On February 16, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced new mortgage rules intended to help ensure homebuyers can handle their debt load when interest rates rise, as well as to slow down real estate speculation.
"There's no clear evidence of a housing bubble, but we're taking proactive, prudent and cautious steps today to help prevent one. Our government is acting to help prevent Canadian households from getting overextended, and acting to help prevent some lenders from facilitating it," commented Minister Flaherty.
The new rules take effect April 19, 2010. Here is a quick look at the changes, which apply to government-backed insured mortgages:
1. Borrowers must now qualify based on a five-year fixed rate even if they choose a mortgage with a lower interest rate and shorter term. The government’s rationale for this change is that it will help borrowers prepare for higher rates, although it may squeeze the purchasing power of home buyers. It remains unclear whether borrowers must qualify at the five-year posted rate or the five-year discounted rate.
2. The maximum amount Canadians can withdraw in refinancing their mortgages will be reduced to 90 per cent of the value of their homes, instead of 95 per cent. The government’s rationale for this change is that it will help ensure home ownership is a more effective way to save. The impact of this change is expected to be minimal as relatively few homeowners withdraw equity from their homes to this extent.
3. A minimum down payment of 20 per cent will be needed for government-backed mortgage insurance on non-owner-occupied properties “purchased for speculation,” which realistically means rental properties. While this measure is intended to hamper the speculative buying of properties by reducing the leverage of buyers, it will also impact those buying real estate for general investment purposes.