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3 things you probably didn’t know about your credit score

A photo illustration shows charts for credit scores on a computer in North Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, June, 15, 2016.

Here’s what most Canadians likely know about their credit score: It’s a number somewhere on a scale from 300 to 900 — and the higher that number, the easier and cheaper it generally is to get credit.

If you want to take out a mortgage or auto loan, a good credit score improves your chances of being approved and getting a lower interest rate. A high score may also give you access to instant-approval credit cards and loans.

 

But here’s something you probably didn’t know:

No one really knows exactly how credit scores work

For obvious reasons, Canada’s two credit-reporting agencies, Equifax and TransUnion, do not reveal the exact formula through which they come up with credit scores. If they did, it would become easy for anyone to game the system.

 

The implication here is that most advice you get about how to improve, build or repair your credit score is really an educated guess. Based on anecdotal evidence and what they see dealing with clients, financial advisers have a pretty good idea of how different types of behaviour affect credit scores. But they can’t tell exactly how much of a difference each one really makes.

That’s why Douglas Hoyes, a licensed insolvency trustee at Kitchener, Ont.-based Hoyes, Michalos and Associates, is skeptical of strategies that entail taking out costly loans just so you can supposedly build or repair your credit score faster.

WATCH BELOW: Huge price to pay for payday loans

Borrowing at, say, 30 per cent interest is guaranteed to cost you a pretty penny. The gain, on the other hand, it quite uncertain. Taking out a loan will definitely improve you score if you make your payments on time, but how much of a difference will it really make? No one can say for sure.

Given the uncertainty, Hoyes advises borrowing through the lowest-cost debt you can access and trust that your credit score will gradually improve if you keep on top of your finances.

WATCH BELOW: Dollars and sense: Credit score basics

For those with no credit history or a poor credit score, a good first step is getting a secured credit card such as the Home Trust Visa, according to Hoyes. “Secured” credit means the lender will ask you to put down, say, a $1,000 security deposit for a $1,000 credit card limit. The point of such a credit card isn’t to borrow money to finance expenses for which you don’t have cash at hand but to show that you can make disciplined debt repayments.

Secured credit cards normally come with steep interest rates. The no-fee version of the Home Trust Visa charges interest of 19.99 per cent, but borrowers need not worry about it if they pay off their balance in full and on time, Hoyes noted.

 

Credit scores are designed with banks, not you, in mind

You might think that diligently paying off your credit card bills as soon as they come would get you the best possible score. You might be wrong.

Some financial advisers and debt management experts believe carrying a small balance of up to 30 per cent of your available credit on your card might actually boost your score more than having a balance of zero.

That’s because “credit scores are meant for the benefit of the banks, not you,” said Hoyes.

Banks are happy with customers who reliably repay their debt. But they also make money off charging interest. So they may be happiest with customers who will eventually repay their debt but keep carrying a balance, on which they’ll have to pay interest, explained Hoyes.

He advises doing what’s best for your pocketbook and skipping on financial behaviour that will ultimately cost you more — even if it means your credit score will be a bit lower.

 

Credit scores don’t matter as much as you think

A third thing to keep in mind about credit scores is that they aren’t necessarily the only metric a bank will use to assess your creditworthiness. “Banks may have their own formulas, too, which are different from whatever Equifax and TransUnion are using,” noted Hoyes.

Finally, he added, a bad credit score won’t shut you out of borrowing forever. Even bankruptcy is something you can recover from relatively quickly, if you have a good, stable job and show financial discipline, said Hoyes.

“I have plenty of clients who bought houses two years after being discharged from bankruptcy,” he told Global News.

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Bankruptcy scores: Why lenders may turn you down despite a good credit score

Few borrowers know about bankruptcy scores, but lenders have been using them for years.

Few borrowers know about bankruptcy scores, but lenders have been using them for years.

Few have heard of them, but they’ve been around for a few years: Bankruptcy scores.

Most Canadians know about credit scores, and some are acutely aware of their three-digit number. Where you fall on a scale from 300 to 900 can affect whether or not you qualify for a mortgage for your dream house, a car loan or a credit card and how much you’ll pay for the privilege of borrowing that money.

 

But there’s often another set of numbers that could cause lenders to deny you a loan or hike your interest rate — even if your credit score doesn’t look so bad. Financial institutions often rely on bankruptcy scores to gauge the probability that you’ll go financially belly up in the next 12 to 24 months.

Credit reporting bureau Equifax has a Bankruptcy Navigator Index that it says allows lenders to “uncover the financial red flags not so obvious at first glance.” And competitor TransUnion has its own CreditVision Bankruptcy Score.

 

The latter “is an empirically-derived model designed specifically for the Canadian market,” TransUnion Canada told Global News via an emailed statement. “The score ranges from 100 to 950, with lower scores indicating a higher risk of filing for bankruptcy or [a consumer] proposal,” the company added, noting that financial institutions, telecom companies and lenders in the auto-loan industry, among others, use it.

