Thursday, March 18, 2010



Borrowing costs on three– and five– year fixed rate and term mortgages remained stable during the first two months of 2010, declining slightly by 10 basis points to 4.15 and 5.39 per cent in February. The BC Real Estate Association (BCREA) expects this dip to be short-lived. Mortgage rates are forecast to rise more quickly during second half of 2010 and through 2011. Despite this increase, mortgage rates will remain relatively low from a historical perspective.
Mortgage rates will inevitably rise from current levels. Today’s low interest rate environment reflects the ongoing support of the economy by central banks around the world after the worst economic crisis in decades. These low short-term interest rates, combined with economic weakness, higher investor risk aversion and lower inflation expectations drove bond market yields lower and contributed to declines in administered interest
rates for products such as mortgages. With global economies on the mend, and Canada recording stronger economic growth, expect the Bank of Canada (BoC) to scale back its monetary stimulus by raising interest rates from the current low levels .
The BoC held the line on its trend setting policy interest rate on March 2, 2010, and reiterated its conditional commitment to keep its policy rate at 0.25 per cent until the end of the second quarter of 2010. However,
the BoC will be hard-pressed to maintain its policy rate at the current level once the third quarter rolls around despite the continued headwinds of a strong Canadian dollar and the uncertain US economic climate. Economic activity has been higher and inflation firmer than was projected in the BoC’s January Monetary Policy Report.
Given these conditions, BCREA expects policy rate hikes of 25 basis points at the July and September point increase in the fourth quarter will push the policy rate to 1 per cent by the end of 2010. BCREA expects this rate to reach 2.75 per cent by the end of 2011.
Variable mortgage rates which are tied to prime rates will rise by the same magnitude. Fixed-rate term mortgage rates, which move closely with bond yields and deposit rates of similar maturity will edge up gradually through 2011. Increases are expected to be modest as a high Canadian dollar temper future growth prospects, and a tepid labour market and uncertainty in the global economy lower inflation expectations, moderating upward pressure on fixed term mortgage rates.

“Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

February Home Sales Strong Despite Olympic Fervor

March 11, 2010. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) residential sales in the province climbed 63 per cent to 5,955 units in February compared to the same month last year. On a seasonally adjusted basis, MLS® residential unit sales in the province declined 13 per cent compared to January 2010.
“Home sales continued to moderate in February after the record pace of the fourth quarter.” said Cameron Muir, BCREA Chief Economist. “However, February’s performance was better than expected considering many households were preoccupied with Olympic gold.”

The BC residential sales dollar volume increased 91 per cent to $2.96 billion in February compared to the same period last year. The average MLS® residential price climbed 17 per cent to $497,807 over the same period.

“Low mortgage interest rates are continuing to underpin consumer demand and fuel first-time homebuyer activity,” added Muir. “Improving economic conditions are expected to bolster consumer confidence over the coming months.”

“Copyright British Columbia Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.”

Demand and supply coming into balance in resale market

March-15-10, CMHC | Alyson Fair
OTTAWA – March 15, 2010 – With rising activity in Toronto offset by lower activity in Vancouver, the number of homes sold through the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) Systems of Canadian real estate Boards edged lower in February. In recent months, national sales activity has slowed while new listings continue to rise, resulting in a more balanced national resale housing market.
According to statistics released by The Canadian Real Estate Association, seasonally adjusted national home sales totalled 42,799 units in February 2010, edging down 1.5 per cent from January. Activity declined mostly in Vancouver, but this was offset by an equally large gain in Toronto. Sales were also down in a number of other British Columbia housing markets. Since there were no significant gains in sales activity elsewhere in Canada, the national figure for sales activity was pulled slightly lower.
“The Olympic Winter Games may have impacted February sales activity in British Columbia, so activity for the province in March will be closely watched,” said CREA President Dale Ripplinger. “Activity is expected to remain elevated in Ontario and British Columbia over the first half of the year, with buyers looking to beat the introduction of the HST and expected interest rate hikes.”
Across the country, actual (not seasonally adjusted) residential sales activity numbered 36,275 units in February, up 44 per cent from the same month last year. New records for February activity were set in Ontario and Quebec. The year-over-year gain in national activity was smaller than those of the previous three months. Since a year will soon have elapsed following the recessionary decline and subsequent rebound for the Canadian resale market, year-over-year comparisons are expected to continue shrinking.
The average price of all homes sold through Boards’ MLS® Systems in February 2010 was $335,655, up 18.2 per cent from one year ago. As with sales activity, this gain was smaller than in the past four months, and year-over-year gains are expected to become further subdued going forward.
The price trend is similar but less dramatic for the national weighted average price, which compensates for changes in provincial sales activity by taking into account provincial proportions of privately owned housing stock. It climbed 15.6 per cent on a year-over-year basis in February 2010.
The residential average price in Canada’s major markets was up 18.7 per cent year-over-year in February. As with the national counterpart, the price trend is similar but less dramatic for the major market weighted average price, which rose 14.7 per cent from levels reported in February 2009.
The seasonally adjusted number of new listings on Boards’ MLS® Systems across Canada climbed another 2.4 per cent on a month-over-month basis in February to reach 73,849 units, the highest level since October 2008. Five consecutive monthly increases have lifted new listings 16.3 per cent above where they stood last September, when they had fallen to the lowest level since late 2005. As with sales activity, new listings in February 2010 were up most in Ontario and down most in British Columbia. The actual (not seasonally adjusted) number of new residential listings was 71,197 in February, up 10.8 per cent from one year ago.
Strong resale housing demand continues to draw down inventories, but supply is shrinking at a decreasing rate because of slightly softer sales activity and an increase in new listings in recent months. There were 188,334 homes listed for sale on Boards’ MLS® Systems in Canada at the end of February 2010, a decline of 15.4 per cent compared to levels one year ago. This is the smallest year-over-year decline in active listings since last August.
The actual (not seasonally adjusted) number of months of inventory in February 2010 stood at 5.2 months. This is well below where it stood one year ago (8.8 months), but on par with February 2008 and slightly higher than it was in the month of February in the years 2004 through 2007. The number of months of inventory is the number of months it would take to sell current inventories at the current rate of sales activity.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, months of inventory rose nationally for the third consecutive month. There were 4.7 months of inventory in February 2010; up slightly from 4.5 months from the previous month, and 4.3 months in December 2009.
“Housing markets are becoming more balanced,” said CREA Chief Economist Gregory Klump. “There are still a number of major markets where sales negotiations favour the seller due to a shortage of inventory, but supply has begun rising. Further expected supply increases will continue to take the steam out of housing markets as the year progresses.”

