31 Jul

Economic Insights from Dr. Sherry Cooper


Posted by: Mike Hattim

The Bank of Canada remains staunch in its battle against inflation, utilizing its primary weapon—the overnight policy rate—which has escalated from 25 basis points to 500 bps since March 2022.

This historically low overnight rate was a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing measures to cushion the economic impact of the lockdowns. These initiatives included reducing the policy rate from 1.75% to 0.25%, postponing mortgage payments, providing financial support to businesses for workforce maintenance, and compensating individuals for home quarantine. These measures, amongst others, reignited the economy upon the widespread availability of the vaccine.

The Canadian economy bounced back robustly once commercial activities resumed. Employment rates rocketed, and unemployment plummeted to all-time lows. However, the recovery faced a setback when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2021, which caused supply constraints, and substantially increased energy and food. Despite the soaring inflation, central banks were initially hesitant to take action.

In hindsight, we now know the necessity for initiating interest rate hikes by mid-2021. Instead, this action was postponed until March 2022.

Furthermore, the Bank of Canada and other significant central banks inundated the financial system with surplus liquidity by purchasing government bonds. This quantitative easing tactic made capital not only more affordable but also readily available, sparking an unprecedented boom in the housing market.

Many exploited the record-low rates of 2020 and 2021 by opting for variable-rate loans due to their lower costs. At its zenith, variable-rate mortgages (VRMs) accounted for 57% of all loan originations. These loans are due for renewal in 2025 and 2026. However, most of these loans have reached their trigger points and are negatively amortizing, barring substantial lump-sum payments by borrowers.

For those who chose adjustable-rate loans, monthly payments increased with every Bank of Canada rate hike. Delinquency rates, for the time being, remain impressively low within the prime space, though they are beginning to rise among alternative lenders.

After reaching a zenith of 8.1% in June 2022, inflation has slowed to 2.8% in June of this year. Regardless, the Bank of Canada continued its trend of interest rate hikes following a brief hiatus in its last two meetings, with speculation of another hike in September. The Bank has provided a buffer period for itself by projecting a return to the 2% target inflation rate by mid-2025—a considerably more extended period than initially anticipated.

The recent rate hikes and moderated expectations appear prudent considering the Bank’s preference for mitigating inflation over preventing a recession. It is improbable that the Bank of Canada will reduce interest rates this year.

Although the policy rate is projected to decrease in the first half of 2024, it is not expected to return to the pre-COVID level of 1.75%. Negative real interest rates (the actual market rate minus the 2% inflation rate) are unlikely to occur, barring a global economic meltdown.

31 Jul

Best Summer BBQ Tips


Posted by: Mike Hattim

It’s the season of outdoor parties and a summer BBQ is the perfect way to enjoy time with friends and family!

For some tips on how to make this year’s get-together your best one yet, check out my list below:

  1. Set the Mood: String up fairy lights, plug in a radio with some of your favourite tunes in the background, put out a lawn rug, and throw a fresh tablecloth over your outdoor dining area. A few quick items can really spruce up the yard and make it feel ready for guests!
  2. Don’t Forget to Play! If you’re hosting an adult-only BBQ, setting up a table for a card game or getting out your cornhole boards can be a great way to pass the time and get in some laughs. If you have children in attendance, consider setting up a lemonade stand or fill some water balloons for an extra splash!
  3. Choose Your Mains: It can be easy to get carried away grilling steaks, fish, chicken, hot dogs, burgers – you name it! For a more successful party, choose two options. Maybe you go with hot dogs and veggie burgers, or perhaps fish and chicken. Choose items that cook well on the BBQ together and suit the tone of your get-together.
  4. Have Drinks on Hand: Set up a table with pitchers of fun summer drink concoctions (alcohol optional!) or consider filling a kiddie pool or wheelbarrow with ice to keep those beers chilled all afternoon.
  5. Put Out Snacks: This may seem like a no-brainer, but having a table filled with fun ‘grazing’ snacks can help stave off any stress about perfectly grilling your meals! Try a veggie and dip tray, fruit shish kabobs, or a charcuterie board of cured meats and cheeses.
31 Jul

Converting Your Basement to an Income Suite


Posted by: Mike Hattim

With the current interest rates and economic scenarios, many Canadians may be looking for ways to bring in some extra cash. One option for this is to put your home equity to work and consider renovating your basement into a legal income suite!

