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Commentary: Supply not the main factor in Toronto’s housing woes

Commentary: Supply not the main factor in Toronto’s housing woes

While various quarters have cited supply scarcity as a central driver in Toronto’s long-running housing affordability issues, latest census data actually belies that notion, according to a Bloomberg analyst duo.

In their latest piece, markets observers Erik Hertzberg and Theophilos Argitis argued that “the most important question remains the extent to which speculation is driving demand.”

“Ideally, fundamentals such as demographics and employment are at play, and the price gains reflect natural household growth getting ahead of supply. If that’s true, the market should eventually stabilize once new supply kicks in,” Hertzberg and Argitis wrote. “A situation where speculators are bidding up prices would be much more problematic.”

“Canada’s 2016 census, which the statistics agency is releasing piecemeal this year, is providing some insight into the debate. The results: supply may not be the big problem many people thought it was.”

The data revealed that between 2011 and 2016, the total number of Toronto households increased by 146,200 (up to 2.14 million). To compare, the number of newly completed homes stood at 175,825 projects.

“In other words, supply of new houses exceeded real household demand by almost 30,000 over those five years,” the duo stated. “That throws cold water on the argument — voiced particularly by the industry — that the city’s affordability crisis won’t be resolved unless the government introduces measures to help increase supply.”

More importantly, Toronto is rapidly running out of buildable space, “evident in census data that show its population density has surpassed 1,000 people per square kilometre for the first time ever, another factor that should continue supporting prices for detached homes.”

Source: Mortgage Broker News – by Ephraim Vecina15 Aug 2017

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Indebted seniors among Canada’s most at-risk sectors

Indebted seniors among Canada’s most at-risk sectors

 

Indebtedness among Canada’s elderly population is on the rise, according to academics and financial experts at an international conference at Ottawa’s Carleton University last week.

Contributing to this trend—not just in Canada, but worldwide as well—are multiple pressures that include easy credit, unreliable pension plans, divorce among seniors, unmonitored spending by people with dementia, and financing the needs of younger family members.

Compounding the issue is a similar growth in the number of people in late middle age who are quitting employment or taking on even greater debt, either to care for their aging parents or to help their adult children buy their own homes.

“There is the worldwide phenomenon of older people who go into debt to help their children,” Carleton University School of Public Policy and Administration professor Saul Schwartz said, as quoted by the Ottawa Citizen.

Earlier this year, a global survey commissioned by HSBC found that 37 per cent of young Canadians who currently have their own homes used the “Bank of Mom and Dad” as a source of funding. Meanwhile, 21 per cent of millennial home owners moved back in with their parents to save for a deposit.

Schwartz, who was one of the conference’s organizers, added that Canadian seniors suffer from a lack of source that provides impartial advice.

“You can talk to your bank. But if the advice is free, it’s probably not unbiased,” he explained.

A study conducted by Equifax Canada and HomEquity Bank last year uncovered that 16.5 per cent of people aged over 55 were carrying mortgages. The average mortgage balance in this demographic swelled from $158,000 in 2013 to $176,000 in 2015.

Bankruptcy trustees Hoyes, Michalos & Associates Inc. have warned that seniors were the fastest-growing risk sector for bankruptcies.

“The share of insolvency filings for debtors aged 50 and over increased to 30 per cent in our 2015 study compared to 27 per cent in 2013,” the Ontario-based firm warned, adding that on average, debtors aged over 50 held unsecured debt of over $68,000 (over 20 per cent higher than the average debtor).

 

Source: Mortgage Broker News – by Ephraim Vecina15 Aug 2017

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Buyer who walked away from real estate deal ordered to pay $360K

 

The sellers of this rancher in Surrey's Newton neighbourhood accepted a no-subjects offer for $1,260,000 in May 2016, but after the buyer walked out on that deal it took months to sell, and they only got $910,000.

The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered a buyer who walked away from a Surrey, B.C., real estate deal last summer to pay the sellers more than $360,000, or six times his original deposit.

The ruling puts the would-be buyer on the hook for the difference between the contract he signed — for $1,260,000 — and what it eventually sold for after the homeowners failed to find another buyer to match the initial high offer.

The original deal was struck in May 2016, a month that saw record-breaking frenzy in the Vancouver-area real estate market.

The sellers, who were downsizing to a condo, accepted a no-subjects offer with a $60,000 deposit to buy their single-storey rancher in Surrey’s Newton neighbourhood, according to the court ruling.

But by the closing date, Sept. 1, 2016, the buyer walked away.

