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 The Handover: Home Ownership in Canada Shifts from Hong Kong Chinese to Mainlanders

The city of Vancouver in British Columbia 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 roads in many parts of Vancouver and even The Greater Toronto area, such as Markham, to endorse this.

There are pockets that are exclusively Chinese. Richmond Hill once had so many signages in Chinese that a by-law was passed asserting all signages to be in both bi-lingual (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 Toronto.

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 back, looking at the number of Cantonese speaking homeowners in Vancouver then, this story would have been hard to believe.

The Hong Kong Chinese began flocking to Canada in droves from 1991 and peaked during the handover in 1997. They represented almost all Chinese immigrants to Canada between 1970 and 1997, says the Hong Kong’s top newspaper, The South China Morning Post. But since 2000, the numbers began to decline significantly. Now more immigrants are migrating from Mainland China. This vast shift is now shaping real estate trends.

Mainlanders Moving In; Hong Kongers Moving Out

In Toronto the immigrant population has reached its peak in nearly a century. Canada Census 2016 says that the total number of mainland China immigrants in the GTA was 270,405. Hong Kongers in the GTA was barely 100,795 then.

In 2017, the difference is even more glaring. There were 30,280 immigrants from mainland China in Toronto. Only 1,270 are from Hong Kong. The mainland Chinese immigrants are all homeowners or looking to buy homes.

Steven Sun, President of the Canada-China Realty Professional Association (CCRPA) reinstates that the number of mainland homeowners have now surpassed Hong Kong homeowners, citing a few statistics. Among the GTA Chinese population, 65% are from mainland China. 70 – 80% of Chinese brokerages are owned by the mainlanders.  In real estate sales volume, 70% are mainland home buyers,” 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 who are growing very fast. 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 in Toronto between 2006 to 2016 have been from the People’s Republic of China, not Hong Kong anymore. The same goes for the situation in Vancouver. The says, “by far the greatest proportion of ethnic Chinese arriving in Metro Vancouver now come from The People’s Republic of China”.

More Mandarin Speakers than Cantonese

The South China Morning Post states 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. Data from 2016 population census in Canada confirms this. In British Columbia, Mandarin speakers are catching up fast even in regions that were predominantly Cantonese speaking earlier.

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 residents from China. If the current trend continues, Cantonese may be barely heard in the streets 50 years from now.

More Mainland Homeowners in Toronto than Hong Kong Chinese

Feng Shan, a successful realtor with Royal Elite says that in 2017, he sold 550 homes. 50% of these were sold to Chinese homebuyers out of which 70% 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 getting higher for him as well. In the year 2006, another brokerage he worked for held language classes for mainland realtors to learn Cantonese. He was one of them. But tables have tilted. More and more Hong Kong realtors have started to learn Mandarin now.

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 the 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.


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