“Copyright Canadian Real Estate Association. Reprinted with permission.”

New Mortgage Rules

On February 16th, 2010, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced three changes to the mortgage insurance rules, which will come into effect on April 19th, 2010.
The good news is that most mortgage consumers will not be significantly impacted by the three latest changes. The intentions of the new rules are to curb speculation housing and encourage homeowners to use their homes as a savings tool, rather than borrowing home equity to pay down loans and credit cards.
Rule #1
Minimum down payment requirements for non-owner-occupied homes will increase to 20% from 5%, and the way that rental income is considered has been scaled back as well. This rule will have the most dramatic impact of all three changes, but only on real estate investors. Being required to put more money down and being able to use less potential rental income for qualifying purposes will displace many new real estate investors (who currently only make up around 4% of all mortgage consumers in Canada).
This change is intended to avoid any kind of future housing bubble in Canada by curbing speculation building. The recent economic downturn caused builders to stop building and many new homes sat vacant through the early stages of 2009. When rates started to drop and buyers began to gobble up property that had been on the market for some time, the supply/demand ratio started to lead to higher demand and higher prices.
Rule #2
All borrowers will have to meet qualification standards for a five-year fixed-rate mortgage even if they choose a mortgage with a lower interest rate and shorter term (such as one- or three-year terms).
Current standards for mortgage qualifying are typically based on a lender’s three-year fixed rate (if you’re opting for a variable rate, home equity line of credit, or one-, two- or three-year fixed-rate product, which typically carry a lower interest rate). This qualifying standard has, in the past, been sufficient to protect consumers from rates increasing over the term (at least on paper). Essentially, the government is forcing people to prepare for a likely rate hike over the next five years.
Considering the average difference between discounted three- and five-year fixed rates is only between 0.30% and 0.49%, this should truly not have a drastic impact on the average mortgage applicant – if, in fact, the new rules intend to have mortgage applicants qualify based upon discounted rates. It is still unclear if the upcoming alterations are meant to have Canadians approved based upon “posted” five-year rates, which would mean a difference of over 2%!
Rule #3
The maximum amount Canadians can withdraw when refinancing their mortgages will be reduced from 95% to 90% of the value of their homes.
This final change will likely have the most impact on those Canadians who have a current government-backed insured mortgage and would like to take advantage of the equity in their home to do some debt consolidation in the future. In recent times, with rates at historical lows, it’s been advantageous for consumers to roll their unsecured debt into their mortgage to decrease monthly payments – so much so that the government has sought an end to this trend of high loan-to-value mortgages.
This does not, however, stop consumers from overspending and taking on large amounts of credit card debt. In some cases, the ability to borrow the equity in one’s home to pay off debt has saved people from bankruptcy and kept them in their homes. Hopefully this change doesn’t backfire on the government’s intentions.
Only time will tell if the government’s measures to curb spiking house prices and encourage equity savings will be a positive change for Canadians.
Prior to this announcement, there was wide-spread speculation that the government was going to change current mortgage policies to include a minimum 10% down payment, an increase from the current 5%, and a reduction in amortization from a maximum of 35 to 30 years. Luckily for first-time home buyers in Canada, these rumours have not proven true.