Court documents don’t say why the deal wasn’t completed, and the buyer’s lawyer won’t comment on his client’s reasons.

But that summer a key factor changed in Metro Vancouver’s real estate market: the B.C. government brought in a 15 per cent property transfer tax on foreign nationals buying real estate in the region, and the seller’s realtor blames that for the lower sale price.

Forest of for sale signs in Vanouver BC real estate

Sales cooled in the Metro Vancouver real estate market after the province introduced a 15 per cent foreign buyers’ tax on Aug. 2, 2016. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Market ‘changed significantly’

On Sept. 2, the day after the deal wasn’t done, the sellers filed a lawsuit against the would-be buyer, and soon listed their property again.

But their new agent, John Massullo, told them it wasn’t likely they’d get a price anything like the May deal, according to court records.

“The real estate market in the Lower Mainland had changed significantly since [the seller] entered into the contract with [the buyer], in particular because the B.C. government had passed the foreign buyers’ tax,” the lawyer told his client, according to Master Leslie J. Muir’s judgment.

Despite months of showings, professional photos, and several price drops, it took another five months to sell, for the much-reduced price of $910,000.

“Although this offer was less than I had expected when I listed the property for sale, the market remained soft,” said Massullo in an affidavit.

The precise impact of the foreign buyers’ tax remains unclear. Sales did slow after the tax’s introduction in August 2016, but benchmark prices never saw anything approaching the 28 per cent price drop on this property.

Nevertheless, the default judgment awards the sellers the $350,000 price difference, plus about $10,000 in carrying costs for the property over the five months, including utilities, property taxes and hot tub chemicals.

The buyer didn’t respond in time for the court to hear his side of the case, and retained his current legal counsel just days before the judgment.

He can apply to overturn the judgment, which he plans to do, his lawyer said.

“Our client is applying to set aside the default judgment, and he wants his day in court to be heard on the merits,” said Jasdeep Aujla.

Aujla declined to speak on the substance of the case before it is heard in court.

‘Difficult’ experience

The sellers’ lawyer, Andrew Morrison, says the experience has been “difficult” for his clients who are an elderly couple.

He says the husband only chose to sell the family home after his wife suffered health complications and needed more care.

They are, however, prepared to go back to court if needed.

​​Even if the the legal case is settled, Morrison says collecting a payment as large as $300,000 could drag on for years.

He hopes other buyers learn from this case that as soon as a real estate contract is signed, they are liable for the deposit regardless of whether the seller can get more or less than the agreed upon price at a later date.

If they get less, much like this case, they could be on the hook for the difference and any damages incurred.

Source: CBC.ca –  Lisa Johnson,  Posted: Aug 03, 2017 5:00 AM PT

Debt horror stories are ‘the new normal’ in Canada

On any given day now you can expect to hear at least one economist, public official or financial commentator express grave concern about the mountain of debt Canadians now carry. The bloated debt loads of Canadian households has become a pervasive topic in media. But for all the attention the subject has received, it’s a safe bet that most people still cling to very clichéd notions that only so-called “deadbeats” ever hit the debt wall. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is Canadians would be shocked if they could peer into the private financial lives of many of their closest neighbours and friends.

As a licensed insolvency trustee firm, our practice is on the front lines of Canada’s household debt binge and the bad personal finance habits that ensnare so many people. And what we see every day is that the majority of those grappling with serious debt trouble are the most typical individuals and families you could imagine.

Here is just a sample of recent files that have crossed our desks: A staff accountant with multiple lines of credit, several maxed-out credit cards, a big mortgage, a significant home-equity line of credit (HELOC) and two leased luxury cars; a TTC driver with two mortgages and $100,000 in unsecured lines of credit; a teacher with eight payday loans and a senior financial analyst at a chartered bank with seven credit cards, all carrying high balances. I could go on and on.

Those disturbing financial cases are no longer the extreme end of the spectrum that they were at one time. They are the “new normal” in our trustee practice. The real horror stories are far worse, albeit less frequent.

The normalization of excessive debt is reflected in the data that Statistics Canada regularly releases. The household debt-to-income ratio now stands at 169.4, up 23 per cent from a decade ago, and on par with what the U.S. saw at the peak of its housing bubble. Of course, such figures are averages. According to the Bank of Canada, close to half of all high-ratio mortgages originated in Toronto were to borrowers with loan-to-income ratios in excess of 450 per cent.

