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Residential Market Commentary - Qualifying rate conundrum
Credit: First National Financial LP
The Bank of Canadas Qualifying Mortgage Rate has popped back onto the real estate radar. Back in July, the central bank lowered the rate for the first time in nearly three years.
The idea behind the QMR is to ensure that home buyers will be able to afford their mortgage as interest rates rise in the future. It is a stress test that sets the lowest theoretical interest rate the buyer will be charged. That rate is significantly higher than any actual rates being charged by mainstream lenders.
The Bank of Canada bases the qualifying rate on the five-year rates posted by Canadas Big Six, federally regulated banks. The number is rather arbitrary, though, because the big banks do not actually charge their posted rates. The real rates are markedly lower. The posted rates tend to have more to do with the penalties charged when a home buyer breaks their mortgage before the end of its term.
There is no obvious standard for setting the qualifying rate. A well known Toronto mortgage broker uses this illustration: two years ago the yield on Government of Canadas five-year bonds was 1.42% and the QMR was 4.64%. Earlier this year, five-year bonds were back at 1.42%, but the QMR was 5.19%.
It is important for consumers to know that the current rules around the qualifying rate tend to favour the big, federally regulated banks. For example, the QMR stress test is not applied when customers renew their mortgage with their existing, federally regulated lender. This can have the effect of trapping customers who might otherwise be able to take advantage of lower rates with a different lender.
Many in the mortgage industry have been calling for more transparency and consistency in the QMR rules in order to make them fairer and simpler.
LISTINGS FALL AGAIN TO END 2019, PUSHING PRICES HIGHER
Canadian Real Estate Association data show that national-level home sales fell 0.9% (sa m/m) in December 2019 after rising in the previous nine months. Limited availability looks to be increasingly weighing on sales activity. The month saw another broad-based decline in new listings18 of the 31 centres for which we have data witnessed fallsthat lifted the national sales-to-new listings ratio to 66.9%. It was the highest ratio since 2004 and a third straight month of supply- demand conditions tilted in favour of sellers (after data revisions). Fourteen cities reported sellers market conditions; the rest were balanced. The aggregate MLS Home Price Index (HPI) rose 3.4% (nsa y/y), its best gain since March 2018.
Montreal remained Canadas tightest local market, with rising sales and falling listings leading to yet another record-high sales-to-new listings ratio and the citys steepest y/y MLS HPI gains since 2005. Ottawas ratio also reached a new high as new listings plunged by more than 20% (sa m/m), driving a record 12.5% (nsa y/y) MLS HPI increase. Toronto also crept into sellers market territory for the first time since March 2017as in Montreal, home purchases rose and new listings felland its 7.3% (nsa y/y) HPI rise was the sharpest since 2017.
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Source: Scotiabank Economics
Story in 2018 and early 2019 was weak sales; story in 2020 will be lack of supply
The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has updated its forecast for home sales activity via the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) Systems of Canadian real estate boards and associations this year and for 2020.
Evidence suggests housing activity will continue to improve into 2020, with prices either continuing to rise or accelerating in many parts of Canada. Indeed, many housing market indicators continue to support this outlook.
Economic fundamentals underpinning housing activity remain strong outside of the Prairies together with Newfoundland and Labrador. The national resale housing market outlook continues to be supported by population and employment growth while consumer confidence is benefiting from low unemployment rates outside oil-producing provinces. Additionally, the Bank of Canada is widely expected to not raise interest rates in 2020.
Mortgage interest rates have declined, including the Bank of Canadas benchmark five-year rate used by Canadas largest banks to qualify applicants under the B-20 mortgage stress-test. Though the decline in the benchmark rate has been modest, it is helping to improve homebuyer access to home purchase financing.