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What Your Banker Won't Tell You!

Did you know the biggest difference between getting your mortgage from a bank vs. a mortgage broker is that the bank only has access to their products, while I, your mortgage broker, have access to hundreds of different lending institutions and mortgage products to fit your unique needs?

Here are a few things to keep in mind while doing business with your bank – from opening chequing and savings accounts to personal loans and mortgages, I’ve got you covered!

Bank Fees Add Up
One of the biggest money makers for a bank is the fees; this is especially true with overdraft charges. It is important that you are always checking your accounts and loans to ensure that you are aware of all extra fees (and any interest rate changes), as well as staying on top of your bank account balance. Overdraft and banking fees can add up quickly! Fortunately, these fees can often be negotiated and reduced, especially when addressed early.

Penalties Hurt
Banks are a business and the mortgages and loans you sign with them are contracts. If your mortgage is with a traditional bank, they can often come with steep penalties when broken. When signing for a mortgage or loan, be sure to always read the contract thoroughly and make note of any penalties. Generally speaking, big banks typically have higher penalties to break a mortgage than alternative lenders. Most bank loans have terms of five years or more - but a lot can happen in that time! Even if you don’t think so, you just have to take a look at the current situation in the world to realize just how quickly things can change. While your bank may compete on rates, the high break penalty is built in. As your mortgage broker, I would be happy to help you locate the best mortgage contract with minimal penalties.

Your Credit Health
Most of you have received a letter from your bank, at least once, offering you a line of credit; or a letter from your credit card company urging you to increase your credit card limit, or maybe even sign up for their new card. What these letters typically leave out is how this will affect the health of your credit and where you currently stand. You might be paying extremely high-interest rates on all your financial products, not realizing that your credit score (and other credit-related factors) could be earning you a more reasonable rate for your mortgage, credit card or lines of credit! This is where I can help you to review your financial situation and ensure that you get the best mortgage - at the best rate - based on your current credit health.

You Should Shop Around
A bank only has access to their own mortgage rates. While most people will stay with the same bank for years, there can be a cost for that convenience. More often than not, it’s true that individuals who are renewing will be offered a higher rate than a new customer. Shopping around, especially at renewal time, is a great way to ensure that you are getting the best rate available to you. When you are a few months away from renewal, contact me and I would be happy to help you determine if you are getting the best mortgage before you renew.

When dealing with a bank for your mortgage, it can help to get third-party expert advice. As a mortgage broker, I have access to additional mortgage products beyond your current bank and access to even more options to best suit your needs. Contact me today to book your virtual appointment or download the My Mortgage Toolbox App!

 

Mortgage Insurance and Your Borrowing Power

As a Canadian homebuyer or homeowner, your borrowing power is impacted by a few factors. Recent changes to the lending policies announced by CMHC, The Bank of Canada’s qualifying rate and your banks’ Prime Rate and mortgage stipulations are all things to consider when thinking about purchasing a home.

If you have less than 20% down, mortgage default insurance is required (known as a high ratio mortgage). This insurance policy protects lenders in the event you, the borrower, ever stop making payments and default on the mortgage loan. What you might not know is that mortgages in Canada are insured by one of three companies: CMHC, Genworth Canada or Canada Guaranty. In addition, both the lender and the insurer need to approve your application once you have qualified. In order to qualify, all insured mortgages use the Bank of Canada’s Conventional 5 year fixed posted rate (also referred to as the Benchmark Rate), which has recently dropped to 4.94%! Once you’ve qualified, we can then start to shop the market for you to get the best financing options.

While homeowners are not able to specify the mortgage insurer they prefer, it is important to know what is going on with these companies as every mortgage is covered by one of these three - depending on your bank - and their policies directly affect you as a homeowner. Recently, falling home prices and a stalled economy due to COVID-19 have resulted in some policy changes to insured mortgages, specifically from The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

The recent changes announced by CMHC on June 4, 2020 relate specifically to new applications for homeowner insurance, such as new purchases, as well as renewals; refinancing is not included. So, what are these changes and how do they affect you or a potential homeowner you know?

  • Credit Score Increase: Previously, the minimum credit score was 600 but has now been increased to a 680 mandatory credit score for at least one applicant. This is important as 80 points is a considerable jump when the score can only range from 300-900!
  • Down Payment Sources: The source of down payment options have changed. Now, you can no longer utilize borrowed funds towards the down-payment. This includes funds from credit card, line of credit or a loan with repayment terms of any kind. Your down payment must come from your own savings.
  • GDS/TDS Ratio: This is a ratio of “Gross Debt Service” / “Total Debt Service” and represents how much debt one can have in relation to income. The requirements for this have been decreased from prior potential of 39/44 to a more conservative 35/42. The result is reduced borrowing power in relation to existing debt and size of mortgage request to the allowed income.

Overall, these changes represent an approximate 9% - 13% reduction in what you may qualify for, which primarily impacts first time homebuyers. This is a large reduction in borrowing power and may seem quite restricting in terms of new qualifying policies.

