Got a small mortgage balance owing? Why you'll likely get a lousy rate.
Special to The Globe and Mail -PublishedSunday, Nov. 22, 2015 5:45PM EST -Last updatedMonday, Nov. 23, 2015 8:12AM EST
Picture this: You spend 15 or 20 years slaving to pay down your mortgage. Youve built up 80 per cent equity in your home and you have just five years left until its free and clear.
After all that effort, after all that built-up equity, you deserve the lowest mortgage rate around, right?
Perhaps, but thats not how it works in our mortgage market. The people rewarded with the lowest rates are the ones with big, fat six-figure mortgages, and there are two main reasons for it. The first one wont surprise you, but the second one might.
The No. 1 reason that lenders covet monster loans is profit. If youve got a giant mortgage, banks and credit unions figure youll have more assets to invest with them, more savings to rot in their 1-per-cent savings accounts, more purchases to put on their credit cards and credit lines, more appetite for insurance and so on.
Thats why its easier to grind down a banks mortgage specialist on a $700,000 loan than one for $70,000. (One exception is when you have a small mortgage, plus a large amount of non-mortgage business with that lender, and you threaten to leave them.)
Brokers are the same way. They earn commissions just like bankers. And the bigger the mortgage, the bigger the commission.
Thats why some of the best deals on rate-comparison websites say things such as: For mortgages of $300,000 or more. Mortgage minimums are becoming more and more common.
For most brokers, one $300,000 mortgage is better than doing six for $50,000. Of course, six $50,000 clients means six potential referral sources instead of one. But it also means exerting six times the effort to close those mortgages, and time is a scarce resource for brokers.
The second reason small-time borrowers do worse in the rate department is risk. Its one of the most counterintuitive things in the mortgage industry, but someone with a puny 5-per-cent down payment often gets a better rate than someone whos been pounding down his or her mortgage for decades.
Thats crazy, you may say. Isnt my mortgage less risky if I have a huge amount of home equity?
Technically, yes. But if youre dealing with a lender who sells mortgages to investors, thats not always reality. Mortgage investors prefer the safety of insured mortgages. Those are mortgages where an insurer, backed by the Government of Canada, guarantees to pay off the balance if the borrower defaults.
Theres a cost for this insurance, and when the mortgage is less than 80 per cent of the property value, the lender must typically cough up this fee. By comparison, when the loan-to-value ratio is more than 80 per cent, it is the borrower who pays that insurance premium. For lenders who sell their mortgages to investors, avoiding the cost of insurance lets them offer slightly lower rates usually about one-tenth of a percentage point lower.
Quick tip: If youre renewing a mortgage that you paid to insure, youve built up 20 per cent equity or more and youre switching lenders, provide your insurance policy number to your new lender or broker. Keeping your default insurance in force costs you nothing and gives you a wider selection of lenders and rates when you renew the next time.
So, where can diligent borrowers go for a deal on a mini-mortgage? Most people just renew with their existing lender. Saving one-tenth of a per cent interest on a $50,000 mortgage with a five-year term and amortization is only about $130. Unless you need to refinance or add a secured line of credit, the trivial savings dont offset the hassle of reapplying elsewhere, collecting your documentation, getting your home appraised (which you must often pay for), meeting with a lawyer or closing agent, paying your lenders discharge fee and so on.
None of this should stop you from trying to better your rate. At the very least, use competitors rate quotes as a bargaining chip, either with your existing lender or with a broker who doesnt have a mortgage minimum. And if you have loads of other business with your bank or credit union, definitely use that as leverage. There are always other lenders who would welcome all of your banking business with open arms.
Canadian home sales edge down from December to January
According to statistics released today by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national home sales were down slightly in January 2017 on a month-over-month basis.
- National home sales declined 1.3% from December 2016 to January 2017
- Actual (not seasonally adjusted) activity in January was up 1.9% from a year earlier
- The number of newly listed homes dropped 6.7% from December 2016 to January 2017
- The MLSHome Price Index (HPI) in January was up 15.0% year-over-year (y-o-y)
- The national average sale price was little changed (+0.2%) y-o-y in January
Sales activity was down from the previous month in about half of all local markets, led by three of Canadas largest urban centres: the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Greater Vancouver, and Montreal.
Actual (not seasonally adjusted) sales activity was up 1.9% compared to the same month last year. While sales were up from year-ago levels in about two-thirds of all local housing markets including in the GTA, Calgary, Edmonton, London and St Thomas, and Montreal, they were down significantly in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
The number of newly listed homes dropped 6.7% in January 2017, the second consecutive monthly decline. New listings were down in about two-thirds of all local markets, led by the GTA and environs across Vancouver Island.
With the monthly decline in new listings surpassing the decline in sales, the national sales-to-new listings ratio jumped to 67.7% in January compared to 64.0% in December and 60.2% in November.
The ratio was above 60% in about half of all local housing markets in January, the vast majority of which are located in British Columbia, in and around the GTA and across southwestern Ontario. A monthly decline in newly listed homes further tightened housing markets that were already in sellers market territory.
There were 4.6 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of January 2017 unchanged from December 2016 and a six-year low for the measure.
The imbalance between limited housing supply and robust demand in Ontarios Greater Golden Horseshoe region is without precedent (the region includes the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Oakville-Milton, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford, the Niagara Region, Barrie and nearby cottage country). The number of months of inventory in January 2017 stood at or below one month in the GTA, Hamilton-Burlington, Oakville-Milton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Brantford and Guelph.
In the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver, prices have receded from their peaks posted in August 2016. That said, home prices in these regions nonetheless remain well above year-ago levels (+24.9% and +15.6% respectively).
Meanwhile, benchmark prices continue to climb in Victoria and elsewhere on Vancouver Island together with Greater Toronto, Oakville-Milton and Guelph. Year-over-year price gains in these five markets ranged from about 18% to 26% in January.
By comparison, home prices were down 2.9% y-o-y in Calgary and by 1.0% y-o-y in Saskatoon. Prices in these two markets now stand 5.9% and 4.3% below their respective peaks reached in 2015.
Home prices were up modestly from year-ago levels in Regina (+3.8%), Ottawa (+3.7%) and Greater Montreal (+3.1%). In Greater Moncton, home prices for the market overall held steady (-0.2%), reflecting an increase in townhouse row units prices (5.8%) that was offset by a decline in prices for one-storey single family homes (-1.0%).
The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in January 2017 was $470,253, almost unchanged (+0.2%) 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.
That said, Greater Vancouvers share of national sales activity has diminished considerably over the past year, giving it less upward influence on the national average price. The average price is reduced by almost $120,000 to $351,998 if Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto sales are excluded from calculations.
Canadian Housing Starts Trend Increased in January
The trend measure of housing starts in Canada was 199,834 units in January compared to 197,881 in December, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The trend is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates (SAAR) of housing starts.
CMHC uses the trend measure as a complement to the monthly SAAR of housing starts to account for considerable swings in monthly estimates and obtain a more complete picture of the state of Canadas housing market. In some situations analyzing only SAAR data can be misleading, as they are largely driven by the multi-unit segment of the market which can vary significantly from one month to the next.
The standalone monthly SAAR for all areas in Canada was 207,408 units in January, up from 206,305 units in December. The SAAR of urban starts increased by 1.0per cent in January to 189,688 units. Multiple urban starts increased by 4.2per cent to 125,886 units in January and single-detached urban starts decreased by 4.6 per cent, to 63,802 units.
In January, the seasonally adjusted annual rate of urban starts increased in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, but decreased in British Columbia, the Prairies and Quebec.
Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 17,720 units.