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Renewing and refinancing mortgages is saving Canadians big bucks

Getty Images/Thinkstock

Getty Images/Thinkstock

Andrew Barr/National Post

Canadians saved $2.7-billion in the past year renewing or refinancing their mortgages and the betting money among consumers seems to be that interest rates are not going up any time soon, according to a new survey.

The Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals says 37% of Canadians opted for a variable rate mortgage in the last year, pushing up the overall percentage of Canadians floating with prime — and vulnerable to Bank of Canada rate hikes — to 31%.

But the group maintains Canadians are not overexposed to a potential rising rate environment with the survey finding 84% say they could handle a rate increase that boosted their mortgage payments by $200 per month. The average amount of room Canadians say they could afford on top of their current costs is $750 per month.

“Overall, our survey paints a picture of Canadians generally and homeowners in particular as very focused on their finances,” said Jim Murphy, president of CAAMP. “They are planning ahead, aggressively paying down their mortgage in advance of any economic jolt.”

Government policy that cracked down on refinancing rules may also be having an effect on the market. Earlier this year Ottawa tweaked the rules on refinancing, restricting consumers to 85% debt on the value of their home, down from 90%.

CAAMP said Canadians have become conservative about taking equity out of their home with 10% of mortgage holders doing so in the last year, a drop from 40% a year earlier.

“There is no need for policy makers to introduce new measures that would reduce housing activity,” said Mr. Murphy, his comments clearly aimed at suggestions the market needs even more governance and tighter measures such as increased minimum downpayments.

It’s clear Canadians are enjoying the low interest rate environment that CAAMP says lowered the average mortgage rate to 3.92% from 4.22%. The effect is that among the 1.35 million mortgage borrowers who renewed or refinanced in the past year, the savings was $2.7-billion.

“Some people are coming out of 5% plus mortgages and saving a lot of money,” says Rob McLister, editor of Canadian Mortgage Trends. Someone with a $500,000 mortgage going from 5% to 3.29% with 20-year amortization could save almost $40,000 in interest over a five-year term, he says.

Mr. McLister is seeing a growing line of people looking to break a mortgage and willing to pay the interest penalty.

CAAMP said 32% of Canadians reported making some sort of change to their mortgage in the past year with almost two-thirds of those people saying they were refinancing or renewing their mortgages. Among those who renewed, 78% got a rate reduction.

 

Canadians who are looking for that better rate appear ready to shop around with 21% of respondents who renewed or refinanced their mortgages in the last year saying they switched lenders.

Mortgage rates continue to be at or near all-time lows with a flatter yield curve reducing the steep discount on variable rates and making locking in more attractive. The website ratesupermarket.ca says the best variable rate product on the market now is 2.48% while a five-year fixed rate closed mortgage is now as low as 3.19%.

“What you are facing is whether you lock in today and know what my rate will be for the next five years or go variable and gamble,” says Mr. McLister. “There is risk there.”

Sal Guatieri, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, said the savings are positive because it is putting extra money in the pockets of Canadians. “I almost expect more people to jump into variable given the long-term interest rate environment looks so benign,” says Mr. Guatieri.

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