You can do this by using a secured credit line (home equity line of credit or HELOC) to help fund the upfront cash to make changes to your home.

A few things to consider before you invest in renovating to create an income suite include:

Zoning: Before looking into doing anything with an income suite, always double-check if you are zoned accordingly for a smooth renovation. If your zoning does not allow for secondary suites, see if you can rezone.

Local Regulations: Depending on your location, there may be particular regulations that you need to follow or be aware of regarding your suite.

A few examples of how the regulations can differ between provinces or cities include:

  • In Coquitlam, you cannot have a suite that is more than 40% of the main house floor plan. You are also required to offer a parking spot for tenants.
  • In Kelowna, you can only have one secondary suite and the home must have an “S” designation.
  • In Calgary, updated zoning legislation has now made it easier to add income suites.
  • Toronto has also proposed reforms that will make it easier to add suites.
  • In Montréal, anyone carrying out a project involving the addition of at least 1 dwelling and a residential area of ??more than 450 m² (equivalent to approximately 5 dwellings) must enter into an agreement with the City of Montréal in order to contribute to the supply of social, affordable and family housing. It can be a new building, an extension, or the conversion of a building.

Visit the official municipal websites or consult local building departments to obtain accurate and up-to-date information on the rules and requirements in your area BEFORE getting started.

Insurance & Legal Considerations: Before adding your secondary suite, ensure that you have proper insurance coverage or the ability to add additional coverage to protect both the primary residence and suite. In addition, you will want to consult a lawyer and draw up a tenant or rental agreement for any potential tenants. Ontario has a mandatory standard lease agreement that all landlords must use.

Unit Layout and Design: If the zoning and regulations in your area allow you to build an income suite, the next steps are to look at the suite layout and dimensions. Confirm any size restrictions or minimum ceiling height requirements as you are laying out the design for the unit.

The unit should have, at minimum the following:

  • A separate parking space for the renter.
  • A separate entrance, kitchen, bathroom, and living/sleeping areas.
  • Ventilation and soundproofing measures to enhance livability.
  • Consideration of natural light.
  • Interlink smoke detectors for primary and secondary residences.
  • Separate, independently-controlled ventilation and heating system.
  • Proper drainage, sewage connections, and utility separations.
  • Outlets, circuits, and lighting that meet electrical code requirements.

Ensure that however your income suite is designed, you are hiring the appropriate building, plumbing, and electrical experts to ensure your suite is up to code and avoid any potential disasters.

Building & Trade Permits: Once you have confirmed that you are properly zoned and able to add an income suite and understand all the regulations for your area, you will want to draft your blueprints and submit a permit application, along with the fee, before you get started. For instance, in B.C. you are required to have a Building Permit for any suite to be considered legal.

IMPORTANT: Even if you are not required to have a building permit, it is important to get these permits for other aspects including insurance coverage should anything happen. Having a building permit will help protect your investment.

In addition to your building permits, you will need to get permits for any plumbing, electrical, and gas renovations prior to beginning your work.

Inspections & License: Once you have your permits and have begun construction, make sure you understand what inspections are required throughout the process and you schedule them accordingly with local authorities to ensure compliance with building codes, fire safety standards, and health regulations.

If the work meets all requirements, your suite will be approved. The last step is determining if you need a business licence. This is not required if your family (parents, children, etc.) will be living in the suite. In Vancouver, for example, if you intend to rent out your suite long-term, you DO need a license. Be sure to check any rules on this in your area.

