Starting in April, the government will change the rules that cover mortgage lending in a way that should, in the short term at least, make it easier to qualify for a loan to buy a home.
The Department of Finance says that as of April 6, the so-called “stress test” for mortgages will be calculated in a new way.
The stress test was implemented in January 2018 as a way to let some of the speculation out of the housing market at the time. It does so by making sure borrowers will be able to pay down their debts even if rates move higher. A would-be borrower is tested against his or her ability to pay down the loan at a higher interest rate, and if the borrower fails the test, a lender isn’t allowed to loan them money.
The rules had the effect of cooling the market, especially for first time buyers, which brought down prices in many markets because it shrank the pool of buyers.
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At the time it was brought in, the benchmark was set at whatever the five-year posted rate at Canada’s big banks is, which is currently at 5.19 per cent. But under new rules announced on Tuesday and set to be implemented in April, the new bar will be “the weekly median five-year fixed insured mortgage rate from mortgage insurance applications, plus two per cent.”
“This will ensure that people only take on mortgages that are appropriate for the situation, but it does mean the changes in the stress test will be there if the average … rates provided by the banks actually goes down or up,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said of the changes. “It will actually adjust appropriately to dynamic market conditions.”
The change tinkers with one of the major criticisms of the stress test in the first place, which was that the bar was set arbitrarily high. And non-bank lenders don’t like that the stress test rules give the big banks even more control over the market than they already had. Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Dominion Lending Centres, says the banks would always drag their feet in changing their posted rates, no matter what was happening in the market, “because it’s the rate they use in calculating the penalty for breaking a mortgage,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “This takes the big banks out of it.”