By Garry Marr, Financial Post
A headlock would be the wrestling term to describe the hold Canadian banks will have on some consumers because of new, more strict mortgage rules.
We are already seeing the impact of the changes that came into effect on April 19, but were put in place well in advance by Canadian financial institutions. Consumers are increasingly selecting fixed-rate mortgages of five years or more because it’s easier to qualify for them.
On mortgages for terms of four years or less, including variable-rate mortgages, consumers must be able to pay based on the five-year fixed posted rate, which is now 6.1%. Go longer and you can use the rate on your contract, as low as 4.6%. No more than 32% of your gross income can cover principal and interest, property taxes and heat.
Peter Vukanovich, president of Genworth Financial Canada, the largest private provider of mortgage-default insurance, says only 5% of new high-ratio mortgages are going variable versus 15% just six months ago.
But there is another wrinkle to the new rules: Anybody shopping around for a better rate has to requalify based on their current credit situation. Stay with the same bank and there’s no check.
“It’s definitely a headlock and not a loophole because a loophole you can get out of,” says Vince Gaetano, a mortgage broker with Monster Mortgage.
There is a large percentage of Canadians who get a renewal notice from their bank and just sign on the dotted line. The Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professional has found only 22% of Canadians switch banks at renewal time. A significant portion of the remaining 78% are sheep being led around by their financial institutions.
Those looking for some choice may find what was good enough to get into the market a month ago may not meet the test today.
Consider that as recently as two years ago, consumers were able to buy a house with no money down and a 40-year amortization schedule. If that consumer was making regular monthly payments, they would have paid down only 4.7% of their principal after five years. Today, that customer would still be high ratio and subject to requalifying if they switched banks.
“It’s not all of them, but a majority of first-time buyers with just 5% down or less won’t be able to qualify if they go to another bank,” Mr. Gaetano says. Many of those buyers were qualifying based on the three-year rate — about 200 basis points lower than the current qualification rate.
If house prices went down, something many in the real estate community have suggested could happen, that would be an even bigger blow for consumers. It would mean an even larger percentage of homeowners would still be considered high ratio upon renewal because they wouldn’t meet the test of having 20% equity in their home.
Martin Beaudry, vice-president of lending at ING Direct, says there is no question the new rules will have an impact on consumers looking to switch banks, but noted anyone who had a 40-year amortization and changed institutions also had to requalify and there hasn’t been a huge impact.
“There will be a segment of the population tied down by the new rules to their bank,” Mr. Beaudry says.
That’s a position nobody should be in.
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