Beyond the ability to earn extra income per month, there are a few additional government incentive programs when it comes to suites including:

  • First Nations: If you live on a First Nations reserve, you may be eligible for federal funding that will provide up to $60,000 to help you build an inexpensive secondary suite rental linked to your principal home. If you live in a northern or remote area, this amount is increased 25%. This is a 100% forgivable loan that is not required to be paid back assuming all guidelines are followed.
  • Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) – Secondary and Garden Suites: This program is open to all First Nations or individual First Nation members, particularly those who own a family home that can be converted to include a self-contained suite for a senior or adult with disability.
  • Multigenerational Home Renovation Tax Credit: A credit for a renovation that creates a secondary unit within the dwelling to be occupied by the qualifying individual or a qualifying relation. The value of the credit is 15% of the lesser of qualifying expenditures and $50,000.
  • British Columbia: Beginning in early 2024, BC homeowners will be able to access a forgivable loan of 50% of the cost of renovations, up to a maximum of $40,000 over five years, for income suites.
  • Ontario: There are multiple secondary suite programs throughout Ontario, depending on your region. These loans provide $25,000 to $50,000 in funding and are forgivable assuming continuous ownership for 15 years.

While it is important to look online and do your research. Your best resource will be visiting local authorities at the “City of” to confirm that you completely understand the considerations before moving forward with implementing an income suite.

17 Jul

Bank of Canada June Rate Hike Spooks the Housing Market


Posted by: Mike Hattim

The Canadian Real Estate Association says the BoC’s surprise rate hike in early June cooled activity following a two-month solid start to the spring housing season. Home sales posted a 1.5% gain between May and June, tepid by recent standards. Sales were up in June in a little over half of all local markets, with increases in British Columbia and Alberta offsetting fewer sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

On a year-over-year (y/y) basis, the number of transactions in June grew by 4.7%. According to Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s Senior Economist, “History suggests the price side of things will respond to this with only a slight lag. Add to that the recent Bank of Canada rate hikes, and we can probably expect price growth to be moderate in the months ahead, likely still with some degree of upward pressure, but less than in the last three months.”

The CREA cut its forecast for home sales this year as tight inventory, and the rate hikes weigh on the housing market. The CREA now estimates that sales in 2023 will be down 6.8% from a year earlier, a more dramatic slowdown than the 1.1% decline forecast in April.

“With the Bank of Canada unexpectedly ending its pause on rate hikes in June and hiking again in July, a major source of uncertainty has returned to the housing market,” the CREA said.

New Listings

The number of newly listed homes was up 5.9% month-over-month in June. Building on gains of 3.1% in April and 7.6% in May, new listings have gone from a 20-year low in March to closer to (but still below) average heading into the summer.

With new listings outperforming sales in June, the sales-to-new listings ratio eased to 63.6% compared to 66.4% in May and a recent peak of 68.3% in April. The measure remains well above the long-term average of 55.2%.

There were 3.1 months of inventory on a national basis at the end of June 2023, unchanged from the end of May and down more than an entire month from the most recent peak at the end of January. The long-term average for this measure is about five months.

Home Prices

The Aggregate Composite MLS® Home Price Index (HPI) climbed 2% month-over-month in June 2023—a significant increase for a single month on the heels of similar gains in April and May. It was again very broadly based, with a monthly price increase between May and June observed in most local markets.

The Aggregate Composite MLS® HPI now sits 4.5% below year-ago levels, the smallest decline since November 2022.

Bottom Line

Home construction in Calgary, the home to the Canadian energy industry headquarters, is booming, driven by a rush of newcomers from abroad, as well as from more expensive housing markets in the rest of Canada.

Home prices in Calgary have risen 4.2% in a year, the most significant rise among the more than 50 markets the CREA tracks. It’s the only major Canadian city to experience any increase at all. The benchmark price in the city has risen 34% in three years.

Alberta’s population was 4.7 million as of April 1, up 4.5% in 12 months, trailing only tiny Prince Edward Island for the fastest growth among Canada’s provinces. In the first quarter, Alberta had the largest net interprovincial gain — almost 15,800 people — of the country’s provinces and territories. International migration contributed to nearly 36,000 new residents.

