Monday, March 31, 2014

Why BMOs rate cut is good news for everyone

By Mark Kerzner, President of TMG The Mortgage Group

Last week BMO announced a cut to its 5-year fixed mortgage rate to 2.99%. This really isn’t a surprise since this is the third Spring in a row that the banks have been cutting fixed rates as a way to kick start the lending season. In both 2012 and 2013, then Minster of Finance quickly spoke against the move. This time, however, we have a new Minister of Finance who has stated that he will stay out of the mortgage market.

And like the last couple of times, the rate cut has given the broker industry a higher profile among consumers.

The first time we saw this offer we might have thought it was a blip, the second year we may have thought it a coincidence. Now that’s it’s happened again, we can safely call it a trend – during the Spring market, pricing seems to get hyper competitive. This is good news for both the mortgage industry and for consumers.

When BMO first introduced a 2.99% fixed rate more than two years ago, we posted a blog titled, BMOs Slap in the Face. Dan Pultr, Vice President of B.C. wrote, “brokers are silently cheering because this additional publicity will bring a renewed focus to the mortgage market; and the more noise generated by the banks, the more questions and more phone calls we get from clients.  As mortgage professionals, one of our goals is to educate the consumer to ensure they make the very best decision when it comes to their mortgage." 

In March 2013, we again wrote an article about the competitive mortgage market in the wake of BMO lowering its rate, albeit briefly, to 2.99%.

Let’s take a closer look at BMO’s recent 5-year, low-frill special:

  •  It comes with a lower maximum amortization: 25 years max
  • There is less lump-sum pre-payment ability: 10% maximum per year
  • There’s a smaller payment increase option:  Up to 10%, once per year
  • It’s a locked term:  The low-rate mortgage is fully closed unless you sell the property, refinance (with BMO only), or early renew into another BMO mortgage. In other words, unless you sell, you're not leaving BMO for 5 years.
Combine that with the fact that BMO's interest rate differential (IRD) for early payout is one of the worst out there; consumers may not want to risk being caught should they sell or have to pay out early.

There is, however, one big difference with this year’s rate offer -- the market was already at or near the 2.99% level. In some respects the banks have lagged instead of led.

Once again, the positive aspect is that it raises awareness for the mortgage industry and helps brokers reinforce their value proposition.

The other positive, is that other lenders will likely follow suit and match BMO’s rate or even go lower, which is good news for  consumers. So, whichever way you look at it – BMO’s rate-cutting trend is a win-win situation.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gen-Yers and home ownership

There are nine million Gen-Yers or “millennials” in Canada, many of whom are financially savvy, have control of their money, take a long-term approach when investing and are keen to own their own homes.  Despite high student loans to repay and fewer job opportunities, millennials are thinking about money in very different ways than their parents.  According to TD’s 2013 Investor Insights Report, this group is saving to invest; they use the Internet to track the stock market through their mobile phones and are skeptical of financial advice, meaning they do their research.

The Index also found that millennials start investing when they are 20, compared to Boomers who started investing, on average, at age 27.  They would like to invest even more of their money, making them a group with serious financial clout. For many, home ownership is a priority.

Here are some facts about millennials; new learning we can all benefit from:
  1. Millennials take a conservative approach when investing.  Forty per cent take a long-term, buy-and-hold approach. 
  2. They currently invest 18% of their income but would like to invest up to one third of their income. The TD Investor Insights Index found that saving for retirement was a top investment goal followed by saving to buy a house, then travel, then achieving financial independence.
  3. Millennials love TFSAA accounts because of the flexibility.
  4. They are independent, ask a lot of questions about investments and do their research.
In 2013, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp, (CMHC) held seminars identifying this age group as a growing opportunity for the Ontario housing market. While millennials accounted for 15 per cent of home ownership demand in Ontario in 2012, by 2016 they will own about 35 per cent of the province’s homes.

