New controversial mortgage stress test

The biggest news in real estate this past month is no doubt the controversial mortgage stress test.

It will be aimed at people with heavier debt loads and at least 20% equity. Given where Canada’s home prices and debt levels are, this is easily the most potent mortgage rule change of all time.

It’s like a two-point rate hike: Uninsured borrowers can qualify for a mortgage today at five-year fixed rates as low as 2.97%. At the beginning of next year, that hurdle will soar to almost 5%. Meaning, you could need upward of 20% more income to qualify for the same mortgage that you could get today.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) said this change will make sure people can afford much higher rates and it will substantially increase the quality of borrowers at Canada’s banks. OSFI argues that this will insulate our banking system from economic shocks.

In a Globe and Mail article, critics say this new mortgage stress test will push borrowers to riskier lenders, click here to read the article.

Many questions were raised:

  • Whether this was all necessary, given already slowing home prices, provincial rule tightening, rising rates and the fact that uninsured default rates are considerably lower than for people with less than 20% equity.
  • Does growing debt risk in the non-prime mortgage market, combined with home price risk and a potential drop in employment and consumer spending truly lower banks’ risk?

Industry economists like Will Dunning said scores of borrowers will be forced to defer buying, pay higher rates, find a co-borrower and/or put more money down to qualify for a mortgage. Click here to see the video.

OSFI says its responsibility is to keep banks safe and sound. Overly concerning itself with the side effects of its mortgage stress test is not its mandate.