Unlike previous surges in Alberta’s population driven by the oil industry’s demand for labour, this boom is happening during a relatively tame period for the province’s most important industry.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
13 Jul

Interest Rates Will Stay Higher For Longer


Posted by: Mike Hattim

The Bank of Canada increased the overnight policy rate by 25 basis points this morning to 5.0%, its highest level since March 2001. Never before has a policy action been so widely expected. Still, the Bank’s detailed outlook in the July Monetary Policy Report (MPR) suggests stronger growth and a longer trajectory to reach the 2% inflation target. The Bank of Canada believes the economy is still in excess demand and that growth will continue stronger than expected, supported by tight labour markets, the high level of accumulated household savings, and rapid population growth. “Newcomers to Canada are entering the labour force, easing the labour shortage. But at the same time, they add to consumer spending and demand for housing.”

The Bank forecasts GDP growth to average 1.0% through the middle of next year–a soft landing in the economy. “This means the economy moves into modest excess supply in early 2024, and this should relieve price pressures. CPI inflation is forecast to remain about 3% for the next year, before declining gradually to the 2% target in the middle of 2025.” This is about six months later than the Bank expected in April. This means that high-interest rates remain higher for longer.

While Canadian inflation has fallen quickly, much of the downward momentum has come from lower energy prices and base-year effects as large price increases last year fall out of the year-over-year inflation calculation. We are still seeing large price increases in a wide range of goods and services. Our measures of core inflation—which we use to gauge underlying inflationary pressures—have come down, but not as much as we expected.

There continue to be large price increases in a wide range of goods and services. Measures of core inflation have come down, but by less than expected (see chart below). One measure of core inflation–which removes food, energy and shelter prices, remains elevated and will likely continue to be sticky.

To remove base effects, the Bank looks at three-month rates of core inflation, which have remained at 3.5% to 4.0% since September 2022, almost a percentage point above the Bank’s expectations at the beginning of this year.

In addition, labour markets remain tight. Although the jobless rate has risen to 5.4%, that is still low by historical standards. The unemployment rate was at 5.7% when the pandemic began, which was considered close to full employment at the time. Job gains have been robust, with about 290,000 net new jobs created in the first six months of 2023. Many new entrants to the labour market have been hired quickly, and wage growth has been about 4% to 5%.

The faster-than-expected pickup in housing resales, combined with a lack of supply, has pushed house prices higher than anticipated by the Bank of Canada in January (see chart below). According to the MPR, “the previously unforeseen strength in house prices is likely to persist and boost inflation by as much as 0.3 percentage points by the end of 2023, compared with the January outlook.”
Bottom Line

As always, the next steps by the Bank of Canada will be data-dependent. Interest rates will remain higher for longer if the Bank is correct that inflation will not reach its 2% target until 2025. We also cannot rule out more rate hikes in the future. This morning, the US inflation data for June were released, showing a marked decline from 4% in May to 3% in June. Markets rallied worldwide, taking Canadian bond yields down despite the BoC tightening. The hardship caused by the continued rise in mortgage rates is already evident. OSFI recently announced the possibility of higher capital requirements for federally insured financial institutions on mortgages with loan-to-value ratios above 65% that have unusually high amortizations. This proposal is now out for consultation. It seems OSFI and the federal consumer watchdog are working at cross purposes.

Dr. Sherry Cooper
6 Jul

Economic Insights from Dr. Sherry Cooper


Posted by: Mike Hattim

The biggest surprise recently has been the unexpected interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada. While the April inflation headline did tick up, and Q1 GDP data came in at a stronger-than-expected 3.2%, the April labour force data showed some easing in the jobs market.

The ratio of unemployment-to-job vacancies is now rising. Rather than signalling a rate hike before the announcement on June 7, the Bank chose to pre-empt any additional economic indicators.

Ironically, the May jobs data, released later that week, showed a rise in the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the first increase since before rate hikes began in March of last year. The Bank of Canada was particularly disturbed by the resurgence in home sales and prices in April. They argued that interest rates needed to be higher if the most interest-sensitive of all spending was rising.

That move by the central bank spooked the housing market, causing many to question their decisions to purchase. Expectations of any declines in the overnight policy rate this year vanished, and markets now expect at least one more hike this year.

Consumer spending does remain robust, as evidenced by the solid retail sales data for April. Moreover, many households have turned to credit cards to finance their spending—bolstered by inflation—and delinquency rates have risen.

Wage inflation remains strong, core inflation ticked up in April, and food inflation, though down from double-digit levels, is still far higher than a 2% inflation target would warrant.

