Fixed vs Variable Rate Debate
I have received a lot of questions regarding the difference between fixed and variable rates. What are they based on? Do they both move at the same time? Why is it harder to qualify for a variable? All great questions, and all questions that you need to be clear on before signing into a mortgage contract. Fixed mortgage rates follow the pattern of Canada Bond Yields, plus a spread, where bond yields are driven by economic factors such as unemployment, export and inflation. Variable mortgage rates are driven by the same economic factors, except variable rates fluctuate with movements in the prime lending rate, the rate at which banks lend to their most credit-worthy customers. Variable mortgage rates are typically stated as prime plus/minus a percentage discount/premium. For example, a variable rate could be quoted as prime - 0.8%. So, when the prime rate is, say, 5%, you will pay 4.2% (5%-0.8%) interest.The Bank of Canada adjusts the prime rate depending on the state of the economy, as determined by the economic factors introduced above. Together, combinations of unemployment, export, and manufacturing values shape the inflation rate. Generally speaking, when inflation is high, the Bank of Canada will increase the prime rate to make the act of borrowing money more expensive. Conversely, when inflation is low, the Bank of Canada will decrease the prime rate to stimulate the economy and improve the attractiveness of borrowing.In terms of the discount/premium on the prime rate applied to variable rates, mortgage lenders set this based on their desired market share, competition, marketing strategy and general credit market conditions. These are the same factors that drive the spread between lenders' fixed mortgage rates and bond yields.Qualifying for fixed and variable rates has changed over the last couple of years. Before I break down the differences in qualifying, let's talk about the Benchmark rate in Canada. The benchmark rate is a rate that lenders are required to use to qualify mortgage borrowers in Canada who want a variable rate mortgage or a fixed mortgage term of less than 5 years.The purpose of using a qualifying benchmark rate is to ensure that those who qualify for a mortgage in Canada can qualify with breathing room. In the event of a downturn in the economy or increase in rates down the road, this prevents Canadians from becoming orphaned homeowners without a lender willing to assist them. We are in an era of all-time low interest rates, so the sad reality is they have nowhere to go but up. Purchasing a home at a rate of 2.99% looks amazing today, but the payments can be substantially higher when you renew in five years at 5.5%. This is something referred to as 'Payment Shock'. (To be discussed in an upcoming newsletter... hint hint, watch for it!) Our Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, deemed it necessary that all fixed 1, 2, 3, and 4 year, and all variable mortgages qualify at the benchmark rate. The benchmark rate in Canada is currently set at 5.34%. This translates to buyers affording less because of inflated interest rates that act as a safety net.The only way to avoid qualifying at the Benchmark rate is to opt into 5 to 10 year fixed terms. These terms allow you to qualify at the contract rate (the rate being offered by your Mortgage Advisor). The difference in the contract rate and the benchmark rate can be very significant. Here is an example:Suzie and Charlie want to purchase their first home. After speaking with their Mortgage Advisor, they are given two options:1. $400 000 with the 5 year fixed at 3.59%, or2. $335 000 with the 5 year Variable at Prime-0.4% (2.6%)Even though option 2 has a lower interest rate, it needs to be qualified using the Benchmark rate (5.34%), so their purchase becomes noticeably less.To sum this up, fixed rates and variable rates are two completely different products and are actually very independent of one another. I understand this can be a very confusing topic, so don't hesitate to contact me with your questions!
Ontario just introduced a 16-point plan to control real estate, including a Foreign Home Buyer Tax
On April 20, 2017, the Ontario government introduced the Ontarios Fair Housing Plan, a 16-point plan to control real estate, address thedemand for housing, increase supply, and protect buyers and renters.
The 16 measures in the plan include a legislation that would implement a new 15 % Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST), similar to the 15 % tax on foreign buyers already introduced in Vancouver last May.
Once legislation passes, the tax would be effective retroactively to April 21.
