Mortgage renewals in 2018: Prepare for nasty rate surprises

The era of pleasant surprises for people renewing their mortgage is done.

Years of falling interest rates in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis taught a generation of home buyers that renewing a mortgage is a chance to reduce your payments. Now, we’re heading into the first wave of postcrisis renewals at higher mortgage rates.

If you bought your house five years ago and chose a mortgage with the ever-popular five-year term, rate hikes since last summer mean your payments are headed higher on renewal. Competitively discounted fixed five-year mortgage rates today run from 3.19 per cent to 3.59 per cent, depending on your particular home and mortgage details. Five years ago, a comparable rate was 2.74 per cent. The lowest five-year rate widely available in the past five years was 2.44 per cent in mid-2016, according to RateSpy.com.

David Larock of Integrated Mortgage Planners said he’s starting to hear from homeowners who are taking in this shift in rates. “I get e-mails from people once in a while to say, if you can get me my old rate of 2.49 per cent, I’d be happy to renew,” he said. “I have to break their hearts.”

Higher rates are just half the story. New mortgage-industry rules are complicating the process of taking your mortgage elsewhere if you don’t like the rate offered by your current lender. Vince Gaetano, a broker with MonsterMortgage.ca, said a lot of people seem to think the new rules applied only to first-time buyers. “Now, they’re coming up to their renewals and they’re saying, I had no idea this impacted me. I would have planned for this last year.”

The new rules require buyers with a down payment of 20 per cent or more to undergo a stress test that ensures they could afford their mortgage payments at the greater of the Bank of Canada’s five-year benchmark rate (now 5.14 per cent) or the actual rate being offered plus two percentage points. People with down payments below 20 per cent already faced a stress test, but it was set at the five-year Bank of Canada rate and thus slightly less stringent.

For existing homeowners, the stress tests are a non-factor as long as they’re renewing their mortgage with their current lender. If they want to move the mortgage to a different lender, a stress test must be applied. Unless you can pass the stress test, you’re likely stuck with your current lender. Mr. Gaetano expects lenders, notably the banks, to use the new rules as an opportunity to become less competitive in the renewal rates offered clients who appear to be less creditworthy. Better rates may be out there, but these clients won’t be able to get them.

recent column looked at how people refinancing their mortgages to add other debts must also pass the stress test now. Refinancing is a popular tactic used by people who are getting overwhelmed by their debts. How popular? Mr. Gaetano said about 80 per cent of his clients who are up for their first mortgage renewal have in the past refinanced as opposed to simply renewing.

The biggest rate shocks will be felt by people who thought they were being prudent borrowers by putting down 20 per cent or more and thus avoiding the cost of mortgage-default insurance. This insurance makes a mortgage more attractive to lenders because the equity built up in the house means they won’t lose money if borrowers can’t repay what they owe.

That competitive 3.19-per-cent, five-year fixed rate mentioned earlier is for people who started with a so-called high-ratio mortgage, where the down payment is less than 20 per cent, and/or for those who have a mortgage that is less than 65 per cent of the current value of their home. Also, the purchase price had to be below $1-million. The best rate applies here because the mortgage is insured against default.

Expect rates in the area of 3.39 to 3.59 per cent if you’re renewing a mortgage of between 65 per cent and 80 per cent of the home’s current value (for example, a couple that put down 20 per cent at the time of purchase several years ago) and/or had an original purchase price of $1-million and higher. The same applies to people who are refinancing when they renew.

If years of declining rates have reduced the motivation for homeowners to shop around for a mortgage deal, Mr. Larock expects that to change this spring. “If their costs are going up, a lot of people are going to be more inclined to see what else is out there.”

-Rob Carrick, Globe & Mail

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