A growing number of the clients we see have all the trappings of a middle class lifestyle—they’re gainfully employed, own a home and from the outside seem fiscally responsible—but it’s built on a foundation of debt and bad financial decisions. Many cases involve large tax arrears, such as a real estate broker who owes $383,000 to the Canada Revenue Agency in unpaid income tax. Others involve failed businesses. Then there are the frequent cases where financial companies inexplicably lend vast sums to underemployed people, even as their debt loads balloon out of control—in one case, a senior who emigrated to Canada 15 years ago, had never worked and been on a very low disability pension since shortly after arriving, owed more than $200,000 in credit card debt.

While the causes for these horror stories are varied and obviously complicated, there is almost always a common detail: Most clients in significant debt trouble today would not be in that situations had they simply funded their lives by cashflow instead of credit.

And that may be the crux: a decade of low interest rates has fuelled habitual credit reliance by consumers. Two or three decades ago, it would have been unthinkable for people to hold the equivalent of $30,000 or $40,000 (or more) in credit card debt. Yet now that has crept into the Canadian psyche as just something one does.

(By the way, have you noticed the “Estimated Time To Pay” wording on your credit card statement? It is a calculation of how long it will take to pay off your credit card balance if only the monthly minimum payments are made. The record we’ve seen is 330 years and 10 months. Don’t forget, a credit card balance of as ‘little’ as $6,000 can take more than 40 years to pay off if only the minimum payments are made.)

A lot of credit card debt, of course, has in the last few years been shifted over to lower-interest lines of credit, usually unsecured. This Peter/Paul conundrum is interesting: we very often see examples where people have paid off their credit cards using available lines of credit, only to have their credit card balances swell back to where they were within a year or so.

Let me share a scenario of someone who is self employed, as it highlights how a debt problem can spiral out of control quickly. I met recently with a woman in her 50s who owns her own company that furnishes and decorates high-end businesses, like big law firms. Or at least it did. With big firms shrinking to meet reduced market demands and trimming costs, her business had dried up.

Her accountant brought her to me, and it was clear she had severely mismanaged her business and financial affairs, despite her accountant’s warnings. We see this all the time—small business owners are typically very good at what they do, but very poor at handling day-to-day administration.

Here are some specifics that show how misaligned her lifestyle and business expenses were with the actual cash she was earning:

• Owns a townhouse: mortgage $600,000, estimated value $650,000

• Mortgage payments: $3,600/mo

• CRA lien against house for personal income tax owing: $98,000

• She had previously refinanced her house to help fund her business

• She had a prior bankruptcy 15 yrs ago—discharged

• Leased car: $51,000 owing

• Credit card debt: $75,000

• Business loan (personally guaranteed with a high interest rate): $45,000

• Outstanding debts to suppliers: $80,000

• Business rent owing (seven months behind): $11,000

• Net self-employment income: $3,500 per month, or $42,000 per year

The CRA lien is the big problem here. She can’t sell or refinance her house with the existing lien unless she pays her back taxes, while in the meantime interest charges and penalties pile up.

Although this may seem hopeless, it is actually a straightforward personal bankruptcy scenario: She closes the business, any source deduction or HST owing is included in the personal bankruptcy filing, as are any personally guaranteed business debts. She walks away from her house and cannot be sued for any shortfall due to the creditor protection afforded by her bankruptcy. She will lose her house and business, but that almost certainly would have happened regardless.

I should point out that clients in this type of situation often insist on keeping their house, a reflection of the deep-seated Canadian devotion to home ownership, and it takes long and difficult conversations with family, friends and trusted advisors before they come around to the realization that they have to let go of their home.

Keep in mind that the above situation is very normal for us. This is something we see every week.

As stated earlier, the most troubling trend we see now is the flood of regular Canadians facing financial crisis. Households and individuals who are employed, have decent incomes, own homes and have done everything they feel they ‘should’ be doing now find themselves facing serious, if not insurmountable, debt problems. They are having to file insolvencies now, or will in the next few years.

There are possible alternatives to outright bankruptcy, of course. Often, if clients have serious debt problems but also decent incomes, they will attempt a consumer proposal to settle their debt legally through a licensed trustee. In effect, creditors agree to accept just a portion of what they’re owed (which is more than they might get if someone is forced into a personal bankruptcy situation). This allows people to keep their assets (house, vehicles, investments, cottage, etc.) while eliminating unsecured debt they would otherwise have little chance to pay off in the normal course of life. The credit impact in a proposal is easier than a bankruptcy, and one can rebuild credit in a few short years. It’s a growing option for debtors. In fact, about 50,000 Canadians file proposals every year, and that number is rising.

