Posted by Steve Harmer on Friday, October 7th, 2016 at 11:58am.
A major shift in mortgage rules announced by the federal government this week will drive up rates for consumers and cut competition in the lending sector, say some in the industry.
The Liberal government has announced sweeping changes aimed at ensuring Canadians aren’t taking on bigger mortgages than they can afford in an era of historically low interest rates.
Mortgage expert Robert McLister says Ottawa is cracking the housing market with a “sledgehammer.”
He predicts consumers will bear the brunt of the blow and that housing prices will tumble because a “sizable minority” of first-time and high-ratio buyers will no longer qualify for the mortgage amount they want. The federal government says it’s responding to concerns that sharp increases in housing prices in Toronto, Vancouver and elsewhere could increase defaults in the future, should historically low interest rates finally start to climb.
One of the key changes means that all homebuyers seeking an insured mortgage, regardless of how much they have for a down payment, will be subject to a mortgage rate stress test beginning Oct. 17. Before now, those with less than a 20 per cent down payment were required to pass a stress test and have mortgage insurance backed by the federal government through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The changes are also meant to address concerns related to foreign buyers who buy and flip Canadian homes.
Below is a breakdown of the four major changes Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Monday.
The current rules
Buyers with a down payment of at least 5 per cent of the purchase price but less than 20 per cent must be backed by mortgage insurance. This protects the lender in the event that the home buyer defaults. These loans are known as “high loan-to-value” or “high ratio” mortgages. In situations in which the buyer has 20 per cent or more for a down payment, the lender or borrower could obtain “low-ratio” insurance that covers 100 per cent of the loan in the event of a default.
Mortgage insurance in Canada is backed by the federal government through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Insurance is sold by the CMHC and two private insurers, Genworth Financial Mortgage Insurance Company Canada and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Company. The federal government backs the insurance offered by the two private-sector firms, subject to a 10-per-cent deductible.
The change - 1
Expanding a mortgage rate stress test to all insured mortgages.
What it is
As of Oct. 17, a stress test used for approving high-ratio mortgages will be applied to all new insured mortgages – including those where the buyer has more than 20 per cent for a down payment. The stress test is aimed at assuring the lender that the home buyer could still afford the mortgage if interest rates were to rise. The home buyer would need to qualify for a loan at the negotiated rate in the mortgage contract, but also at the Bank of Canada’s five-year fixed posted mortgage rate, which is an average of the posted rates of the big six banks in Canada. This rate is usually higher than what buyers can negotiate. As of Sept. 28, the posted rate was 4.64 per cent.
Other aspects of the stress test require that the home buyer will be spending no more than 39 per cent of income on home-carrying costs like mortgage payments, heat and taxes. Another measure called total debt service includes all other debt payments and the TDS ratio must not exceed 44 per cent.
Who it affects
This measure affects home buyers who have at least 20 per cent for a down payment but are seeking a mortgage that may stretch them too thin if interest rates were to rise. It also affects lenders seeking to buy government-backed insurance for low-ratio mortgages.
The government is responding to concerns that sharp rises in house prices in cities like Toronto and Vancouver could increase the risk of defaults in the future should mortgage rates rise.
The change - 2
As of Nov. 30, the government will impose new restrictions on when it will provide insurance for low-ratio mortgages.
What it is
The new rules restrict insurance for these types of mortgages based on new criteria, including that the amortization period must be 25 years or less, the purchase price is less than $1-million, the buyer has a credit score of 600 and the property will be owner-occupied.
Who it affects
This measure appears to be aimed at lowering the government’s exposure to residential mortgages for properties worth $1-million or more, a category of the market that has increased sharply in recent years in Vancouver and Toronto.
Vancouver and Toronto are the two real estate markets that are of most concern for policy makers at all levels of government. These measures appear to be targeted at those markets.
The change - 3
New reporting rules for the primary residence capital gains exemption.
What it is
Currently, any financial gain from selling your primary residence is tax-free and does not have to be reported as income. As of this tax year, the capital gains tax is still waived, but the sale of the primary residence must be reported at tax time to the Canada Revenue Agency.
