Saturday, August 16, 2008

Canadians oppose new, tougher mortgage

Nearly one-quarter of Canadians do not agree with the federal government's mortgage lending crackdown, a proportion that rises to nearly a third among non-homeowners, survey results done for a mortgage lending firm suggest.

And only 45 per cent agree with the tighter mortgage lending rules and that the federal government needs to protect Canadian homeowners, a level of support for the changes that falls even further to just one-quarter among non-homeowners, according to the online survey conducted by pollster Angus Reid for ResMor Trust Co.

In an effort to avoid a U.S.-style housing market meltdown, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last month tightened up the rules governing mortgage lending practices in Canada, including limiting the amortization period for government insured mortgages to 35 years from 40 years, requiring a minimum down payment of five per cent for such mortgages, virtually eliminating zero-down mortgages, and requiring that anybody with an insured mortgage have a minimum credit score.

Those who disagree with the measures said they reduce options for people wanting to buy a home.

However, the results also indicate that 17 per cent do not understand the changes, including 25 per cent of non-homeowners.

Further, the findings suggest that the higher the level of understanding, the lower the level of opposition to the new rules.

"I was surprised that 23 per cent do not agree with the measures," Darren Thompson, vice-president of lending for ResMor Trust, said in an interview.

"This survey clearly demonstrates a need for industry professionals to educate Canadians about the new measures, specifically those entering the market for the first time," he said, adding that's something that the federally licensed trust company is doing.

"The measures are not seriously impacting the ability of consumers to get a mortgage," he said, citing as an example an industry finding that more than half of those who took out 40-year mortgages would have qualified for a 25-year mortgage. "It was just enabling them to get a lower monthly payment but at a much greater interest cost."

Thompson also disagreed with critics of the measures who have warned that the tighter rules will put an added chill on an already cooling housing market.

"There's still lots of financing out there," he said, adding that the measures protect the Canadian taxpayer from having to foot a large bailout if the market goes south as it has in the U.S.

The survey, meanwhile, also revealed a regional divide in the level of support for the tighter rules and the level of understanding of the rules.

Agreement with the new rules in the heated housing markets of the Western provinces and in Ontario is significantly higher than in the Eastern provinces and Quebec, the report said, noting support for the crackdown was 64 per cent in British Columbia, 56 per cent in Alberta, 47 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, 46 per cent in Ontario, but only 35 per cent in the Atlantic provinces and 34 per cent in Quebec.

The proportion indicating a lack of understanding of the new rules was highest in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, at 23 per cent in both markets, and lowest in British Columbia at only seven per cent, followed by 13 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 18 per cent in Alberta, and 16 per cent in Ontario.

The online survey of at least 1,000 adults conducted last month following the release of the new rules is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out 20.

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