The bank watchdog, OSFI, warned that the rising level of remaining amortizations of variable rate mortgages is a warning sign of continued risk for households that went into VRMs in droves when interest rates plunged in the first two years of the pandemic. New originations over that period were at rock-bottom rates, and variable mortgage rates were far below fixed. The situation has reversed today, and 3-to-4-year fixed mortgages dominate new mortgage originations.

Many VRM borrowers have hit their trigger points, where their monthly payments are no longer covering their interest costs—hence the negative amortizations of these loans at some Big Six Banks. OSFI is warning banks to address this immediately as renewals will mean at least a 30% rise in monthly payments if mortgage terms revert to 25- or even 30 years. OSFI has also increased the mandatory level of Tier One common equity relative to risk-weighted assets by 50 basis points. Currently, all the large Canadian banks fulfill this requirement.

Another significant milestone last month dramatically impacted the Canadian housing market. International migration to Canada spiked in 2022, taking population growth to 2.7%, the highest in the developed world and the strongest since the top of the Baby Boom in 1957. As of mid-June, Statistics Canada announced that the population is 40 million. The housing shortage is mounting, and housing starts are falling. Despite higher interest rates, demand for housing for rent or purchase has never been more robust.

While the federal government announced last year that they want to double housing construction to improve affordability over the next decade, Trudeau’s goal appears unachievable. This will continue to put upward pressure on rents and home prices over the longer term.

6 Jul

Appraisal Tips for Success


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Before banks or lending institutions can consider loaning money for a property, they need to know the current market value of that property.

The job of an appraiser is to check the general condition of your home and determine a comparable market value based on other homes in your area. This is required for any buy or sell situation.

To help make the appraisal as smooth as possible and ensure you are getting top market value, check out the tips below:

  1. Clean Up: The appraiser is basing the value of your property on how good it looks. A good rule of thumb is to treat the appraisal like an open house! Stage it as you would a home for sale, clean and declutter every room, vacuum, and scrub – even consider adding a fresh coat of paint – to ensure your home is as presentable and appealing as possible. Where applicable remove personal stigma items such as alcohol or drug paraphernalia, any controversial pictures or flags, etc.
  2. Curb Appeal: First impressions can have a huge impact when it comes to an appraisal. Spending some time ensuring the outside of your property from your driveway entrance to front step is clean and welcoming can make a world of difference. Cut grass, water plants, maybe add flowers or hanging baskets to make things feel inviting and stage the yard with some lawn furniture to make it look like its own space.
  3. Visibility: The appraiser must be able to see every room of the home, no exceptions. YES, ever singly room including outbuildings, garage, closets, basement… Refusal to allow an appraiser to see any room can cause issues and potentially kill your deal. If there are any issues with any spaces of your home, be sure to take care of them in advance to allow the appraiser full access. NOTE: If there are tenants in your home, ensure you give them appropriate amount of notice for access. YES, every single room, outbuilding, closet, garage needs access. Otherwise, the appraiser will have to return at added expense to you.
  4. Upgrades and Features: Ensuring the appraiser is aware of any upgrades and features can go a long way. Make a list and include everything from plumbing and electrical to new floors, new appliances, etc. This way they have a reference as to what has been updated and how recent or professional that work was done. Knowing the age of the roof and HVAC items like water tank is important. Also, ensure the breaker box is MIN 100amps as most lenders cannot finance a home with amps under 100; older homes from the 1930 area are generally only 60amps. The same goes for knob and tube versus breaker set-ups. Upgrading is important and will add value.
  5. Be Prudent About Upgrades: While the bathroom and kitchen are popular areas, they are not necessarily the be-all-end-all for getting a higher home value. These renovations can be quite costly so it is a good idea to be prudent about how you spend your money and instead, focus on easy changes such as new paint, new light fixtures or plumbing and updated flooring to avoid breaking the bank while still having your home look fresh. Removing clutter, adding a new coat of paint and doing a deep clean will help make these spaces shine.
  6. Know Your Neighbourhood: You already know where you live better than the appraiser. Taking a look at similar homes in your neighbourhood and noting what they sold for will give you a ballpark. If your appraisal comes in low, you will be prepared to discuss with the appraiser the examples from your area and why you believe you property is worth more. In addition, keep in mind that appraisal values are based on recent sales data; if there have been zero sales in the area recently and time allows it, hold off on getting an appraisal done until some sales have been evident to ensure you’re getting the most value.
  7. Be Polite: The appraiser is there to get in and get out so let them have the run of the house while they are there. Do not follow them around and avoid asking them too many questions or making too many comments and simply be prepared should they have questions. Once they have completed the review of your home, that is a good time to bring up any comments you might have. Remember, the actual onsite inspection usually is only 15 minutes through the house but typically, the bulk of work for appraisals is at the desk, reviewing sales and other forms of research to create the appraisal report.
  8. Know The Costs: Every appraiser charges differently. If the lender allows for ordering appraisals direct, then I can shop around and fetch you the best price.