Thankfully, there is some good news! These changes have only been adopted by the CMHC. Canada's other mortgage insurers, Genworth Canada and Canada Guaranty, have both announced they have no plans to make changes to their debt service ratio limits, minimum credit score and down payment requirements.

While there is still more information to come, and more changes may yet be made, it is a good idea for any potential homeowner to remain educated on the marketplace, especially those with upcoming renewals or plans to purchase.

If you are looking to renew your mortgage, or are a first-time home buyer wanting to make the most of your borrowing power, please contact me today. I would be happy to discuss these changes further and help you to find a mortgage provider that best suits your individual needs.

   

Record Gains in Canadian Home Sales and Listings in May

There was good news today on the housing front. Home sales surged by a record 56.9% in May from April's unprecedented collapse. Data released this morning from the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) showed national home sales recovered roughly one-third of the COVID-induced loss between February and April (see chart below). On a year-over-year (y-o-y) basis, sales activity was still down almost 40%, but the jump in sales and an even larger surge in new listings shows pent-up demand remains for housing as buyers wish to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates.  

Transactions were up on a month-over-month (m-o-m) basis across the country. Among Canada’s largest markets, sales rose by 53% in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 92.3% in Montreal, 31.5% in Greater Vancouver, 20.5% in the Fraser Valley, 68.7% in Calgary, 46.5% in Edmonton, 45.6% in Winnipeg, 69.4% in Hamilton-Burlington and 30.5% in Ottawa. Not surprisingly, the cities with the smallest gains posted the smallest declines in prior months.

More importantly, anecdotal data suggest that housing activity has been steadily rising from the middle of April until the first week in June.
New Listings

The number of newly listed homes shot up by a record 69% in May compared to the prior month with gains recorded across the country. 

With new listings having recovered by more than sales in May, the national sales-to-new listings ratio fell to 58.8% compared to 63.3% posted in April. While this statistic has moved lower, the bigger picture is that this measure of market balance has been remarkably stable considering the extent to which current economic and social conditions are impacting both buyers and sellers.

There were 5.6 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of May 2020, down from 9 months in April. The temporary jump in this measure recorded in April reflected the fact that sales were expected to fall right away amid lockdowns; whereas, other variables like active listings would be expected to fall at a much slower pace. The CREA report suggests many sellers who already had homes on the market before mid-March may have left the listings up for now but drastically curtailed the extent to which they were showing their homes during the lockdown. With many of those now coming off the market, overall active listings have fallen by about a quarter as of the end of May, bringing them down among the lowest levels on record for that time of the year.

Home Prices

Home prices were little changed in May compared to April across Canada. Of the 19 markets tracked by the MLS Home Price Index (HPI), 18 recorded either m-o-m increases or smaller decreases than in April. Five markets posted price gains in May following a decline in April (see the table below for local details). 

In general, since the pandemic crisis began small declines in prices have been posted in British Columbia while declining trends already in place in Alberta have accelerated. With the recent surge in oil prices, however, sales activity has actually improved across the Prairies and price trends have been stabilizing. 

Despite the pandemic, home prices in the Greater Golden Horsehoe area around and including Toronto have fallen very little and remain well above year-ago levels.  In Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton, prices have continued to climb, albeit at a slower pace than before.
Bottom Line

CMHC has recently forecast that national average sales prices will fall 9%-to-18% in 2020 and not return to yearend-2019 levels until as late as 2022. I continue to believe that this forecast is overly pessimistic. Firstly, average sales prices are highly misleading, especially on a national basis because they vary so much depending on the location of the activity, as well as the types of property sold.

There is no national housing market. All housing markets are local. A glance at Table 1 above shows a wide variation in regional sales price action, but if anything, trends appear to be converging on moderate positive pressure on prices. Today's economic recession is like no other. The record stimulus introduced by the Bank of Canada and the federal government will assure that the housing markets will continue to function, even with social-distancing measures in place, and those who enjoy steady employment will proceed in due course with regular housing decisions. 

Those who permanently lose their jobs are the real concern. Many of those people will be in the hardest hit and slowest-to-recover sectors of our economy, such as hospitality (accommodation and food), non-essential retail trade, and the leisure industry (arts, entertainment and recreation). Statistics Canada census data for 2016 in the table below, shows that the homeownership rate in these sectors is relatively low. Unfortunately, most of those who will be hardest hit by the pandemic can least afford it. This is an issue that fiscal policy must address, investing in retraining programs and universal income guarantees.
   

The new boss. Same as the old boss?

The Bank of Canada has a new Governor.  And it could be said that everything old is new again.

Current Governor Stephen Poloz will step down, as scheduled, at the start of next month.  He will be replaced by Tiff Macklem, an old hand at the central bank.

Macklem is currently the dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, but he has a long history at the Bank of Canada and was the senior deputy governor under Mark Carney.  He was also a deputy to finance minister Jim Flaherty and helped guide Canada through the Global Financial Collapse and the Great Recession.

Macklem’s experience with that crisis appears to have been a key factor in his appointment, as Canada now faces the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Macklem and the Bank of Canada are in a tight spot.  They have run out of room to reduce interest rates and they are spending billions of dollars a week buying government bonds.  Macklem has already expressed his reluctance to see interest rates go negative, calling that move “a new source of disruption”, in an already disrupted financial system.