About one-third or 30% of those interviewed online said they expected assistance from parents or family. Nearly two-thirds (61%) said they have made cuts to their lifestyle to save for their first home.

The interest in home ownership is nationwide. A Bank of Montreal report released on March 18, found that first-time home buyers have increased their home purchase budget by six per cent to approximately $316,000. In Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, those budgets are even higher. Fifty-three per cent of home buyers in the Calgary market will even break their budgets for the right home, compared to the national average of 33%.

In British Columbia, the Gen Yers are redefining the housing market there according to Melanie Reuter, director of research for the Real Estate Investment Network who has written a report about it.
“They are a more urban group, no longer dependent on a car, partly because of cost, and partly because they genuinely care about sustainability.” she said in a Globe and Mail interview. “They didn’t get their driver’s license the day they turned 16, it’s almost a badge of pride they wear, not needing a vehicle.”

They use transit, so will want to be located close to work, and close to transit hubs. Many were likely raised in townhouses or condos, and are familiar with living in smaller spaces. “They also like new spaces, as opposed to old houses they’ll have to spend weekends fixing up,” Reuter added.

For 35% of millennials, finding trustworthy advice is their biggest challenge. Twenty-seven per cent learned about savings and investing from their parents and family, 18% are self-taught and nearly half (48%) manage their own portfolios online.

The latest Market Insights from the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP) found that millennials  are a little nervous and apprehensive about investing in a home; however,  the majority of those who are homeowners are comfortable with their decisions and would make the same decision again. 

Interestingly, the report also found that mortgage brokers are a key channel for millennials looking for mortgage information, advice and arranging their mortgages, and turn to brokers 40% of the time. The broker’s value as an advisor, coupled with a strong customer service approach hits home with this age group. Younger clients see brokers as valuable consultants helping them to understand their options.

It’s a group that can’t be ignored.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Housing collapse? What housing collapse?

Bad news trumps good nearly every time in the media, especially in the financial media. Interest rates are going up, interest rates are getting cut. Consumers are in trouble with too much debt, consumers can handle their debts. We’re in a recession, were in a depression, we’re fine. There’s the housing bubble that never happened, but some are still waiting for it, and the latest -- escalating house prices and lack of affordability.

For the most part, the constant worry reporting by the media and the economists and pollsters who feed those headlines is overblown.

We have low interest rates, which will likely be here for awhile. We’ve heard how rates are on the uptick, but we’ve been hearing that since 2010 – it’s like the boy who cried wolf.  While it’s true that fixed rates did go up slightly, we’re back to discounted variable rates at 2.6%. And those 5-year fixed rates are sitting at 3.39% or less. We’re back to the future!

A look at housing prices across Canada and we see a picture that’s not so bad. Sure, the two inflated markets—Toronto and Vancouver – have crazy pricing, but in the rest of Canada, house prices seem to be rising at modest levels, unless, of course, you’re buying in a hot market – these markets come and go. 

StatsCan’s latest survey of financial security, released on February 24, shows that the median net worth of Canadian households reached nearly $244,000 in 2010. That’s up 44.5 per cent since 2005. While debt still remains historically high -- $27,368 (less mortgage debt) in the fourth quarter of 2013 according to Trans Union, most Canadians are wealthier than they’ve ever been.  

Overall, total family assets in Canada rose to $9.4 trillion in 2012, with the value of families' principle home representing one third of the total assets. Pension assets, including employer plans and private pension plans, made up 30% of the total, while other real estate holdings — rental properties, cottages, timeshares and commercial properties — represent almost 10%.

Will there be a rebalancing or a correction? It’s true that, after a long period of spending, consumers will cut spending to pay debt; however, Benjamin Tal’s (Deputy Chief Economist for CIBC), Weekly Market Insight Report, found that consumer spending rose 3.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the savings rate remained stable at 5%.  Household debt is still a concern because it is still rising, albeit it more slowly than in previous years. 

Low interest rates, coupled with steady job creation, and a slight increase in wages, bodes well for the future of housing.