How Real Estate Influencers are Fuelling The Housing Crisis

Illustration by Anson Chan

Social media is flooded with real estate promotions, and no one is sure what laws apply. But when things go wrong, investors and tenants have a lot to lose

Last summer, Hamilton realtor Sean St Cyr promoted a lucrative real estate investing opportunity across a number of Facebook groups. Investors could receive an average annual return of 20.2 per cent, the post stated, if they gave him a minimum of $100,000 to purchase a derelict three-storey building in the city’s east end, an area that has been in decline since a steel plant there started running into trouble decades ago.

“Have you ever wanted to learn how to make serious money in real estate like the pros?” Mr. St Cyr said in one of his many promotions for the deal. On Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, Mr. St Cyr regularly shares tips with his thousands of followers about how to make money through real estate investing. They are posted alongside photos of his travels and meals from the 35 countries he says he has visited.

Mr. St Cyr, a self-described international real estate investor and foodie, is one of the many investors looking for other people’s money, or OPM, on social media to fund real estate deals. He and legions of other promoters have helped fuel the real estate investing craze in Canada that revved up when home prices soared and COVID-19 restrictions led people to spend more time online.

Every day, across the country, there’s a steady stream of requests in Facebook groups and personal pages for money to buy rental properties. Many of the promoters are everyday Canadians who have learned investing techniques online themselves. Some of them promise mind-blowing profits and often dispense real estate investment advice.

No one knows how many investors have got involved in real estate because of this explosion of online promotion. But over the first year of the pandemic, investor buying of residential properties doubled in Canada. By the middle of last year, investors accounted for more than a fifth of the country’s home purchases.

However, with interest rates rising and real estate markets cooling, promoters may not be able to deliver the profits they have promised their investors. That has upped the pressure on them to further raise rents, worsening the country’s affordable housing problem at a time when inflation has eaten away at Canadians’ pocketbooks.

When things go wrong with real estate, they can really go wrong. Tenants, including society’s most vulnerable, can be harshly evicted in the name of investment returns. Investors, many of whom call themselves risk-averse, lose their life savings. And no one has a full grasp of the impact these investors have on the real estate market.

Regulators do not appear to be paying attention, either. Many promotions appear to be skirting securities rules. Promoters are either unaware of the rules or know they can get away with not complying with them. Without enforcement, promoters are raising capital with little to no legal scrutiny…Continue reading

Source: Other people’s money, everyone’s problem: How real estate influencers are fuelling the housing crisis – The Globe and Mail

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