TransUnion has had bankruptcy scores for a number of years but introduced its CreditVision score in 2015, it said.

Equifax did not respond to two requests to provide additional information on its Bankruptcy Navigator.

 

How bankruptcy scores work

Bankruptcy scores are aimed at detecting risky borrowers that sometimes go under the radar with traditional credit scores, licensed insolvency trustee Doug Hoyes told Global News.

“It turns out that there is a significant difference in behaviour between the person with bad credit who will not file bankruptcy and the person with a similar bad credit score who will declare bankruptcy and this is what your bankruptcy score measures,” Hoyes, co-founder of Ontario-based debt-relief firm Hoyes Michalos, wrote in a blog post.

 

Sometimes, there’s a lag between when an overstretched borrower reaches the point of no return and when that reality will be reflected in his or her credit score. It’s possible for people with scores in the 600-700 range to be on the verge of defaulting on their debt repayments, said David Gowling, senior vice-president at debt consultancy MNP.

“Some people come in telling me how great their credit score is, but then you find out they’re using one type of credit to pay another type of credit,” Gowling told Global News. And because they’re still able to make minimum payments, “the credit score hasn’t caught up,” he added.

According to Hoyes, compared to someone with a bad credit score who will stay afloat, someone who is at high risk of going bankrupt tends to:

  • Use credit more often;
  • Apply for credit more often and have more recently acquired debts or credit accounts;
  • Have fewer accounts in collection. (This is because people who rely on debt to pay more debt are often careful about not missing payments in the belief that this will grant them access to more credit);
  • Have a higher credit utilization rate, i.e. carrying a credit balance that takes up a large percentage of your borrowing limit.

 

While credit scores are a look at your borrowing history in the rear-view mirror, bankruptcy scores likely pick up on these telltale signs of might happen in the near future, Hoyes told Global News.

In general, the credit file of someone at high risk of bankruptcy tends to show much more recent activity, which is why applying for new credit in an attempt to improve your credit score can backfire, according to Hoyes.

WATCH: Lenders behave like car insurance companies: If you don’t have a driving record, you’re automatically a very risky driver.

What bankruptcy scores mean for you

Bankruptcy scores affect borrowers in three main ways, Hoyes said. Like credit scores, they can influence both how much you’ll be able to borrow and at what rate. But they could also result in lenders deciding to sell your debt to so-called debt buyers.

 

Debt-buyers are companies – sometimes collection agencies – that buy delinquent debt at a deep discount and then try to collect some of that debt.

If a lender has, say, 100 borrowers who are late making debt repayments, it can use a bankruptcy score to decide which ones to offload to a debt-buyer. Selling the riskiest accounts for a fraction of the face-value of the credit balance means writing off some debt, but the loss for the lender might ultimately be less than if the borrowers filed for bankruptcy.

The thing is, though, that there’s no way to know what your bankruptcy score is. While consumers can review their credit reports and purchase their credit scores, bankruptcy scores are typically only available to lenders.

The key takeaway, though, is that if you’ve reached the point where you’re using new debt to pay old debt, your decent-looking credit score is probably meaningless.

Source: 

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For most, a mortgage is painful. For the wealthy, it’s a money-making tool

Canadians typically consider mortgages as a burden, to be paid down as quickly as possible, or at least before retirement.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but for the wealthy, mortgages are a tool to make more money.

Carrying a mortgage when you don’t need one might seem like a head-scratcher. Why borrow when you’ve already got plenty of funds at hand?

But as F. Scott Fitzgerald purportedly once said, “The rich are different from you and me.”

Wealthy people take out mortgages against their real estate holdings and use the money to invest.

It sometimes makes sense for high-net-worth people to take on new debt, says James Robinson, mortgage agent at Dominion Lending Centres in Toronto.

“Using your real estate holdings to borrow money for investment purposes – either your principal residence or any other investment or personal-use property – falls under the ‘wealthy people become wealthy by using other people’s money’ category,’” Mr. Robinson says.

“If you can invest at a higher rate of return than you can borrow, you will increase your wealth and, therefore, your net worth.”

There are also tax advantages, though Mr. Robinson advises investors to seek professional advice about tax implications. In Canada, mortgage interest is not tax deductible; however, the interest paid on funds borrowed for investment is, so borrowing has to be structured carefully to avoid running afoul of the Canada Revenue Agency.

Remortgaging or taking a line of credit secured against property can also be advantageous for investors who are affluent but don’t quite reach the high-net-worth (HNW) category.

Financial institutions generally consider HNWs to be people with $1-million in liquid assets, while those with $100,000 to $1-million are considered “affluent” or “sub-HNW.”

One reason that HNW clients can consider taking on a mortgage is that “normally, they’re the ones who have access to assets for security [their houses and other properties] as well as the income required to service the debt,” says Paul Shelestowsky, senior wealth advisor at Meridian Credit Union in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

For those who are barely at the HNW threshold but want to boost their investable assets, “unless you can obtain a preferred rate from your lender, using secured debt is the only advisable way to borrow to invest,” Mr. Shelestowsky says.

