Category Archives: mortgage

Afraid of falling prices? Just don’t sell!

There’s a funny comfort meme in the media now that house and condo prices are falling.

Its a strange interpretation of ‘supply and demand’ that says if demand is dropping dramatically we’ll just cut back on supply to match and prices will stay stable.

Soft landing here we come!

There are a number of talking heads in the media espousing this viewpoint at the moment and If you don’t think about it too hard it kind of makes sense.

Here’s just one recent example:

Don Lawby, chief executive of the Century 21 Canada, and a charter member of the club that doesn’t see home prices dropping anytime soon, can’t see any desperation from sellers.

“The economy continues to be okay, people have jobs, interest rates are low,” said Mr. Lawby. “Historically, anytime when prices dropped it was tied to high unemployment and interest rates. It’s not the case today, people are not forced to sell, they are staying with their price.”

If people don’t have to sell, then they’ll just take their homes off the market and there’s one less property on the supply side right?

..Of course if you start thinking about it a little bit it doesn’t make as much sense. As Patriotz points out:

..most discretionary sellers are planning to buy another property, so if they decide not to sell they are also deciding not to buy.

So for those of you keeping score, that’s one less seller AND one less buyer. Kind of cancels itself out doesn’t it?

The other point that has been repeated ad nauseum but always seems to get ignored in these articles: the seller that doesn’t sell has zero affect on the market.  The ONLY activity that affects the market are the sales that take place and what price the exchange happens at.  That sale then sets the comp price for all neighbouring properties.

So what really drives the market?

What buyers are willing and able to pay for their desired property from buyers who either need or want to sell.

In a falling market buyers are willing to pay less, because they aren’t completely stupid.  They know it doesn’t make sense to bid high on a purchase that is falling in value each month.

And how fast are Vancouver property prices falling right now?  Apparently even faster than the US bubble markets were falling at their peak.

So there’s that.

But possibly even more important is the buyers ability to pay.  Even if someone really wants to buy that million dollar house and thinks it’s a great deal they might not be able to.  If the credit isn’t available that sale will not happen.

Recent moderation in the mortgage market will have some effect here as we return to the historical standard 25 year amortization on CMHC insured mortgages.  As CMHC hits it’s mortgage cap it is also pumping less credit into the housing market now than it has been for the last few years.

Every time you read another expert talking about the lack of a ‘trigger’ to cause a collapse in the housing market it’s worth thinking about what the trigger in the US or Spain or Ireland was.

The US housing market started to collapse in 2006.  2 years later financial markets collapsed.  The ‘trigger’ for the US real estate collapse was simply this: House prices were too high.



800 Billion dollar housing problem

Think home prices are a touch high in Canada?

Concerned about falling house prices and the spin-off effects on the larger economy?

If you’re looking for an outline of the way the federally run Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) took part in a reckless race to bottom against US competition and put the Canadian economy at risk you could do a lot worse than this Globe and Mail article .

Created in 1946 to help returning Second World War veterans find homes, CMHC had morphed over the years into a multibillion-dollar goliath that fuels bank lending and housing demand by insuring riskier mortgages, especially those in which the buyer has only a small down payment. Without that insurance, many more people would be shut out of the real estate market, unable to get a mortgage from a chartered bank.

It has also been a lucrative venture for the government. But that business was now being eroded as a result of the arrival of aggressive U.S. insurers into Canada.

The American companies were willing to do things CMHC had never done. Some were even backing “zero-down” mortgages in which the buyer borrowed every dollar needed to pay for the home.

Fortunately as fiscally responsible Canadians, we didn’t follow the US example and start backing ‘zero-down’ mortgages.. Oh wait, actually we did.  In fact the CMHC was a little late in its turn around, only starting to pull back the changes after it was obvious the US economy was tanking due to the bursting of a housing bubble.

So how much did the CMHC influence the rise of Canadian house prices?  That’s the source of much debate, but as the G&M puts it:

What is beyond dispute is that CMHC’s rules have enabled a change in behaviour among home buyers like Ashleigh Egerton. When she and her boyfriend bought a townhouse in Brampton, Ont., in May, 2008, they could have made a 5 per cent down payment – but opted to put nothing down instead.

“Instead of putting that money into the house, we felt like we’d be off to a better start if we had some money to furnish the house,” Ms. Egerton says. “I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”

But the zero-down mortgages created a new problem in the housing market: Buyers who weren’t building any equity in their properties, since the payments were primarily covering the interest in the early stages of the loan. When Ms. Egerton moved out about two years later after splitting up with her boyfriend, the pair still didn’t have any equity in the home.

