Lowest Mortgage Rates in History: What It Means for Homeowners and Buyers

The interest rate on Canada’s most popular mortgage, the five-year fixed rate, has fallen to its lowest level in history. In early June, HSBC made headlines when it began offering Canadians a five-year fixed-rate mortgage below 2%. Multiple brokers followed suit, and some are now advertising even lower rates.[1] And while many Canadians have rushed to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, others question the hype. Are today’s mortgage rates really a bargain?

While discounted five-year fixed mortgage rates have hovered between 2% and 4% for the past decade, they haven’t always been so low.[2] For a period of 18 years, from 1973 to 1991, the posted five-year mortgage rate never fell below 10%. At the time, the Bank of Canada was hiking interest rates to try to stem a rising tide of inflation. It’s hard to imagine now, but the five-year fixed rate peaked at over 21% in 1981.[3] Fortunately for home buyers, inflation began to normalize soon after, sending mortgage rates on a downward trajectory that has helped make homeownership more affordable for millions of Canadians.

So what’s causing today’s five-year fixed rates to sink to unprecedented lows? Economic uncertainty.

Fixed mortgage rates move in sync with the yield offered on government-backed bonds.[4] As the coronavirus pandemic continues to dampen the economy and inject volatility into the stock market, a growing number of investors are shifting their money into low-risk bonds. This increased demand has driven bond yields—and mortgage rates—down.[1]

Quantitative easing measures taken by the Bank of Canada are also helping to bring down mortgage rates. The federal bank dropped its overnight lending rate to .25%, and it continues to inject billions of dollars into the economy, giving financial institutions the confidence and ability to continue lending.[1]

No one can say with certainty how low mortgage rates will fall or when they will rise again. But the Bank of Canada has signalled its commitment to keeping the policy rate at its effective lower bound of .25% for the foreseeable future, and many economists expect it to remain there through 2022.[4]

 

The real estate technology firm Mortgage Sandbox compiled forecast data from Bank of Montreal, Central 1, Desjardins, National Bank, Royal Bank, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. According to their analysis, the consensus was that the fixed 5-year mortgage rate will rise modestly over the next two years, averaging between 2.3% and 2.88%.[5]

 

While forecasts may differ, many experts agree: Those who wait to take advantage of these unprecedented rates could miss out on the deal of a lifetime. Positive news about a vaccine or a faster-than-expected economic recovery could send rates back up to pre-pandemic levels.

No one can say with certainty how low mortgage rates will fall or when they will rise again. But the Bank of Canada has signalled its commitment to keeping the policy rate at its effective lower bound of .25% for the foreseeable future, and many economists expect it to remain there through 2022.[4]

 

The real estate technology firm Mortgage Sandbox compiled forecast data from Bank of Montreal, Central 1, Desjardins, National Bank, Royal Bank, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. According to their analysis, the consensus was that the fixed 5-year mortgage rate will rise modestly over the next two years, averaging between 2.3% and 2.88%.[5]

 

While forecasts may differ, many experts agree: Those who wait to take advantage of these unprecedented rates could miss out on the deal of a lifetime. Positive news about a vaccine or a faster-than-expected economic recovery could send rates back up to pre-pandemic levels.

Of course, you’ll need to factor in prepayment penalties and any fees associated with your new mortgage. In some cases, these can cost as much as 4% of the mortgage amount.[6] You can use an online refinance calculator to estimate your potential savings, or we’d be happy to connect you with a mortgage professional in our network who can help you decide if refinancing is a good option for you.

We’ve already shown how low rates can save you money on your mortgage payments. But if you can meet the mortgage stress-test requirements,* they can also give a boost to your budget by increasing your purchasing power.

 

For example, imagine you have a budget of $1,500 to put toward your monthly mortgage payment. If you take out a 5-year fixed-rate mortgage at 4.0% amortized over 25 years, you can afford a loan of $285,000.

 

Now let’s assume the mortgage rate falls to 3.0%. At that rate, you can afford to borrow $317,000 while still keeping the same $1,500 monthly payment. That’s a budget increase of $32,000!

 

If the rate falls even further to 2.0%, you can afford to borrow $354,000 and still pay the same $1,500 each month. That’s $69,000 over your original budget! All because the interest rate fell by two percentage points. If you’ve been priced out of the market before, today’s low rates may put you in a better position to afford your dream home.

 

On the other hand, rising mortgages rates will erode your purchasing power. Wait to buy, and you may have to settle for a smaller home in a less-desirable neighbourhood. So if you’re planning to move, don’t miss out on the phenomenal discount you can get with today’s historically-low rates.

 

(*This scenario assumes you can meet the current mortgage stress-test requirements.)

