An exciting year in review on the housing front

Well, again, it’s been quite a year in the mortgage industry.

The year started off like most others, hastily preparing oneself for an after holiday home buying spree. For some reason, the first week of the year seems slammed with phone calls, from clients wanting to renew their mortgage strategies, to those plump with Christmas cash wanting to buy homes.

At the end of January, which is budget time for our government, we heard our Finance Minister Jim Flaherty say loud and clear, “There currently is no need for new mortgage rules, we are moving along as status-quo”, and then the mortgage world sighed in relief.

With our world excitedly in status-quo mode, consumers eager with a strong economy bought their new residences seemingly in droves. The spring market seemed to be back to pre-2008 levels and perhaps one can actually forecast the year to be like a ‘normal’ year. Whereas, spring and early summer are busy, then a small autumn breeze as those dreaming of a white Christmas in new home come to fruition.

Whoops scratch that! I almost forgot that the world economy is still ‘on the brink’, but Canadians, according to our government, are feeling a little too brisk and confident.

With a strong first quarter and a second quarter, building up to be just as strong in the second quarter, the government with its pulse on the market decided that we Canadians do in fact need to be further controlled as we just don’t know what we are doing. So in June, timed perfectly for the annual Canadian migration to cottage (cabin for us Albertans) country, lil ol’ Jim Flaherty thought that we needed more government mortgage rules to keep us in line. Out with the 30-year amortizations, no more refinancing your house up to 85% (you are going to have to sell your house to get access to your 20% equity, then buy a new one with only 5% down payment), lines of credit only up to 65% of the value of your home (unless you are provincially regulated, Servus and ATB can still go to 80% in Alberta), oh yes and hidden behind the scenes – more stringent guidelines for underwriters to adhere to.

One feels sorry for those buying at that time as it seems the government scares their CMHC underwriters that the world is ending (if you are reading this that was supposed to be five days ago) and that only the most amazing of applicants will buy.

Ahhh, based on our timeline for this column it’s now summer. Flaherty and his underlings ‘in the know’, are on holidays until September leaving Canadians whirling if they can buy, questioning themselves if they qualify and wondering what the heck is actually going on. How does this all work now?

Not surprisingly, July which is normally a busy month in real estate, was quite sombre around the country. But it was difficult to tell as there are a lot of golf tournaments to attend so it feels like it was busy, until you looked at your deals at the end of the month, and then you remember, “Flaherty!!”

With the mass confusion in the market, that the government created, it seemed to clear itself by mid-August and the phones heated up again. Since the government stiffened the rules again, mortgage volume was down, thus creating a new low in interest rates as lenders fight over who’s going to have the best interest rate to create market volume.

Five year fixed interest rates (quoting them because 75% of Canadians have one) went from 3.19-3.49% down to as low as 2.95% after mortgage volume plummeted in the summer months, and because we’ve found new lows lenders are amazingly still this low today.

Well the fall months in the mortgage industry were about as interesting as watching an episode of Dragon’s Den – there’s a lot of crap out there trying to be sold, but only one or two are going to make the list.

Even though we are going to see interest rates this low for the foreseeable future, we are losing one of our best economists (no not Stephen Harper), Mark Carney, he’s headed to London, because their economy looks like Conan the Barbarian is still wreaking havoc on them. I wish him well.

Onward to 2013.

Jean-Guy Turcotte is an Accredited Mortgage Professional with Dominion Lending Centres-Regional Mortgage Group.