Who it affects
Everyone who sells their primary residence will have a new obligation to report the sale to the CRA, however the change is aimed at preventing foreign buyers who buy and sell homes from claiming a primary residence tax exemption for which they are not entitled.
While officials say more data are needed, Ottawa is responding to extensive anecdotal evidence and media reports showing foreign investors are flipping homes in Canada and falsely claiming the primary residence exemption.
The change - 4
The government is launching consultations on lender risk sharing.
What it is
Currently, the federal government is on the hook to cover the cost of 100 per cent of an insured mortgage in the event of a default. The federal government says this is “unique” internationally and that it will be releasing a public consultation paper shortly on a proposal to have lenders, such as banks, take on some of that risk. The Department of Finance Canada acknowledges this would be “a significant structural change to Canada’s housing finance system.”
Who it affects
Mortgage lenders, such as banks, would have to take on added risk. This could potentially lead to higher mortgage rates for home buyers.
The federal government wants to limit its financial obligations in the event of widespread mortgage defaults. It also wants to encourage prudent lending practices.
The changes mean home buyers will have to qualify for a more expensive loan, even if they don’t have to make higher payments. Borrowers would be tested on their ability to pay their mortgage if rates were as high as the five-year posted mortgage rates among Canada’s largest banks, which currently average 4.64 per cent according to the Bank of Canada. The test measures whether the buyer could still afford to make payments if mortgage rates rose to the Bank of Canada’s posted five-year fixed mortgage rate.
That rate is usually significantly higher than what a buyer can negotiate with banks or other lenders. For instance, TD has a five-year fixed rate mortgage at 2.59 per cent, while the Bank of Canada’s rate is 4.64 per cent. The stress test also sets a ceiling of no more than 39 per cent of household income being necessary to cover home-carrying costs such as mortgage payments, heat and taxes.
Until now, buyers with more than a 20 per cent down payment opting for mortgage insurance have escaped such scrutiny. They were able to obtain low-ratio insurance sold through two private insurers, but backed by the federal government, subject to a 10 per cent deductible. Starting Nov.30, new criteria for low-ratio insurance will take effect. To qualify, the mortgage’s amortization period must be 25 years or less, the purchase price be less than $1 million, the property be owner-occupied, and the buyer have a credit score of 600 or more.
“I don’t think this has been thought through at all,” McLister, who writes for Canadian Mortgage Trends, told CTVNews.ca. He says the effect is that refinances, jumbo mortgages and rental business will have to be handed over by brokers and non-bank lenders to the banks, says McLister. That will hurt competition and drive up mortgage rates and fees.
“There was no industry consultation. Every lender I spoke to said they had no inkling this was coming. This is a big fat mistake.” In fact, McLister says the changes are a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist” because only one in 357 Canadian homeowners defaults on a mortgage.
“Regulators are under intense pressure to do something because home prices are climbing fast and may be over-valued in some markets. They want to avoid any kind of catastrophe on their watch,” he said. “But the knee-jerk reaction will be so damaging, they could cause the sell-off they are trying to avoid.” He says mortgage insurance provider Genworth Canada estimates the new rules mean up to one-third of its first-time homebuyers will not qualify for a mortgage.
Suzanne Boyce, owner of The Personal Mortgage Group in Hamilton, says she fears the changes will ultimately limit options available to the public. Canada already has some of the stiffest standards for qualifying for mortgages in the world, she says. Boyce says young people trying for the first time to get into a booming housing market and those who qualify for the low posted rates might not qualify for the higher rates right away. “Those borderline people trying to break in before they get out-priced permanently may be kept out. It makes me wonder if we’re heading for a European-type market where home ownership is not as common.”
The new rules also mean that, beginning this tax year, all home sales must be reported to the Canada Revenue Agency. The gains from sales of primary residences will remain tax-free, but the government is aiming to block foreign buyers from purchasing and flipping homes while falsely claiming the primary residence exemption from capital gains tax.
Finally, the government says it will shift some of the risk of defaults against insured mortgages to banks and other lenders. Ottawa says its shouldering 100 per cent of the cost of a defaulted mortgage is “unique” in the world. How the government plans to share some of that risk with lenders remains to be seen.