2017, the difference is even more glaring. There were 30,280 immigrants from Mainland China and only 1,270 are from Hong Kong. The Mainland Chinese immigrants are just about all homeowners or are looking to buy a home.
Steven Sun, president of the Canada-China Realty Professional Association (CCRPA), states that the number of mainland homeowners has now surpassed Hong Kong homeowners.
“Among the GTA Chinese population, 65 per cent are from mainland China and 70 to 80 per cent of Chinese brokerages are owned by the Mainlanders. In real estate sales volume, 70 per cent are mainland homebuyers,” he says.
Jim Mo, a top realtor with Re/Max Realtron, endorses this from his own experience.
“Ten years ago, most Chinese realtors were from Hong Kong. But now, mainland realtors are doing excellent work. The ratio of top Chinese realtors has changed. As a realtor at ReMax Realtron, I see more realtors from Mainland China. Even the Hong Kong realtors prefer to work with Mainland homebuyers because the numbers are huge and they are so wealthy that sometimes they buy more than one home,” he says.
The greater number of Chinese immigrants to the GTA between 2006 to 2016 has been from the People’s Republic of China, not Hong Kong. The same goes for the situation in Vancouver. According to the Vancouver Sun, “by far the greatest proportion of ethnic Chinese arriving in Metro Vancouver now come from The People’s Republic of China.”
The South China Morning Post says that within just 50 years, Cantonese may not be spoken anymore in Canada. The more widely spoken language among the Chinese population will be Mandarin and data from 2016 census confirms this. In British Columbia, Mandarin speakers are catching up fast, even in regions that were predominantly Cantonese speaking.
Most of them have settled in the plush properties in the western end of Vancouver. Richmond, for instance, was once a Cantonese residential area but now the scales are tilting towards Mandarin. If the current trend continues, Cantonese may barely be heard in the streets 50 years from now.
Feng Shan, a successful realtor with Royal Elite, says that in 2017 he sold 550 homes and 50 per cent of them were sold to Chinese homebuyers, out of which 70 per cent were Mainland Chinese.
Xiao Dong Duan, who has been in real estate for 17 years, and is a partner of Want Home Realty, says that the real estate business from Mainland Chinese immigrant buyers is growing for him as well. In 2006, another brokerage he worked for held language classes for Mainland realtors to learn Cantonese. He was one of them. But now the tables have tilted as more and more Hong Kong realtors have started to learn Mandarin.
Tan Shu Guo, a successful realtor with RE/MAX — ranked among the global top 10 — sums up the shifting trends very well. “The biggest similarity between Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese is that they sport the same mentality in terms of real estate: they prefer to buy instead of rent. The numbers are not surprising. Hong Kong is a small island. Mainland China is a pretty big country.” A few words that puts everything into perspective.
Multicultural Marketing Specialist