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Frenchmen Fabien Ricard, left, and Richard Montoux were among the many foreigners who bought luxury homes in Montreal this year.

High-end buyers go to Montreal

– Fabien Ricard and Richard Montoux bought a four-bedroom brick row house with a butler’s pantry in Montreal’s Westmount district this year. The couple from France chose Montreal over Toronto or Vancouver, saying its boutiques and bilingual culture made the metropolis more international.

“We live a little bit like French people in North America, which isn’t possible in Toronto,” said Ricard, 32, who paid $1.05 million U.S. with his partner for their new home. “The image Montreal projects in France and elsewhere is the life of the whole world.”

International buyers have thrust Montreal, a city sometimes overshadowed by Toronto and Vancouver, into the national spotlight.

Montreal, known for its crumbling water pipes and bridges as much as its cobblestone streets, now stands out for drawing the biggest share of foreign owners. They bought 49 percent of the 206 homes worth at least $1 million Canadian in the first half of 2013, according to a Sotheby’s International Realty Canada report and survey of brokers.

In Vancouver, which boasts a rugged Pacific coastline and cultural ties to Asia, 40 percent of buyers of 1,239 such homes were from aboard. Toronto, which has filled its skyline with condo towers over the last decade, had the smallest portion of international owners, making up 25 percent of 2,947 deals.

“The share of foreign buying in the Montreal luxury market surprises me,” said Craig Alexander, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. “When we think about the presence of international buyers we tend to think about Vancouver and Toronto.”

International buyers are shoring up high-end housing in Canada after regulators tightened mortgage rules in 2012 to cool the nation’s booming market.

In Montreal, prices of bungalows of around 1,200 square feet rose as much as 5.4 percent in the third quarter from a year ago, according to figures from Royal LePage Real Estate Services in Toronto.

Dwellings of at least 3,000 square feet worth about $2.47 million Canadian in the Westmount area gained 16.9 percent in the same period. In Vancouver and Toronto, price growth of luxury housing in some neighborhoods also outpaced less costly homes, the data show.

Julie Dickson, who heads the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions in Ottawa, said scant data make it difficult to determine the effect of foreign buyers on the market.

“There is anecdotal evidence at a minimum that foreign investment plays a big role, particularly in Vancouver. And while I think that means Canada is a great place to do business, it also is a risk because it can dry up quickly,” Dickson said.

The majority of international buyers of large single-family homes in Montreal are from China, Syria, Mexico, Russia and the U.S., according to Vancouver-based Sotheby’s survey.

Ricard and Montoux, the French couple, said they are using their Montreal house as their main residence and took out a mortgage to deepen their ties in Canada by establishing a credit history.