Insured and Uninsured Mortgage Stress Test Changes Confirmed for June 1

General Beata Wojtalik 21 May

Insured and Uninsured Mortgage Stress Test Changes Confirmed for June 1

Starting June 1, both insured and uninsured mortgage borrowers will be subject to a stricter stress test when qualifying for their mortgage.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) confirmed on Thursday that it will move ahead with its stress test changes first announced last month, which will apply to uninsured mortgages (typically those with more than a 20% down payment).

Soon after, the Department of Finance confirmed it will follow OSFI’s lead, and apply the same higher qualifying rate to insured mortgages, or those with less than 20% down.

In both cases, borrowers will need to prove they can afford payments based on the higher of the contract rate plus 2%, or a new floor rate of 5.25%, up from the current 4.79%.

“The recent and rapid rise in housing prices is squeezing middle class Canadians across the entire country and raises concerns about the stability of the overall market,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. “The federal government will align with OSFI by establishing a new minimum qualifying rate for insured mortgages…It is vitally important that homeownership remain within reach for Canadians.”

Both OSFI and the DoF said they will review the floor rate annually, likely each December at a minimum.

The Impact on Borrowers

Applying the higher stress test to insured borrowers will impact roughly 1 in 5 mortgage borrowers, according to data from the Bank of Canada. It will also take direct aim at first-time borrowers who are more likely to be putting less than 20% down on a mortgage.

The higher minimum stress test is expected to cut maximum buying power by between 4% and 4.5%. For a median-income household, that would reduce the maximum purchase price from $442,000 to $422,000, according to previous estimates from National Bank.

It’s estimated that this change will reduce purchasing power for uninsured borrowers by between 4% and 4.5%. By comparison, the B-20 stress test implemented in January 2019 requiring homebuyers to qualify at the higher of either the 5-year posted rate or the contractual rate plus 200 basis points reduced purchasing power by 22%.

“Today’s news is both bad news and good news for (first-time buyers),” wrote Rob McLister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA. “Obviously, it cuts buying power, but that also means fewer people will be able to bid as much for homes, reducing some price pressure.”

Mortgage Professionals Canada issued a statement to members on Thursday, noting it was disappointed that the minister decided to move so quickly in applying the stricter stress test to insured mortgages.

“Given the traditional audience for insured mortgages, namely young aspiring middle-class families, single individuals, and the recently separated, all owner occupiers of the properties they purchase, MPC would have preferred the insured qualification rate had not been increased in the interest of this community,” the association said. “Given the rapid rise in prices, making qualification more stringent now will disqualify many of the Canadians the government has promised to support.”

Bank of Canada Concerned About Home Prices, Household Debt

The new stress test changes fell on the same day that the Bank of Canada voiced concern about unsustainable house prices and growing household debt.

“It is important to understand that the recent rapid increases in home prices are not normal,” Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said following the release of the Bank’s annual Financial System Review, which found the share of highly indebted households taking out mortgages is now up to 22%.

“Some people may be thinking that the kind of price increases we have seen recently will continue. That would be a mistake,” Macklem added. “Interest rates are very low. That means there is more potential for them to go up…Borrowers and lenders both have roles in ensuring that households can still afford to service their debt at higher rates.”

The Bank also unveiled a “House Price Exuberance Indicator” meant to measure nine major markets across Canada for expectations that local home prices will continue to rise. The indicator currently finds that the Toronto region, Montreal and Hamilton are in exuberant territory, with Ottawa not far off.

Steve Huebl

Latest in Mortgage News: House Prices to Moderate This Year, Says CMHC

General Beata Wojtalik 12 May

Latest in Mortgage News: House Prices to Moderate This Year, Says CMHC

Home prices are expected to finally level off from the “unsustainable” increases that have been seen over the past year, says the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Low mortgage rates, high savings rates and persistent, uneven impacts of the pandemic and low immigration are forecast to continue to support sales of more expensive housing types while limiting rental demand,” the agency said in its latest Housing Market Outlook report. “Existing home sales and price growth will moderate from unsustainable 2020 pace of increase but will remain elevated.”

Home sales topped 550,000 in 2020, but could rise to 602,300 in 2021 before falling back to 547,100 in 2022 and 561,100 in 2023, CMHC noted. It also expects national prices to average $649,400 in 2021, which would mark a 14% rise from last year. CMHC sees prices continuing to march higher over the coming years, with a forecast average of $704,900 by the end of 2023.

“Economic conditions are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, if broad immunity to COVID-19 takes hold by the end of 2021,” said Bob Dugan, CMHC’s chief economist. “This includes the pace of home sales and prices, which we expect to see moderate from 2020 highs over the same period. However, significant risks remain with respect to the path, timing and sustainability of the recovery.”