Increasingly, life has simply become too unaffordable for many. The temptation to spend is too great, and access to cheap debt too easy. When the gap between what people need or want, and what they can afford with their incomes becomes too great, credit is used to fill the gap. Interest kicks in, and the cycle begins. As credit card debt is shifted to readily available lines of credit, $5,000 becomes $15,000, and soon you’re facing a $50,000 or $100,000 debt problem. A person living at or below the median income range simply cannot handle this.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot more ‘normal’ than you think.

Source: MacLeans – Scott Terrio is an estate administrator at Cooper & Co. Ltd, a licensed insolvency trustee in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @CooperTrustee

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This smart doorbell lets you video chat with visitors from your phone

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Ever ignored the doorbell because you didn’t know who was there or weren’t expecting any visitors? Now thanks to a Chicago-based company, you can see who is at your doorstep and even talk to them from your phone.

Smart video doorbell and motion detector, Xchime, is app-enabled and allows users to see anyone at their door from virtually anywhere. Launched on crowdfunding site Indiegogo last week, the innovative doorbell includes a 1080P HD camera with night vision, a smart light and a convenient garage door opener.

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Photo: Xchime/Facebook

Developed by Chicago’s Wireless Input Technology Inc., Xchime is a small, weather-resistant gadget made with stainless steel. Using their phones, Xchime users can have live video chats with visitors, like telling the mailman where to leave a package if you’re not home. Also, visitors can leave  recorded video messages, which can be viewed later on the app.

Xchime also includes features intended to help secure homes. The doorbell is built with a discrete security camera and, whenever motion is detected within a 140 degree field of view, users will be notified through the app. Xchime also has Integrated smart light technology. When motion is detected, the doorbell’s light will turn on automatically in an effort to deter unwanted visitors.

As an add-on accessory, users can purchase a garage door opener kit allowing them to open and close their garage with a push of a button from Xchime’s app. The doorbell retails at $129 USD and the first shipment is scheduled for August 2017.

Source: BuzzBuzz News – 

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Why consumers should be wary of using the wildly popular home equity lines of credit as ATMs

A federal agency is warning consumers addicted to home equity lines of credit — a product increasingly driving debt —  could find themselves at increased risk of default if the housing market corrects.

“Falling housing prices may constrain HELOC borrowers’ access to credit, forcing them to curtail spending, which could in turn negatively affect the economy,” the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada wrote in a 15-page report out Wednesday. “Furthermore, during a severe and prolonged market correction, lenders may revise HELOC limits downward or call in loans.”

The timing of the release from FCAC is coincidental but it comes just two days after the Toronto Real Estate Board reported new data that clearly show the housing market in retreat. May sales dropped 20.3 per cent from a year ago and prices were off 6.2 per cent from April amid a massive surge of active listings.

The report, titled Home Equity Lines of Credit: Market Trends and Consumer Issues, focuses on the massive explosion of the HELOC market which grew from about $35 billion in 2000 to $186 billion by 2010 for an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

During that period, HELOC became the fastest growing segment of non-mortgage consumer debt. In 2000, the HELOC market made up just 10 per cent of non-mortgage consumer debt but had climbed to 40 per cent by 2010.

“At a time when consumers are carrying record amounts of debt, the persistence of HELOC debt may add stress to the financial well-being of Canadian households. HELOCs may lead Canadians to use their homes as ATMs, making it easier for them to borrow more than they can afford,” said Lucie Tedesco, commissioner of the FCAC. “Consumers carrying high levels of debt are more vulnerable to the impact of an unforeseen event or economic shock.”

The average annual growth of the HELOC market slowed to five per cent from 2011 to 2013 and has averaged two per cent since, the slowdown at least partially attributable to tougher federal guidelines on how much home equity consumers can access through a HELOC.

HELOC products have become popular because they work like credit cards or unsecured lines of credit, in terms of the ability to draw money from them. They are usually backed by a collateral charge on your home but a HELOC most often gives the consumer the ability to withdraw and pay off their HELOC with flexibility — financed at a rate which is usually close to the prime lending rate at most banks.

Unlike a mortgage, a HELOC is a demand loan, and while most borrowers can pay interest-only on them, the loans are callable by the bank at any moment — a practice rarely seen in the Canadian market at this time.

A positive feature of a HELOC is the ability to consolidate high-interest debt from items like credit cards, and the report says from 1999-2010, 26 per cent of loans were used for just that. Another 34 per cent were used for financial and non-financial investment. The remaining 40 per cent was used for consumption or home renovation — a market Altus Group said was worth $71.4 billion in 2016.

