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Higher Rates and New Rules Cooling the Condo Market

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Higher Rates and New Rules Cooling the Condo Market

Higher Rates and New Rules Cooling the Condo Market: But It’s Not Bad News

After remaining at a record low for close to a decade, the Bank of Canada has started to raise its benchmark interest rate. A strong economy and positive job growth are some of the reasons behind the hike. This increase means anyone with a variable rate mortgage is now paying more for the same loan. Money is getting more expensive to borrow.

More Cooling Effects

Added to this, new mortgage rules brought in at the beginning of 2018 are making it harder for borrowers to qualify for more. The lender is now required to stress test all mortgages, regardless of the down payment or the amount being borrowed. These new rules mean borrowers have to show they could pay their mortgage if rates were two percentage points higher than their contract rate, or the Bank of Canada posted fixed rate, whichever is more. Overall this is keeping homebuyers away and has had a cooling effect on the housing market, including condos. One report by the Mortgage Professional of Canada claims 18 per cent of home buyers can’t pass the stress test, even though they can afford the mortgage payments.

What Industry Critics Are Saying?

No surprise mortgage brokers, and the association that represents them, are concerned homebuyers will no longer be able to borrow enough for the home they want. The recent report by the Mortgage Professionals of Canada found that, “New government policies are causing consumers to have a more negative outlook for housing and real estate in Canada.” The Report on the Housing and Mortgage Market in Canada says most consumer still see real estate as a good investment but “overall strength of consumer sentiment has been weakened by increasing interest rates and the new rules making it harder for homebuyers to secure mortgage financing.”

One Solution

The report argues that the stress test, albeit important, is too strict (or maybe too stressful), for first time homebuyers in particular. Paul Taylor is the president and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada. He says, “We support a stress test, albeit at a reduced rate of 0.75 per cent, as it is a useful tool to test a borrower’s ability to make future payments. However, the cumulative impact of rising rates, a two percentage or greater stress test, provincial government rules in Ontario and British Columbia, and further lending restrictions are negatively supressing housing activity not just in Toronto and Vancouver, but throughout the country.”

Managing Expectations

The Bank of Canada is hinting rates are poised to go higher. Before the end of 2018 the Bank could raise rates again, making money even more expensive. They are warning debt seeking homebuyers to pull the reigns on the amount they agree to borrow, because it will cost more when rates rise. The stress test represents where rates could be by the end of the mortgage term. They are realistic and frankly, in my opinion, they are needed. Canadians are close to a record level of debt. Statistics Canada data shows in June 2018 Canadians owed $1.68 cent for every dollar of disposable income. That is actually down slightly from the beginning of the year, indicating the new mortgage rules are already working.

Canadians shopping for a home need to be realistic about what they can now afford. Looking in the rear view mirror is not helpful. Where prices were and what you could afford then is not the reality now. Crunch your numbers based on this new reality, higher rates and stricter rules, and see how much you can afford. Even then, you don’t have to borrow the whole amount the bank offers. By borrowing less, you will automatically save yourself thousands in interest payments. Mange your expectations of the house you are buying. Maybe a smaller home, or a condo in a different area is the solution. Keep your options open.

Rubina ahmed-haq is a journalist and personal finance expert. She is HPG’s Finance Editor. She regularly appears on CBC Radio and TV. She is a contributor on CTV Your Morning and Global Toronto. She has a BA from York University, received her post graduate journalism diploma from Humber College and has completed the CSC. Follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney.

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