Big-City Home Prices Fall Back Slightly from March Highs

After soaring to record highs in March, preliminary data from April shows average home sales and prices pulling back on a monthly basis.

There were 13,663 home sales in the Greater Toronto Area in April, a 362% increase from last year’s pandemic-induced drop-off in activity, but a 13% drop compared to March. Similarly, the average price in April was $1,090,992, according to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), a 33% year-over-year increase, but down slightly from last month.

“It makes sense that we had a pullback in market activity compared to March,” said TRREB President Lisa Patel. “We’ve experienced a torrid pace of home sales since the summer of 2020, while seeing little in the way of population growth. We may be starting to exhaust the pool of potential buyers within the existing GTA population.”

It was a similar story in Greater Vancouver, which saw 4,908 home sales in April, up 342% year-over-year, but down 14% from March. Meanwhile, the MLS Home Price Index composite benchmark price for all property types was $1,152,600, a 12% year-over-year gain and modest 2.6% increase from March.

Montreal’s real estate market saw a similar trend, with its 6,237 home sales representing a 231% annual increase, but a 1.7% decline from March. The median single-family home price came in at $500,000 (up 39% YoY and 4% MoM), while the median condo price was $357,750 (up 23% YoY and 3% MoM).

“The low inventory of single-family homes for sale and the dramatic increase in prices in April continue to drive the demand for condominiums, which are more affordable and have lower maintenance and renovation costs,” said Charles Brant, director of market analysis for  The Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers.

NDP Promises New Foreign Buyers’ Tax

An NDP government would implement a 20% levy on home purchases made by non-residents.

That was one of the pledges made by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh recently, along with a promise to make a “massive” investment in housing supply to ease the price pressures being seen across the country.

“Let’s massively invest in housing as a way to create jobs locally in communities and as a way to ensure people have a place to call home,” Singh said, promising a $14-billion investment in housing construction to build over 500,000 new units over four years.

He also promised a nationwide 20% tax on home purchases by foreign buyers, similar to the 20% Foreign Buyers Tax currently in place in B.C., and Ontario’s 15% Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST).

“We know that people are treating Canada like a stock market when it comes to housing and just plopping their money into the housing market, hoping it will continue to grow,” Singh said.

In comparison, the Liberal government recently announced a 1% foreign owner’s tax on vacant properties in its spring budget, a measure TD economics said is “unlikely to significantly dent current activity.”

Steve Huebl

Sagen Overtakes CMHC as Canada’s Largest Mortgage Default Insurer

General Beata Wojtalik 10 May

Sagen Overtakes CMHC as Canada’s Largest Mortgage Default Insurer

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has reportedly lost its title as Canada’s largest provider of mortgage default insurance.

The national housing agency’s total market share has slipped to just under 30%, according to a report by RATESDOTCA. That marks a steep decline from CMHC’s market share of approximately 46% in 2019.

Meanwhile, Canada’s two private providers of mortgage default insurance have seen their market share jump. Sagen reported a rise in market share to about 43%, up from 30-35% a year ago, while Canada Guaranty President and CEO Andy Charles confirmed to CMT its share is around 30%, up from mid-20% a year earlier.

CMHC’s majority hold on the market had been gradually falling for years, but took a steep dive after it introduced stricter underwriting guidelines last June in response to the pandemic.

Those measures included reducing the maximum total and gross debt service ratios needed for an insured mortgage, increasing the minimum credit score to 680 from 600 and banning non-traditional sources of down payments.

“These actions will protect homebuyers, reduce government and taxpayer risk and support the stability of housing markets while curtailing excessive demand and unsustainable house price growth,” former CEO Evan Siddall said at the time.

But both Sagen and Canada Guaranty declined to follow CMHC’s lead, deciding that the current underwriting standards were adequate to manage the existing risk in the market.

Private Insurers are the Big Market Share Winners

As a result, many borrowers who could no longer qualify for default insurance through CMHC turned to the private insurers.

Not only did both Sagen and Canada Guaranty pick up business from high-debt-ratio clients, but many lenders were grateful that they continued to accept the deals that CMHC would no longer take, and as a result decided to reward the private insurers with more of their standard business to keep their portfolios balanced.

“It’s been great quality business, we’re very comfortable with what we’re underwriting today and we’re very grateful to the support we’ve seen from our customers,” Levings told CMT in an interview conducted last month.

Charles confirmed to CMT that CMHC’s underwriting changes “certainly did allow us the opportunity to deepen our relationships with our lenders and we were rewarded with increased volume to ensure a balanced portfolio.”

But Levings thinks the dust has settled for now, and doesn’t expect drastic changes in market share in the near future.