HOW CAN I SECURE THE BEST AVAILABLE MORTGAGE RATE?

 

The best mortgage rates are typically reserved for only highly-qualified borrowers. So what steps can you take to secure the lowest possible rate?

 

  1. Consider a Variable-Rate Mortgage

If you’re looking for the lowest rate possible, and you don’t mind the added risk, a five-year variable mortgage may be right for you. Even though the prime rate has held steady at 2.45% since April 10, lenders are gradually increasing their discount rates.[1] And interest rates are expected to remain low at least through next year.

 

  1. Opt for a Closed Mortgage

Closed mortgages usually come with hefty penalties if you opt to prepay or refinance your mortgage before the term ends. However, they offer lower interest rates than convertible or open mortgages. It’s important to note that not all closed mortgages are created equal. Before you commit, make sure you understand exactly how much you’ll be expected to pay should you need to break your mortgage mid-term.

 

  1. Give Your Credit Score a Boost
    You may have heard that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has raised its minimum credit score requirement from 600 to 680. And while there are plenty of banks willing to lend to borrowers with a lower score, their best rates go to those with excellent credit. Unfortunately, there’s no fast fix for bad credit, but you can take steps to give your score a boost before you apply for a loan[7]:
  • Dispute inaccuracies on your credit report.
  • Pay off debt, or spread it across multiple credit facilities.
  • Charge small amounts and then quickly pay off any dormant credit cards.
  • To lower your utilization rate, pay your credit card bill before the statement date.

 

  1. Make a Large Down Payment

You may be surprised to learn that the lowest advertised rates often go to insured borrowers who put down less than 20%. That’s because these “high-ratio borrowers” must pay for mortgage default insurance, which protects the lender from any financial loss. So while “conventional borrowers” who make a down payment of 20% may be charged a slightly higher interest rate, their total borrowing costs are lower because they don’t have to pay for mortgage default insurance.[8] A down payment larger than 20% can bring down borrowing costs even further.

 

  1. Shop Around

Rates, terms, and fees can vary widely amongst lenders, so do your homework. If you’re renewing an existing mortgage, start with your current lender. Then contact several others to find out which one is willing to offer you the best overall deal. But be sure to complete the process within 45 days—or else the credit inquiries by multiple mortgage companies could have a negative impact on your credit score.[9]

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Most of us would have expected the housing market to suffer from circumstances like a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic and historic inventory shortages. But, rather than a slowdown, we are continuing to experience a surprisingly robust real estate market across the country.

 

Market conditions like fewer available listings, changing criteria for desired homes, and record-low mortgage rates are changing the way people buy and sell homes, most likely in a lasting way. But this sustained activity, even in the uncertainty that is 2020, proves that our country still views real estate as a sound investment.

 

The only question now is how you can take advantage of the housing market’s “new normal.”

Inventory (e.g., number of homes for sale) is at a record low across the country. According to statistics from RBC Economics, the majority of Canada is experiencing tighter demand versus supply than the country has seen in nearly two decades.[1] At the end of September, there was just 2.6 months of inventory on a national basis. That restricts supply, which increases prices if demand remains unchanged.[2]

Fewer listings creates a housing market that is advantageous for sellers for several reasons. For one, buyers have to act fast to snap up available homes. Listings now spend about 26 days on the market.[3]

And thanks to tough competition for homes (often resulting in bidding wars between buyers), sellers are enjoying higher net returns on their listings. The average home price in September rose to a record $604,000, which translates to 17.5% more than just a year ago.[4] 

People used to base their next home purchase on commute times and school districts. Now, thanks to the pandemic shifting the locus of jobs and work, they are free to consider how and where they truly want to live. The search for these criteria is driving residents out of densely populated metropolitan areas and into the suburbs, which opens more inventory possibilities than buyers could consider pre-pandemic.[5]

Now that the average five-year fixed rate is hovering around 1.99%, buyers are afforded more purchasing power. Consider this example. If a buyer can afford a $500,000 home by putting $120,000 down (25%), the monthly payment on a standard 25-year mortgage would be $2,210. Conversely, with a lower rate (say, 2.8%) that buyer can now afford a $600,000—$100,000 more purchasing power—at a cost of only $12 additional per month.[6]

Despite the seemingly adverse buyer conditions, 2020 experienced a record-breaking number of home sales, CREA reports. Existing-home sales jumped 46.5% in September. With an additional 20,000 transactions logged, it was the busiest September thus far![7]

All of the aforementioned factors indicate that the housing market is poised to remain strong as we head into the new year. And experts estimate that these conditions are likely to last well into the new year.[8]

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