Queens Drive in the Toronto community of Weston. Currently, when mortgages come up for renewal, banks tend to focus on the payment history instead of the homeowner's current income. (Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)

Housing

Mortgage brokers warn about new refinancing rules

The Globe and Mail

Canada’s mortgage brokers are warning the banking regulator that its proposed mortgage underwriting rules could result in people losing their homes.

The brokers are concerned about a number of the potential rules, but the one that worries them most outlines what banks would have to do when a consumer wants to renew or refinance their mortgage.

The proposed rules suggest that banks recheck areas such as employment status, current income and the current value of the home for renewals and refinancings.

“This would be a significant, significant change,” Jim Murphy, the head of the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP).

Currently, when mortgages come up for renewal, banks tend to focus on the borrower’s payment history. They rarely appraise the property again and not all banks will check the borrower’s updated income level, Mr. Murphy said.

“CAAMP strongly recommends that this concept be clarified so that mortgages continue to be renewed at maturity without requalification,” the industry association said in a submission to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI).

“If not, homeowners who have been in compliance may no longer qualify. This would result in a number of properties hitting the market at the same time and thereby driving down prices.”

Such a phenomenon could add further fuel to a real estate downturn if lower house prices and higher unemployment caused more people to lose their homes upon renewal, Mr. Murphy suggested.

Household debt driven by mortgage credit expansion is the main threat to the credit risk profiles of Canadian financial institutions, Fitch Ratings said in a report Monday.

OSFI unveiled the proposed new rules in March, and requested submissions from the industry. Rod Giles, a spokesman for the banking regulator, said it has received a significant number of submissions from trade associations, lenders, insurers and the brokers as well as private citizens.

OSFI is still reviewing them, but hopes to release final rules by the end of June, along with a summary of the submissions and the reasons for its decisions.

It released the potential rules after the Financial Stability Board, a global financial oversight body, called on all regulators to ensure mortgage lenders were adhering to certain underwriting principles.

But, with Ottawa seeking to prevent a runup in Canadian house prices from leading to a crash, Canada’s proposed guidelines go a bit further.

OSFI has signalled it wants banks to limit home equity lines of credit to 65 per cent of a property’s value.

“Many borrowers use HELOCs to invest in capital markets or even for their own business purposes,” CAAMP says in its submission. “In this way, many Canadians are using their HELOCs for retirement and job creation – a positive goal which the government is trying to encourage.”

Canada's six biggest banks held $912-billion worth of exposure to the residential mortgage market at the end of January, according to figures compiled by Fitch. That included $730-billion of mortgages and $182-billion of home equity lines of credit.

The mortgage brokers would like to see people with good credit and income be able to borrow more than 65 per cent of the value of their home.

One proposed rule that the group applauds would eliminate so-called “cash back” mortgages, which essentially allow a consumer to borrow their down payment from the bank.

In 2008, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty changed the rules so that consumers had to put at least 5 per cent down (after a period of time during which Ottawa had allowed mortgages with a zero down payment). However, Ottawa left the door open for consumers to borrow that 5 per cent. The big banks subsequently came out with products in which they will lend a mortgage and give the borrower an amount equal to 5 per cent of the value up front (at a steeper rate).

“Borrowers should have ‘skin in the game,’ ” CAAMP said in its submission.

 
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