“I do think the market is now a lot more mature, and saturated, in terms of where the three players sit,” he said. “So, I don’t expect to see major shifts in market share at this point.”

Steve Huebl


First-Time Home Buyer Incentive 2.0 Now Available

General Beata Wojtalik 4 May

First-Time Home Buyer Incentive 2.0 Now Available

Long-awaited tweaks to the government’s First-Time Home Buyer Incentive came into effect on Monday.

Nearly five months after the changes were first proposed, the Department of Finance and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) have enhanced the eligibility criteria for buyers in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.

As a recap, the FTHBI is a shared-equity program whereby the government contributes between 5% and 10% of a first-time buyer’s down payment, and shares in any increase or decrease in the home value until the loan is repaid. The buyer doesn’t need to make any monthly payments, though the loan must be repaid after 25 years or when the home is sold.

The new eligibility requirements include:

  • the maximum eligible household income has been raised to $150,000 (an increase from $120,000)
  • participants can borrow up to 4.5 times their household income, up from the current four times.

The changes are limited to those living in the three cities noted above, while the original criteria continue to apply to those living in the rest of the country.

“Our government recognizes that making the choice to own for the first time is a challenge, especially in major markets where housing costs are rising fastest,” said Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister responsible for the CMHC. “To that end, the new enhancements under the Incentive increases the eligibility of the program in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria.”

What do the FTHBI changes mean?

The increase in the maximum household income and borrowing limit means first-time buyers wanting to participate in the program can now theoretically qualify for a purchase price up to $722,000, up from roughly $505,000 for those under the original requirements.

This comes at a time when the average house price has soared to $716,000, according to March data from the Canadian Real Estate Association. Even without the high-priced markets of the Greater Toronto and Vancouver areas, the national average price still stands at $556,828.

The question, of course, is whether the changes will actually assist first-time buyers struggling with affordability as prices continue to rise nationwide.

“No. The program isn’t really assistive to first-time buyers,” says Paul Taylor, President and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada. “Even with the increased 4.5 times income, all eligible participants would actually be able to borrow more using a traditional 5% down insured mortgage. As such, it won’t really create any new market entrants. It will provide an option for those who already qualify, in very specific parameters, to reduce their monthly payments at the tradeoff of home equity.”

Taylor told CMT that the program is true to its name, being an “incentive” program as opposed to being “assistive.”

“The government is incentivizing first-time buyers to take on less debt and to reduce their monthly payments, but the tradeoff is reduced purchasing capacity and government co-ownership,” he added, saying the number of borrowers eligible to actually qualify for the new maximum purchase price of $722,000 “will be very small.”

A Pre-Approval Does Not Guarantee a Mortgage Approval

General Beata Wojtalik 4 May

A Pre-Approval Does Not Guarantee a Mortgage Approval

Many Canadians are under the assumption their mortgage is as good as done once they have a mortgage pre-approval.

But the truth is a buyer cannot expect a mortgage pre-approval will automatically translate into a mortgage. The lender now needs to consider the property itself, approve all the terms and review the documentation before you transition from pre-approved to approved.

Buyers often do not appreciate there is still some uncertainty when it comes to their mortgage. Unfortunately, once in a while this uncertainty bites back – with calamitous consequences.

Going in Without Conditions in a Hot Market

Not that long ago, when housing supply equalled or exceeded demand, the buyer would insert a clause requesting five business days (usually) to arrange mortgage financing – this is called a “condition of financing.” Even one or two days can make a world of difference.

These days across much of Canada, residential real estate is such a hot commodity it’s more likely offers to purchase will be firm and without a condition of financing.

The process is very skewed in favour of sellers at the moment, and it’s really not a comfortable or fair situation for the buyer. The fact of the matter is homebuyers, especially first-time buyers, are taking this risk every day. In many markets, it’s the only way you will win in a multiple-offer situation.

It is clearly in the buyers’ best interests to know in advance how much mortgage they might qualify for. This is achieved by providing complete information and documents to your bank or mortgage broker and allowing them a deep-dive into your personal finances and credit. They can then underwrite your application upfront.

Even when a thorough review has been conducted, and you are clutching a pre-approval certificate, there are many things that could happen to compromise your home purchase.

Insured Mortgage Approval

Suppose you are in line for an insured mortgage, which is always the case with less than a 20% down payment. Your mortgage approval is technically approved twice – first by the lender and then by the insurer. And please understand that no mortgage insurer has seen your pre-approval request.

The pre-approval considers your personal creditworthiness and borrowing capacity. The actual amount you qualify for also depends on the property itself: that plus the lender and insurer’s assessment of your application. Please remember, pre-approvals do not consider the specific properties.

