Spruce Grove Mortgage Broker: Krista Rumberg
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Should I be locking in my variable rate?

Times have changed in the mortgage industry. For the majority of my mortgage career my clients have been split about 50/50 between fixed and variable. Now, the vast majority of my clients are choosing fixed rates, and I get it. Never have I seen fixed rates lower than variable rates. For all of you sitting in variable rate mortgages, are you aware that you can convert to fixed mortgage with no penalty? The bigger question is, should you? Let’s discover whether this makes good sense for you.

PRO – Reduced Rate

If you timed the market just right you may have a prime minus one mortgage. Prime is 3.95 – 1.0 = 2.95%. Today the best discounted five-year rate is 2.69% so that’s a savings of about a quarter point. That’s not insignificant, and you can lock that in for the remainder of your term. That will equate to a couple of thousand bucks depending on the size of your mortgage. I’ll take reducing my mortgage by a couple grand! The savings will even be more significant if the Bank of Canada raises prime rate in the coming years. But what are the consequences?

CON – Penalty

If you had the experience of working with me you have likely heard me say, “what is your exit strategy?” If you are fortunate, and you actually make it to the end of your five-year term, then you won’t have to consider what your penalty is to break your mortgage. But statistically, six out of ten Canadians break their mortgage (usually around the three-year mark) and that triggers a penalty. I know, you’re not the one who gets transferred, or divorced, or loses a job, or has a spouse pass, or your port is declined– but it is happening to greater than 50% of Canadians.

If you convert to a fixed rate mortgage the penalty clause wording changes from three months interest to three months interest or IRD (interest rate differential), whichever is greater. And IRD is kind of like a swear word . . . it’s nasty. Every lender calculates IRD differently.

If your mortgage is with a big bank CIBC, BMO, RBC, Scotia, and TD then you need to be aware that those banks have the least favourable penalty calculation to the consumer. They calculate your penalty on the spread between benchmark (5.19% today) or posted rate and what your actual interest rate is. This can come up with some pretty nasty numbers (again depending on the size of your mortgage) but I have seen IRD penalties in excess of $20,000.

If you are with a monoline lender (only available thru a mortgage broker) they generally calculate the penalties based on prime rate (3.95% today) or contract rate and what your actual interest rate is. This is greater than three months interest but certainly less than the big five banks.

Why is this happening?

Let’s remember that fixed rates and variable rates are totally different markets. Fixed mortgage rates are driven by the bond yield – how much banks can borrow money for, and variable rate mortgages are driven by the overnight interest rate set by the Bank of Canada – economy based.

I (we) have a variable rate mortgage and we are not converting to fixed, and here’s why. We plan on moving within the term of our mortgage, and we like the flexibility, that if the timing does not work out perfect, the maximum penalty we will be charged is three months interest. So yes, it’s going to cost us some extra money in interest but it will cost us more if we convert and have to break a fixed rate mortgage and pay interest rate differential. Is this called opportunity cost?

Worth the risk?

Most people choose a variable rate because it’s typically priced half, to and entire percent less than a fixed rate mortgage. Combined with the maximum penalty of three months interest it’s often worth the risk of the fluctuating prime rate. I feel the upcoming Federal election has an impact on this unique situation and if I were betting this window is short lived. We are definitely in a quirky situation with fixed being lower than variable and that begs the question, is the risk-reward payoff enough to make the switch to fixed rate mortgage?

First Time Home Buyer Incentive

When the federal budget came out earlier this year and the First Time Home Buyer Incentive (FTHBI) was announced, “I thought what a piece of garbage – that’s not going to help anybody!” Now that September second is here, I have had the FTHBI at the back of my mind while I am working on client’s mortgage applications, and I think I am changing my tune a little bit?

FTHBI: Thanks for the job security, feds!

It appears that the FTHBI may assist a small number of individuals who would not have qualified in the past and now they are qualifying for a mortgage – or giving them a bit more buying power. It’s not as easy to qualify for a mortgage as it was prior to fed’s implementing the benchmark rate (when Canadian’s need to qualify for a mortgage two percent higher than what they are paying or the benchmark rate – whichever is greater) but it’s a small step in the right direction. And by small step, I mean baby step.

I attended a learning opportunity on the FTHBI last week, as there has been very little published on how Canadians actually qualify for this program. Turns out you have to go to the National Housing Strategy website and fill out the application, sign it, and sent it to your mortgage professional.  We have to do some things on our end, as your broker, as does the mortgage lender – but overall it does not seem to be overly difficult to apply. Maybe, still, a bit taxing for consumers to understand.

