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10 Mar

How Lower Rates are Making Variable Mortgages More Tempting


Posted by: Jeff Parsons

Garry Marr | March 4, 2014


Consumers facing record housing prices are probably increasingly tempted to go with a floating rate mortgage and all the risks that come with an interest rate linked to prime.

The lure is right in your face on every mortgage rate comparison site. The five-year fixed-rate mortgage has dropped as low as 3.09% with discounters and the major banks aren’t too far off that rate, most of them offering special deals. All this comes as yields in the bond market have dropped, sending fixed rates down.

Floating rate mortgages are as low as 2.35% with the discount off the prime lending rate 65 basis points. Better yet, it has never been easier to get a variable rate mortgage since the government changed the rules in April 2010 so anyone applying for a variable rate can qualify based on the five-year posted rate.

2,530 homes were sold in Vancouver in February, a 40.8% increase from a year ago, while Calgary sales jumped 8.7% from last year.

The qualifying rate is based on an average of the six big banks’ posted rate for a five-year closed mortgage. Declining bond yields have lowered that qualifying rate to 4.99%.

The decline may not sound like much but Rob McLister, editor of Canadian Mortgage Trends, says it means a consumer with a $300,000 home and 5% down needs 2% less income than they did just a few months ago.

Ottawa changed the rules about four years ago to tilt the playing field in favour of locking in your mortgage. When you lock in your mortgage for a term of five years or longer, you are able to use the rate on your contract for determining how much you can borrow. Go variable and you must use qualifying rate which is still almost 50% higher.

“There has been talk of changing it, speculation that the [Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions] will mandate the banks use the qualifying rate for five years terms and longer,” said Mr. McLister, noting nothing has happened yet.