New Mortgage Standards to Begin April 19th.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - Globe an Mail Report on Business
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty today unveiled new mortgage standards aimed at stopping housing speculators and ensuring homebuyers can adequately juggle their debts when interest rates inevitably rise. Mr. Flaherty stressed that Canada's real estate market is healthy, and that the new rules, which take effect April 19, would stop “negative trends” from development. Ottawa moved in three areas:
• New qualifying standards will mean borrowers must be able to handle a five-year, fixed-rate mortgage, even though they may opt for a shorter term and lower rate. The government said this test will help homebuyers prepare for higher rates. As it now stands at the major banks, borrowers are income-tested for a three-year fixed rate. Craig Alexander, Toronto-Dominion Bank's deputy chief economist, said in a research note that the change could influence about 25 per cent of all new mortgages. That does not mean those buyers wouldn't still buy, but they may have to lower their expectations as to the size of the homes they want, Mr. Alexander said. Based on a 5-per-cent down payment and a national average home price of $337,000, a buyer would need about $9,200 more in annual income to qualify under the changes, Mr. Alexander said. At $200,000 and 5 per cent down, that would fall to $5,500.
• Refinancing homes will now be limited to 90 per cent of the value of a property, down from 95 per cent. That means property owners won't be able to draw equity back down to the 5 per cent down payment level, Mr. Alexander noted. The government said this will help make owning a home a more effective way to save. “The impact of this change should be quite limited,” according to Mr. Alexander. “Less than one-third of refinancing is done by individuals with mortgage loans in the range of 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the value of the property. On the margin, it will act as a small negative for consumer purchases (largely on durable goods) that are financed through mortgage refinancing - but the amount will be small.”
• A minimum down payment of 20 per cent will be required for government-backed insurance on properties not lived in by their owners, up from 5 per cent. “This measure is likely aimed at tempering speculative buying of real estate by reducing the leverage available to buyers,” Mr. Alexander said. “It will, however, also impact individuals buying real estate for investment purposes more generally, including those looking for rental properties. In rough ballpark terms, the change might impact about 5 per cent to 15 per cent of new mortgage originations.”
Scotia Capital economist Derek Holt, noting that the market alone would have cooled things down, said the biggest move that could affect prices is the one on qualifying, which would kick out many potential buyers. “The mortgage rule changes raise the odds of lower house prices into the back half of 2010 and into 2011,” Mr. Holt said. “… I think house prices were going to fall because of market mechanisms, but today's rule changes add further pressure in that regard.”
Eric Lascelles, TD Securities chief economics and rates strategist, projected “some extreme volatility” in the housing market in the short term as home buyers rush to beat the April 19 date. After that, he said, activity could “crater” because so many buyers moved up their purchases. Over all, Mr. Lascelles said, “the economic implications of this rule change are unlikely to be severe, and we expect the housing market to slow its ascent without crashing back down to earth.”