Reasons Why the Property Can Hurt Your Mortgage Approval

To secure a mortgage, the borrowers and the property have to pass muster. No one knows the exact property you are going to buy when you are pre-approved. When it comes time for the lender to approve your mortgage, there are many ways the specific property can impede the approval.

There are several reasons why a specific property can cause concern. For more information, we defer to Dustan Woodhouse, whose passionate concern for this topic inspired this article and who lists many more here.

  1. Value of The Home: When multiple buyers are competing on the offer presentation day, there can only be one winner. In this market, the winner often has to bid much more than the market value. When this happens, the appraisal may come back with a value less than you paid. That will not necessarily kill your mortgage approval, as long as you have additional financial resources to cover the shortfall, if necessary. Note: This market does not favour buyers who go in subject-free (firm) with no wiggle room. If you are using all your financial resources to come up with the down payment and closing costs, what can you do if the value comes back lower?
  2. Property Condition: Have you ever seen an MLS listing that says “as-is” or “handyman special?” Those are red flags to a lender, and a mortgage may not be forthcoming at all. The appraisal may further report poor conditions, mold or even structural issues.
  3. Property Specifics: There are many reasons a property may prove challenging. Here are some examples of property types that will seem problematic to a lender:
    • Log homes
    • Homes on leased land, First Nations, government or private
    • Rural properties with a hint of hobby farming
    • Properties containing asbestos, underground oil tanks, aluminum wiring
    • The remaining economic life of the property
    • Suppose the property was a one-time grow-op or drug lab. Good luck with that – no matter the price you pay, even if the property has been remediated.
    • One property earlier this year had an MLS listing that proudly mentioned a 15-foot fish pond in the backyard – with a fish farm permit. That mortgage was VERY hard to place.
  1. Location: If a lender feels the property you picked is simply too far from your workplace, they may assume you need to keep a second home or place to stay, and in such cases they impute a “shelter cost” for you. This might also skewer your approval.
  2. Condos: Mortgage insurers keep lists of condo buildings they do not want to lend against. Maybe the maintenance fees seem extraordinarily high or the condo status certificate reveals significant assessments; for example, something like Kitec Plumbing.

    The smaller the condo is means fewer interested lenders
    . Many lenders simply do not like to lend against micro-condos. Condos under 500 square feet are often a cut-off, but in recent years that number has shrunk to 400 SF or less with some lenders. It might depend if the unit has a separate bedroom. In some of these suites, the bedroom is a wall bed/Murphy bed.

home appraisal

Reasons Why You Might Hurt Your Own Mortgage Approval

Your mortgage may not be approved because of something to do with you, the borrower. Either something material has changed in your circumstances or new information has come to light, which changes the lender’s view of you.

The golden rule is to be very wary of change during the home-purchasing process. A shiny new car in the driveway or a new job might completely cast things in a different light.

Earlier this year, one of our clients quit his job and became a freelance contractor after their firm offer was accepted. This was a problem because now he is considered self-employed. Such income is assessed differently during the mortgage underwriting process. Typically, you will need to show two years of operating success to qualify for your mortgage.

We managed to save the mortgage, but only because the employed partner’s income was so high. This change from salaried employee to self-employed could have been disastrous for this couple.

You want to be sure your personal taxes are up to date and in good standing with CRA. You must also pay all of your credit card bills on time and ensure you do not miss any payments.

It is definitely not a good time to defer loan payments of any kind. Even though mutually agreed payment deferrals do not adversely affect your credit score, mortgage lenders might think twice about lending a considerable amount to someone who needs relief from their financial obligations.

The Takeaway

When you and your real estate agent are honing in on a specific property, make sure to first circle back to your mortgage broker and ask them to input the property’s specs into your application.

Clarify and understand the strength of your mortgage pre-approval. What factors might result in a mortgage offer for a reduced loan amount, or worse, not being extended an offer at all?

Take stock of your personal finances. Understand from your mortgage broker where your debt service ratios are at, and if your credit history and employment situation are still acceptable. Ensure your income is well understood – especially if you earn overtime, bonuses, commissions or have irregular hours.

If you are buying a condo, ask your real estate lawyer to carefully review the condo status certificate in advance and report any and all items of interest to you.

If you are buying a rural property, make sure your Offer to Purchase addresses the septic system and water potability. And check the zoning!

Insist your realtor provide you with an up-to-date market analysis of the property’s value and assess your ability to weather a lower-than-expected appraisal value.

An experienced mortgage broker can often tell whether or not your mortgage approval would be at risk and can help you assess when it is a risk worth taking. They can tell you the potential concerns so you can make an educated, informed decision to proceed with your offer to purchase.

At the end of the day, this decision is all on you, the buyer. You need to make a fully informed decision if you choose to go firm with your offer.

Ross Taylor