Don’t forget to contact me if you have any questions about your existing home or mortgage, or if you are looking to sell and relocate in the future!

6 Jul

Homeowner Insurance 101


Posted by: Mike Hattim

Not all insurance products are created equal. It is important to understand all the different insurance products to ensure you have proper coverage.

Below are the main insurance product options you will encounter with homeownership, and what they mean:

Default Insurance: This insurance is mandatory for homes where the buyer puts less than 20% down. In fact, default insurance is the reason that lenders accept lower down payments, such as 5% minimum, and actually helps these buyers access comparable interest rates typically offered with larger down payments. This insurance typically requires a premium, which is based on the loan-to-value ratio (mortgage loan amount divided by the purchase price). This premium can be paid in a single lump sum, or it can be added to your mortgage and included in your monthly payments.

Home (Property & Fire) Insurance: Next, we have another mandatory insurance option, property and fire coverage (or, home insurance, as most people know it by). This MUST be in place before you close the mortgage! It is especially important to note that not all homes or properties are insurable, so you will want to review this sooner rather than later. Keep in mind, with this coverage you may not have protection in the event of a flood or earthquake. You may need to purchase additional coverage to be protected from a natural disaster, depending on your location.

Title Insurance: When it comes to lenders, this insurance is mandatory with every single lender in Canada requiring you to purchase title insurance on their behalf. In addition, you have the option of purchasing this for yourself as a homeowner. The benefit of title insurance is that it can protect you from existing liens on the property’s title, but the most common benefit is protection against title fraud. Title fraud typically involves someone using stolen personal information, or forged documents to transfer your home’s title to him or herself – without your knowledge. Similar to default insurance, title insurance is charged as a one-time fee or a premium with the cost based on the value of your property.

Strata Insurance: When it comes to a stratum, their insurance covers the building itself – meaning in the event of an incident (fire, flood, etc.) the building can be re-established. This however only covers common areas; it does not cover the contents of YOUR particular unit, which requires a homeowner’s insurance policy. Personal insurance can also help with the strata deductible. For example, in the event of a flood that originates from a unit, it will require fixes to the unit itself (under your personal policy) plus the building (covered by the strata policy). Depending on the type of claim or damage, owners are often relocated to a hotel while the unit is being repaired and the personal insurance would also cover being displaced.

To ensure that you remain up-to-date with your strata insurance policies, it is vital that homeowners living within a stratum to check with management for a copy of the most recent insurance policy. Always take your strata and individual policy to an insurance agent to ensure you are aware of your coverage and that your individual homeowner’s policy is working in your favor. Investment property owners especially need to check their existing deductible against the updated deductible and insurance policies to avoid any future issues.

Mortgage Protection Plan: This coverage is optional, but any mortgage professional will tell you is extremely important. The purpose of the mortgage protection plan is to protect you, and your family, should something happen. It acts as a disability and a life insurance policy in regards to your mortgage. Typically, when you get approval for a mortgage, it is based on family income. If one of the partners in the mortgage is no longer able to contribute due to disability or death, a mortgage protection plan gives you protection for your mortgage payments.

If you have any questions about mortgage insurance or what are the best options for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me! I would be happy to take a look at your existing plan and discuss your needs to help you find the perfect coverage to suit you and your family.