Given Macklem’s record we can look forward to a more staid, Carney-like, Governor.  (Stephen Poloz has been positively lively compared to many of his predecessors.)  As during the last crisis, the Bank could work to calm markets and investors with more forward guidance.  And, it is unlikely Macklem will tinker with the Bank’s 2% target for inflation, which he helped develop back in 1991.

   

Bank of Canada Stands Ready To Do Whatever It Takes


On the heels of a devastating decline in the Canadian economy, the Bank of Canada is taking unprecedented actions. With record job losses, plunging confidence and a shutdown of most businesses, this month's newly released Monetary Policy Report (MPR) is a portrait of extreme financial stress and a sharp and sudden contraction across the globe. COVID-19 and the collapse in oil prices are having a never-before-seen economic impact and policy response.

The Bank's MPR says, "Until the outbreak is contained, a substantial proportion of economic activity will be affected. The suddenness of these effects has created shockwaves in financial markets, leading to a general flight to safety, a sharp repricing of risky assets and a breakdown in the functioning of many markets." It goes on to state, "While the global and Canadian economies are expected to rebound once the medical emergency ends, the timing and strength of the recovery will depend heavily on how the pandemic unfolds and what measures are required to contain it. The recovery will also depend on how households and businesses behave in response. None of these can be forecast with any degree of confidence."

"The Canadian economy was in a solid position ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak but has since been hit by widespread shutdowns and lower oil prices. One early measure of the extent of the damage was an unprecedented drop in employment in March, with more than one million jobs lost across Canada. Many more workers reported shorter hours, and by early April, some six million Canadians had applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit."

"The sudden halt in global activity will be followed by regional recoveries at different times, depending on the duration and severity of the outbreak in each region. This means that the global economic recovery, when it comes, could be protracted and uneven."

Today's MPR breaks with tradition. It does not provide a detailed economic forecast. Such forecasts are useless given the degree of uncertainty and the lack of former relevant precedents. However, Bank analysis of alternative scenarios suggests the level of real activity was down 1%-to-3% in the first quarter of this year and will be 15%-to-30% lower in the second quarter than in Q4 of 2019. Inflation is forecast at 0%, mainly owing to the fall in gasoline prices.

"Fiscal programs, designed to expand according to the magnitude of the shock, will help individuals and businesses weather this shutdown phase of the pandemic, and support incomes and confidence leading into the recovery. These programs have been complemented by actions taken by other federal agencies and provincial governments."

The Bank of Canada, along with all other central banks, have taken measures to support the functioning of core financial markets and provide liquidity to financial institutions, including making large-scale asset purchases and sharply lowering interest rates. The Bank reduced overnight interest rates in three steps last month by 150 basis points to 0.25%, which the Bank considers its "effective lower bound". It did not cut this policy rate again today, as promised, believing that negative interest rates are not the appropriate policy response. The Bank has also conducted lending operations to financial institutions and asset purchases in core funding markets, amounting to around $200 billion.

"These actions have served to ease market dysfunction and help keep credit channels open, although they remain strained. The next challenge for markets will be managing increased demand for near-term financing by federal and provincial governments, and businesses and households. The situation calls for special actions by the central bank."

The Bank of Canada, in its efforts to provide liquidity to all strained financial markets, has, in essence, become the buyer of last resort. Under its previously-announced program, the Bank will continue to purchase at least $5 billion in Government of Canada securities per week in the secondary market. It will increase the level of purchases as required to maintain the proper functioning of the government bond market. Also, the Bank is temporarily increasing the amount of Treasury Bills it acquires at auctions to up to 40%, effective immediately.

The Bank announced new measures to provide additional support for Canada's financial system. It will commence a new Provincial Bond Purchase Program of up to $50 billion, to supplement its Provincial Money Market Purchase Program. Further, the Bank is announcing a new Corporate Bond Purchase Program, in which the Bank will acquire up to a total of $10 billion in investment-grade corporate bonds in the secondary market. Both of these programs will be put in place in the coming weeks. Finally, the Bank is further enhancing its term repo facility to permit funding for up to 24 months.

The Bank will support all Canadian financial markets, with the exception of the stock market, and it "stands ready to adjust the scale or duration of its programs if necessary. All the Bank's actions are aimed at helping to bridge the current period of containment and create the conditions for a sustainable recovery and achievement of the inflation target over time."

This is exactly what the central bank needs to do to instill confidence that Canadian financial markets will remain viable. These measures are a warranted offset to panic selling. Too many investors are prone to panic in times like these, which has a snowball effect that must be avoided. As long as people are confident that the Bank of Canada is a backstop, panic can be mitigated. The Bank of Canada deserves high marks for responding effectively to this crisis and remaining on guard. Governor Poloz and the Governing Council saw it early for what it is, a Black Swan of enormous proportions.

As a result, Canada will not only weather the pandemic storm better than many other countries, but we will come out of this economic and financial tsunami in better condition.

   

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