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.
Index growth slows further in January
In January the TeranetNational Bank National Composite House Price IndexTM was up 0.3% from the previous month. It was the third consecutive month in which the index rose less than the month before. The increase was led by five of the 11 constituent markets: Hamilton (2.0%), Montreal (1.0%), Victoria (0.6%), Halifax (0.4%) and Vancouver (0.4%). Rises of less than the countrywide average were reported for Quebec City (0.3%) and Ottawa-Gatineau (0.1%). Indexes were down from the month before in Toronto (0.1%), Calgary (0.2%), Edmonton (0.4%) and Winnipeg (0.4%). After three months September, October, November in which all 11 markets of the composite index were up from the month before, it was a second consecutive month in which one or more markets were down on the month.
The price rise is consistent with the rise of home sales volume over the last several months as reported by the Canadian Real Estate Association. For a fifth straight month, the number of sale pairs entering into the 11 metropolitan indexes was higher than a year earlier. The unsmoothed composite index, seasonally adjusted, was up 0.9% in January, suggesting that the published (smoothed) index could continue its uptrend.
Canadian home sales continue their momentum to start 2021
In January, Canadian home sales increased 2.0% month-on-month, building on Decembers 7.0% gain. On a year-on-year basis, they were up 35.2%.
Provincially, sales were up in 8 of 10 provinces in January, with strong gains recorded in PEI (+20.5% m/m) and Alberta (+11.9%). On the flipside, a relatively steep decline was recorded in Nova Scotia (-8.3%).
New listings dropped by 13.5% m/m in January. The combination of rising sales and falling new listings brought the months supply of inventory measure to under 1.9 months.
The national sales-to-new listings ratio also increased to 90.7% its highest level by far. Every province was in sellers territory in December, and many of those in the eastern part of Canada had ratios over 100% (Quebec: 128.3%; New Brunswick: 116.0%; Nova Scotia: 114.3% and PEI:101.5%). This means that there were more sales than new units listed last month in these provinces. This is a rare situation, but has occurred before in the Atlantic Provinces. However, January marked a first on this front in Quebec. Elsewhere, ratios were particularly elevated in Manitoba (86.1%) and Ontario (88.6).
Strong demand and historically tight conditions were reflected in prices. Indeed, Canadian average home prices surged by 4.7% m/m in January. On a year-on-year basis, they were up 22.8%, marking an acceleration from December. However, prices were up in 8 of 10 provinces during the month, with the largest gains occurring in Alberta (+8.1%) and Ontario (7.4%).
Compared with the average sales price, the MLS home price index, a more like for like measure, increased 2.0% m/m. Single family home prices rose 2.6% m/m (and a robust 17.4% y/y), whereas apartment prices advanced by a smaller 0.2% m/m (and decelerated to 3.3% y/y). In Toronto, apartment prices increased 0.4% m/m, the first gain in 4 months.
Home sales picked up right where they left off to start 2021. Demand was likely given a lift by ultra-low mortgage rates, which dropped again during the month. Januarys robust gain coupled with a strong handoff into this year virtually ensures that sales will increase in the first quarter. However, with sales likely running above fundamentally-supported levels, we think some cooling in activity will take place, especially in the second half. A dwindling supply of inventories, when benchmarked against the current sales pace, could also weigh on activity moving forward.
With todays data showing a solid gain in prices last month and new supply collapsing across nearly the entire country, markets were historically tight. This points to further strong price gains ahead in the near-term.
Also notable was that benchmark condo prices grew for the first time in several months in Toronto. Although supply remains elevated, conditions are becoming tighter than what we saw last fall. This suggests that further gains are in store.