This follows suit with this government, as the last several changes to mortgage rules have made it extremely confusing, to both mortgage professionals and consumers. I guess I should say thank you to the feds for giving me a bit more job security? There are still a lot of unknowns that will have to fall out in the wash on the FTHBI but again it’s a start.

The Biggest Unknown

Probably the biggest unknown is whether they are going to allow the FTHBI to work in conjunction with the spousal buyout program? The rules say that if you have gone thru a divorce, despite owning a home in the past four years you still qualify for the FTHBI (providing you meet the other qualifying criteria). In addition, you are allowed to piggyback mortgage insurer programs with the FTHBI. Therefore, I am inclined to say you can do a spousal buyout and use the FTHBI as part of your down payment.

But . . . there is also some wording that says down payment must come from savings, RRSPs, or gift . . . the missing word here that I would like to see is EQUITY. When you are taking over the matrimonial home from your ex your down payment is equity, not the three listed in the FTHBI.

I have submitted my first mortgage application combing the FTHBI with equity as down payment and we will see how this throws down? It’s the grey area that is not addressed. I’m not one to not challenge rules, so I’m happy to be one of the broker’s who has a challenging application submitted to the lender for approval, ready to argue for my client on Tuesday morning, if required.

The Numbers

Despite the fact that the FTHBI may be helping some people qualify, there are some things that consumers need to consider once they are into the program. It’s likely best to explain this via an example. Molly buys a “new to her home” using the FTHBI and her purchase price is 400,000. Therefore, her FTHBI is $20,000 which comes in the form of an interest-free loan (in addition to her $20,000 in savings). This loan is registered to her title in second position. The FTHBI needs to be paid back on sale or prior to 25 years, whichever comes first.

Let’s assume Molly wants to sell her home in ten years and she sells for $480,000. This means she will payback five percent which is now $24,000 (($480,000 – $400,000) x 5% = $4000 plus the original $20,000). However, if she sells in a depressed market and she sells for $331,040 she only pays back $16,552 (($331,040 – $400,000) x 5% = -$3,448. $20,000-$3448 = $16,552) So, despite the feds calling it “interest-free” – it’s not technically “free” as they get their share of your market increase if the economy goes in the right direction.

Drawbacks

In addition, you will see increased legal costs for both your purchase and your sale, as an extra lien will need to be registered and discharged. The FTHBI will also limit your access to a home equity line of credit as it is unlikely that a lender will be interested in registering their security in third position.

My Final Thoughts

Overall, I am interested to see how much this helps Canadians? I anticipate it’s likely to help lower-income, lower price point buyers outside of Toronto and Vancouver . . . so I’ll keep it as a tool in my mortgage broker toolbox and hope I can use it to my client’s advantage.

What Is Collaborative Divorce?

What is Collaborative Divorce?

I am a Collaborative Divorce Alberta Association professional that works with people through the association is helping find collaborative ways to separate and divorce.

Not all separations are “nasty” and sometimes people find that they need to go their own ways from each other. Through the collaborative divorce process there are professionals that have the same goal as you. They want to help you and your spouse reach a fair divorce settlement, based on your priorities and without the potentially huge expenses and stress associated with a settlement reached in court.

How can I help?

In the process of separation and divorce I work with families and their finances to keep family homes through spousal buyout and/or find mortgages that suit them in their new homes. We work together to find what is the best options for everyone.

It’s imperative to examine your finances to determine if you can comfortably afford to buy out your spouse. If you’ve decided to remain in your matrimonial home, but the mortgage payments, taxes, monthly bills and upkeep push you to your financial limit, the stress that this will put you under may not be worth staying put – even for the sake of keeping something constant in your children’s lives.

As a mortgage specialist who works with divorcing couples, I’ve adopted three key priorities to ensure I serve every client to the best of my ability, including:

  1. Operating with integrity by always ensuring my clients receive the best mortgage product and rate to meet their unique needs – both now and over the long term.
  2. Providing solutions, support and answers while navigating unchartered territory such as separation/divorce, which ultimately leads to financial independence.
  3. Keeping a positive outlook regardless of the situation at hand to help keep clients in a positive frame of mind while they complete their separation/divorce and split the matrimonial home.

Please contact me if you have any questions and I also encourage you to check out Collaborative Divorce Alberta Association for further resources.

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