The measures are aimed at cooling down the hot housing market in the Greater Toronto Area, where prices were up 33 % from a year ago while condominium rents rose 8.3 % in the first quarter from a year ago.
Now that two major cities have been impacted by a Foreign Buyer Tax, only time will tell if investors will look to other Canadian cities to invest their funds.
Canadian home sales up on a month-over-month basis in March
According to statistics released today by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national home sales were up on a month-over-month basis in March 2017.
- National home sales rose 1.1% from February to March.
- Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity in March was up 6.6% from a year earlier.
- The number of newly listed homes climbed 2.5% from February to March.
- The MLS Home Price Index (HPI) was up 18.6% year-over-year (y-o-y) in March 2017.
- The national average sale price increased by 8.2% y-o-y in March.
Home sales over Canadian MLS Systems edged up 1.1% in March 2017, surpassing the previous monthly record set in April 2016 by one-quarter of a percent.
March sales were up from the previous month in more than half of all local markets, led by the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, London St. Thomas and Montreal.
Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity in March was up 6.6% year-over-year, with gains in close to 75% of all local markets. Sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) posted the biggest increase, which offset a decline in the number of homes changing hands in Greater Vancouver.
The number of newly listed homes rose 2.5% in March 2017, led by gains in the GTA, Calgary, Edmonton and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
With new listings having climbed by more than sales, the national sales-to-new listings ratio eased to 67.4% in March compared to 68.3% in February.
A sales-to-new listings ratio between 40 and 60 is generally consistent with balanced housing market conditions, with readings below and above this range indicating buyers and sellers markets respectively.
The ratio was above the sellers market threshold in about 60% of all local housing markets in March, the majority of which are located in British Columbia, in and around the GTA and across southwestern Ontario.
There were 4.1 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of March 2017, down from 4.2 months in February and the lowest level for this measure in almost a decade. The number of months of inventory in March 2017 stood at or below one month in the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Oakville-Milton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, Guelph, Barrie District, parts of the Niagara Region and parts of cottage country.
The Aggregate Composite MLS HPI rose by 18.6% y-o-y in March 2017. Price gains accelerated for all benchmark housing categories tracked by the index.
Prices for two-storey single family homes posted the strongest year-over-year gains (+21%), followed closely by townhouse/row units (+17.9%), one-storey single family homes (16.6%) and apartment units (16.3%).
While benchmark home prices were up from year-ago levels in 11 of 13 housing markets tracked by the MLS HPI, price trends continued to vary widely by location.
In the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver, prices have been recovering in recent months after having dipped in the second half of last year. On a year-over-year basis, home prices in the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver remain well above year-ago levels (+19.4% y-o-y and +12.7% y-o-y respectively).
Meanwhile, y-o-y benchmark price increases were in the 20% range in Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island. Guelph recorded a similar price gain, while Greater Toronto and Oakville-Milton saw prices rise in the 30% range in March.
By comparison, home prices eased by 1.2% y-o-y in Calgary and by 1.5% y-o-y in Saskatoon. Prices in these two markets now stand 5.4% and 5.1% below their respective peaks reached in 2015.
Home prices were up modestly from year-ago levels in Regina (+1.7%), Ottawa (+4%), Greater Montreal (+3.3% y-o-y) and Greater Moncton (+4.7%).
Year-over-year price gains were led by different benchmark housing categories in each of these markets. In Regina, apartments posted the biggest price increase, which snapped a long series of price declines for apartments that began in early 2015. In Ottawa, prices rose most for one-storey single family homes. In Montreal, two-storey single family home prices posted the biggest gain; meanwhile in Moncton, it was townhouse/row unit prices that climbed the most.
HPI) provides the best way of gauging price trends because average price trends are prone to Home Price Index (MLSThe MLSbeing strongly distorted by changes in the mix of sales activity from one month to the next.
The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in March 2017 was $548,517, up 8.2% from where it stood one year earlier.
The national average price continues to be pulled upward by sales activity in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, which remain two of Canadas tightest, most active and expensive housing markets.