The federal agency noted that most HELOC products sold today are part of what is called readvanceable mortgage. In those cases a HELOC is combined with the mortgage and as the mortgage is paid down, the available credit in  HELOC increases.

“In recent years, lenders have been strongly encouraging consumers to use readvanceable mortgages to finance their new homes,” said Tedesco.

She said complaints have shown people are not understanding the product. “It’s not that they’ve been bamboozled,” said Tedesco. “One of the things that we will be doing with the results of our research is trying to see how we can improve the disclosure around readvanceable mortgages, and will communicate to the financial institutions our expectations on that front.”

Source: Financial Post – Garry Marr | June 7, 2017

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Why your credit score matters

And how to improve it

Despite holding multiple credit products (like credit cards or lines of credit) many Canadians don’t understand how debt and their behaviour around it affects their credit score in the eyes of the credit bureau—or why it’s important; on top of that, 47% of Canadians don’t know where to check their credit score.

Your credit score is a three-digit number, between 300 and 900, that measures your creditworthiness. The higher your score the better, as it’s used by lenders and financial institutions to determine whether your credit-worthy or not. In general, a low score could mean you’re declined on a loan or receive a higher interest rate, while a higher score allows for lower interest rates and better options when it comes to things like getting a mortgage and borrowing money. Your credit score number essentially indicates how likely your are to repay money you borrow, based on how you’ve handled past financial obligations.

How is your credit score determined?

Most lenders want to see two forms of active credit for at least two years. The longer the history reporting, the better.

Your credit score is made up of the following:

  • 35% payment history. It’s important to make your payments on time. Missing a $4 dollar payment on a credit card could be as bad a missing a $400 payment, so don’t skip the minimum payment. This also includes collections. Some creditors (even city parking ticket collectors) may report that you haven’t paid them to your credit bureau, or even use a third-party collection agency to get their money back. These collections on your credit bureau can lower your score.
  • 30% utilization ratio. This is your level of indebtedness, or how much of your total available credit you’re using.
  • 15% length of credit. The longer you have an account open, the better. It shows you’re capable of managing credit responsibly.
  • 10% types of credit. It’s good to have a mix of different types of credit (revolving credit like credit cards and lines of credit are riskier than personal loans so it’s better to have fewer of those in your mix) to show that you can handle your payments.
  • 10% inquiries. These happen every time you agree to a “hard credit check”. Hard checks usually happen even when opening a chequing account with a bank or a new phone plan.

3 things that can help improve your score:

1. Practice good utilization ratio habits

A relatively fast way to improve your credit score is to start practicing good utilization ratio habits. Once you start doing this, it could improve in as little as 30-60 days. If your credit card limit is $1,000 and your balance is $1,000, your utilization ratio is 100 per cent — and this not good in the eyes of the credit bureau. Credit bureaus base credit scores on behaviour with credit. If you’re constantly maxing out your credit cards, it could imply that you’re not far away from defaulting on your minimum payments. It looks like your income is stretched. Set an imaginary limit of 70 per cent and don’t go over that. Doing this will keep your credit score healthy. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000, don’t borrow over $7,000.

2. Think twice about closing an unused credit card

It may seem like a good idea to close a credit card that you’re not using, or have paid off and are trying not to use. But, closing a card, or leaving it inactive can negatively affect your credit score. This goes back to the length of credit factor that the credit bureau reports on which makes up 15% of your credit score. Rather than closing the card, consider using it for a monthly subscription, like Netflix or Spotify, and set up an automatic monthly payment from your bank account to ensure it’s covered. This trick will also improve your utilization ratio and payment history, since you’ll be staying far under your limit, and making on-time payments.

3. Consolidate credit card debt

Credit cards are considered revolving debt; meaning when you pay them down you can keep borrowing against them. This type of debt is psychologically proven to keep people in debt. Many revolving credit products allow you to pay back only the interest, which is a major reason why so many people find themselves stuck in what feels like an endless cycle of debt. If you’re like 46% of Canadians* and you carry a credit card balance every month, you could benefit from a personal instalment loan to help get out of the revolving debt cycle. Unlike credit card debt, an installment loan has a specific term and requires you to pay back interest and principal in every payment, which means you have a set deadline for paying it off and getting out of debt.

The first step in improving your credit score is knowing it. Mogo offers Canada’s only free credit score with free monthly monitoring. Check your score at mogo.ca.

Source: Special to Financial Post | May 6, 2017 |

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