I’m going to stop myself now, because I could just keep quoting from this article.  If you have any questions about the role the CMHC has played in the Canadian housing bubble do yourself a favour and read the full article.

CREA cuts forecasts for 2012 and 2013

There’s less than half a month left in the year, so that’s a good time to revise forecasts. The CREA has revised their 2012 national sales forecast from an increase of 1.9% to a drop of 0.5%. I’m guessing they’ve also revised their forecast for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Looking ahead they expect 2013 to see a sales drop of 2%, but here in BC they forecast both sales and prices to drop just by 0.3 percent.

“Annual sales in 2012 reflect a stronger profile before recent mortgage rule changes followed by weaker activity following their implementation,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s chief economist.

“By contrast, forecast sales in 2013 reflect an improvement from levels this summer in the immediate wake of mortgage rule changes. Even so, sales in most provinces next year are expected to remain down from levels posted before the most recent changes to mortgage regulations.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty moved in July to tighten mortgage rules for the fourth time in as many years in order to discourage Canadians from taking on too much debt. Among the changes, Flaherty made mortgage payments more expensive by dropping the maximum amortization period to 25 years.

FFffffff! Is anybody else getting sick of the miopic talk of ‘tougher’ mortgage rules? Here’s a great point from Ben Rabidoux about how to put these mortgage rule ‘changes’ and Flahertys ‘tightening’ into historical perspective:

Before looking more at the implications of a mortgage rule change like the one being proposed, it may be helpful to provide a brief overview of the mortgage changes that have occured over the past few years:

  • In 1999, the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act were modified allowing for the introduction of a 5% down payment….a far cry from the minimum 25% of a few years earlier.
  • In 2003 CMHC decided to remove the price ceilings limitations. That is, it would insure any mortgage regardless of the cost of the home.
  • In 2005 and 2006, CMHC began insuring 30, then 35 year amortization mortgages.
  • In 2007, CMHC allowed people to purchase a home with no down payment and ammortize it over 40 years. This was changed back to a 5% down payment requirement and a maximum amortization length of 35 years in 2008 once the idiocy of this policy was blatantly obvious.

Here’s the point: CMHC has been in existence for almost 65 years. For the first 60 of those years, they never insured mortgages with amortizations greater than 25 years. Only in the past 5 years has this experiment been started. The 35 year ams that are now on the chopping block have been around only since 2006. So let’s understand that any move to shorten amortization lengths is NOT some new, revolutionary move, but rather a move back towards norms that are both long-standing and fiscally prudent.

Government meddling hurts first time buyers

Peter Simpson is the former president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association and he’s got a column in the Vancouver Sun that strings together some numbers and anecdotes and then blames the federal government for hurting affordability.

Since this column is about first-time homebuyers, I must comment on federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s changes to the rules governing federally insured residential mortgages, including a reduction in the maximum amortization period from 30 to 25 years.

It is not clear that a tightening of mortgage rules helped Canadians to manage their debt. What is clear is that the shorter amortization period has reduced housing demand by eroding affordability.

Now of course this ‘reduction’ in the maximum amortization period is actually just a reset to a historical norm, not to mention that it only applies to government insured loans.

Mr. Simpson refers to an older generation with homes that are paid off, but I can guarantee you that those homes were not bought on a 30 year amortization, so did longer morts help or hurt affordability? Is it possible that pushing more money into the housing market simply helped to drive up prices and worsen affordability?

It may be that Mr. Simpson is not primarily concerned with the well being of the first time buyer, but is instead concerned with a reduction of customers for his industry.

His conclusion is especially telling:

Finally, Vancouver-area pundits predict there is a sales shift to moderately priced homes, and a buyers’ market will continue until mid-2013. There is no assurance interest rates will remain low through 2013. The bottom line is it seems to be a good time to consider buying a new home.

Read the full thing over at the Vancouver Sun.

Is financing getting tougher for the self employed?

It seems that more and more Canadians are self employed.

The self employed tend to have less steady income then full time employees and as a group it can be more difficult to get a mortgage or refinancing.

As a self-employed website developer who had recently restructured his business, Greg Schmidt knew that refinancing his mortgage wasn’t going to be a piece of cake.

“I had a little bit of a line of credit built up from shifting the focus of the business and my car lease had come up for being bought out, so I needed money to take care of that,” said Mr. Schmidt, a single 42-year-old who owns a home in Toronto that includes an apartment for income. “It turned out the best way to go was to do a new mortgage, increase the amount of the old one and take care of those costs.”

However, when he approached his bank, he was told “the numbers didn’t work for them.”

Read the full article in the Globe and Mail.