Monday, October 25, 2010

“Interest”-ing times ahead...

There was a change in the Canadian mortgage industry last week. It was a quiet one, at least from a consumer standpoint, but I believe it will have a big impact down the road. The change, in a nutshell, is that TD Canada Trust has changed the way they register mortgages.

Up until October 18, TD registered their charges the same way other institutions did using a “conventional charge” for the amount of your mortgage. Registering your mortgage is something that you pay your real estate lawyer to do. Under TD’s new process, they are using what is called a collateral charge that is registered at up to 125% of the value of your home. The reason behind the change, according to TD, is to give homeowners easier, cheaper access to the equity built up in their homes.

It is very important to understand that this change does not mean borrowers can access 125% of the value of their homes. The same policies remain in effect, that limit all borrowers to a maximum of 95% LTV for a purchase and 90% LTV for a refinance. What it does mean, is as the value of a borrower’s home increases, if they refinance their mortgage, it will not have to be re-registered, avoiding legal fees. In the case of a refinance, clients will still have to adhere to the 90% maximum LTV policy and re-qualify for the desired amount. For example, somebody buying a house for $300,000 can borrow up to $285,000 (95% LTV) and the collateral charge would be registered for $375,000. If after 3 years, the property value has gone up to $400,000, the borrowers would be able to refinance their mortgage up to $360,000 (90% LTV) and not have to incur legal charges, provided the borrower qualifies.

The ONLY benefit I see for consumers is that they are able to avoid some legal fees, which would make just about anybody happy unless of course you’re a real estate lawyer. The drawback however, is far greater in my opinion and that is a lack of choice. What I mean by this, is there is some limitation at the time of that refinance or a renewal at the end of a term, if a client wants to switch to another lender. You see, other lenders will not accept a TD collateral charge on assignment (if you switch lenders at renewal or mid-term for a better rate), therefore switching lenders either at renewal or refinance will mean incurring legal fees. So, if you’ve got a TD collateral charge mortgage and want to refinance or have a renewal coming up, your choices are to stay with TD or pay legal fees to switch lenders.

The prohibitive aspect I can already see is the way in which it will be positioned. Upfront, I can hear clients being told that registering to 125% means “easier access to equity”. It doesn’t. The property still has to have increased in value and clients still have to qualify for the amount requested, no different than if your mortgage is not a collateral charge. The ONLY difference is that IF you refinance you avoid legal fees...but you also pay whatever rate TD is charging, no opportunity to shop for a better rate. At refinance or renewal, I can hear clients being warned about the fees. As it is, I hear it all the time when clients say their bank told them they would have to pay a “big fee” to do this or a “big fee” to do that without ever quantifying what the fee is or fully analyzing the options. I would fully expect that clients will be told they will incur a “big fee” to go to another lender. In reality, legal fees on average for a refinance are $600-$1000. I’ve even had a client whose lawyer charges $400 for a refinance. That’s the “big fee” you’ll be made to feel scared of. I’m not saying $400 or $600 or $1000 isn’t a lot of money. It is, but it may not be as much as the added interest you end up paying. The real downside for people who aren’t fully aware of their options and are successfully scared of the “big fee” is they will end up paying whatever rate TD is charging, without shopping the market. This is where analyzing your options comes into play. If TD’s 5-year fixed rate is 3.89% but you can get 3.59% at a different lender, it may be worth paying the legal fees to switch lenders. It may not, but at least doing the analysis will help you make an informed decision, rather than being scared of the “big fee” and paying whatever rate is being charged. Either do it yourself or have a professional do it for you, preferably someone without bias as to which lender your mortgage is with.

As always, my opinion is that education is paramount. Understand the conditions of your mortgage and what it is you’re signing. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. If you still don’t understand, ask again or ask somebody else. If you feel you’re not getting straight answers, you’re not talking to the right person. And for the love of God, don’t listen to things like “big fees” or “lots of interest” without getting it quantified.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Beyond Mortgage Rates

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that comparing mortgage rates will guarantee you get the best bang for your mortgage buck, especially when rates are at historic lows. While this may be true for particular situations, there are many scenarios where this strategy is not effective. Following are three reasons why it doesn’t always pay to make a decision based solely on rates.

Reason #1
Your long-term plan and risk tolerance should determine which mortgage product is right for you. This product may or may not have the lowest rate.

For instance, there are cases where lenders will offer lower rates for insured mortgages. With insured mortgages, however, you’re charged an insurance premium, which is usually added to the mortgage amount. But if you’re not planning on keeping the property for a long enough time to offset that cost, it may be better to take an uninsured mortgage with a slightly higher rate. The cost difference you will pay with the higher interest rate may still be less than what you may pay in insurance premiums.

As another example, if you prefer to budget for a consistent payment and can’t handle rate fluctuations, it may be better to go with a higher fixed-rate mortgage. If you think current rates are low enough and you will be living in your property for at least five years, it may be wise to also opt for a mortgage with a longer term.

Reason #2
One of the biggest mistakes people make when merely comparing mortgage rates is failing to consider important factors such as prepayment options to help pay off the mortgage faster, whether secondary financing options are allowed, early payout penalties, or what fees are involved.

It’s not enough to simply compare mortgage rates because you have to know what “clauses” are contained within the mortgage deal. There are also a lot of bait and switches out there where rates will be advertised but the fine print details all the potential reasons you may not get that rate. When looking at rates, make sure you ask what rate “you” will get, instead of what the best rate is…they may not be the same.

Reason #3
Lenders can change their rates at any time. As such, if you’re shopping for rates with one lender and then approach another that gives you a lower rate, it’s quite possible that the first lender has also dropped its rates. This is why it’s important to get pre-approved with a lender once you a mortgage that fits your needs. In some cases, you can secure your rate and conditions for up to 120 days.

These are just three reasons why it’s not enough to merely compare mortgage rates. The mortgage rate you may qualify for is also highly dependent on your credit score among other things. In order to get the best mortgage deals, you need to have solid credit.

It’s prudent for everyone to do their rate homework. The better informed you are, the more likely you will make a good decision. Just ensure it’s the whole product and it’s features that are best suited to you and not just the rate.