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Mortgage rates on the rise again-still at record lows

General Angela Calla 27 Apr


Garry Marr, Financial Post  

A new survey says more than four out of five home buyers feel comfortable with their debt, but another hike in interest rates might get Canadians squirming next time they’re polled.

Canada and Mortgage and Housing Corp. surveyed 2,503 mortgage consumers between Feb. 11 and Feb. 28 and found 81% were comfortable with their current debt levels. However, the survey was done before three successive hikes in interest rates that have pushed the five-year, fixed-rate, closed mortgage from 5.25% to 6.25% in less than a month.

“Rates were low throughout most of the time [of the survey],” said Pierre Serré, CMHC vice-president of insurance products and business development, adding it was unclear whether the 81% figure might fall because of the hike.

Based on an average Canadian home-sale price of $340,920 in March and a 5% down payment, the minimum allowed, mortgage payments for a five-year, fixed-rate product have climbed almost 10%.

As it has throughout this rate-hike cycle, Royal Bank of Canada got the ball rolling Monday by adding another 15 basis points to its fixed-rate product. Toronto-Dominion Bank was next, with most of banks expected to follow shortly.

The hike means that a typical Canadian homeowner with a 25-year amortization with that $340,920 home and 5% down is now paying $2,120.54 per month in mortgage costs, up sharply from the $1,930.03 it was costing them before the latest hike in rates. The dramatic shift is likely once again to push people back toward a variable product linked to prime.

The same mortgage based on the current prime rate of 2.25% would cost only $1,410.84 to carry. Still, many economists predict the Bank of Canada will begin raising its rates as early as June, lifting the prime rate.

The survey also found homebuyers are relatively cautious when taking out their mortgages. Only 20% of them took out mortgages based on amortizations of longer than 25 years. CMHC also said 68% of consumers plan to pay off their mortgage sooner than current amortizations.

“In talking to some lenders I’ve heard of lots of people who get extended amortizations but accelerate their payments,” Mr. Serré said.

The survey came out the same day as new statistics from Re/Max which show the high-end of the housing market continues to soar. Re/Max surveyed 13 markets in the first quarter and found records for high-end homes sales in nine of them.

Michael Polzler, executive vice-president of Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada didn’t think the latest hike in rates would do anything to slow the market. “It’s still minor. Interest rates overall, as far as I’m concerned, are still at historic lows,” he said. “Are they climbing up? Yes. It’s time to consider locking in. Are they going to skyrocket? I don’t think so.”

Bernice Dunsby, Royal Bank’s director of home equity, said the one percentage point rise in rates was not that large a leap on a historical basis.

“It has been widely anticipated that rates would be on the rise. The cost of funds just continues to raise,” said Ms. Dunsby. “The thing our clients are looking for is options that provide additional rate protection.”

She said customers have been opting for mortgage products that divide their debt in half, some of it going long and some of it going short. But the percentage of customers just going short continues to slide with variable rate products becoming less popular at Royal Bank.

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