Mr. Robinson cites several good ways to borrow to invest.

“The most common strategy used is to simply refinance your principal residence to access some of the equity you have built up over the years, and use the additional funds to purchase an investment property,” he says.

Wealthy borrowers who refinance in this way increase their asset base through leveraging, but this also is contingent on the value of real estate going up, Mr. Robinson adds.

“If you own $600,000 worth of real estate and prices rise by 5 per cent, you have increased your worth by $30,000. If you leverage and now own $1.2 million worth of real estate and prices rise by 5 per cent, you have increased your worth by $60,000.”

What could possibly go wrong? A few big things, the experts say.

For one, it’s never certain that the value of real estate will rise. There’s always the risk that you will be paying off a mortgage on a property whose value is drifting sideways, or even dropping. This could be happening, too, as your market investments are nosediving.

“Remember that when you leverage and asset values fall, the same multiplying effect occurs in the opposite direction. Don’t get caught in a get-poor-quick scheme,” Mr. Robinson says.

Real estate values do tend to go up over time, but it is not a straight line, he adds. In Ontario and other parts of Canada, the years from 1989 to 1996 were brutal for real estate values.

Debt-holders must be patient, says Andrea Thompson, senior financial planner with Coleman Wealth, part of Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto. “Investors must be able and willing to sit with a paper loss and continue to collect the monthly income, rather than panic and sell at a loss.”

Investors considering taking a mortgage should also be mindful of rising interest rates. The Bank of Canada is holding the line on rates for now, but it has hiked its key lending rate three times since last July, Ms. Thompson says.

High-net-worth borrowers also should consider the type of mortgage. “Looking at a variable rate or open mortgage might be preferable to some who want more flexibility, if they want to collapse or modify their strategy if and when interest rates rise,” Ms. Thompson says.

A different way to go, Mr. Robinson says, is to take what some lenders now offer as an “all in one” borrowing product, secured by real estate.

“This combines a mortgage with a home equity line of credit to allow you excellent flexibility in your borrowing as well as the ability to keep your borrowing segmented for interest calculation and tax deductability,” he explains.

Even the wealthy should be cautious in this volatile investment climate, Mr. Shelestowsky says.

“An overarching theme from the investment world is ‘lowered return expectations’ going forward,” he says. “Target expectations have been drastically reduced across all investor profiles.”

 

Source; SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL 

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Little-known ownership model touted as unaffordability cure

The land lease model, wherein a resident owns the home but not the land upon which it’s built, is about 30% cheaper than freehold and is being touted as a panacea to the unaffordability crisis that’s gripping major cities.

Lachlan MacLean, vice president of property operations for Parkbridge, says that land leased homes are excellent options for first-time buyers, retirees, and even real estate investors.

“The fundamentals are the same,” he said, “because they own an asset that typically grows in value over time, with the difference being that it’s at a lower entry point. It’s different than someone looking to buy a home, so the entry point is lower and that might create opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise have considered buying a home as a user or investor. It’s a rental product that may be more affordable and, therefore, appeal to a broad audience because the buy-in for the investor was low in the first place.”

A land leased home still builds substantial equity, which could then be used to ascend the property ladder. Parkbridge has land leased communities throughout the country, including in Surrey, B.C., where a three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family detached house is being sold for $199,000.

“The average benchmark price in the Lower Mainland is well over $1.5mln, so immediately there’s a place where people can go where they own their home, have a yard instead of condo living, and they can start building some equity that would allow them to stay in that community or take other steps on the property ladder.”

Although it’s a model of homeownership that isn’t well publicized, CMHC does offer mortgages for land leased homes.

However, for residents hell-bent on living in an urban centre like Toronto, MacLean says land leased homes wouldn’t be feasible.

“We’re typically in smaller urban centres,” he said. “In places like the GTA, the land value doesn’t support any kind of single-family development, let alone land lease, so we’re in smaller centres like Goderich, Wasaga Beach, the Barrie market and the Kawarthas, around Peterborough.”

Source: Canadian Real Estate Magazine – Neil Sharma30 Apr 2018

 

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Your Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

When winter departs, it’s time to check for damage and prepare for hot weather ahead

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With the days lengthening and weather warming, spring is a good time to get outdoors and tackle some larger home projects. With the threat of winter storms past, you can look for damage and make any needed repairs, as well as prep your home and garden for summer. We spoke with an expert to get some tips on what to watch for this season, from proper irrigation to mosquitoes and termites (oh my!).
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BALTIMORE MAY SELL HOMES FOR $1 TO REVIVE NEGLECTED NEIGHBORHOODS

In order to revitalize distressed neighborhoods in Maryland, councilmembers and local community advocates are pushing for a government program that would sell thousands of vacant buildings in Baltimore for $1 each. In turn, buyers would have to promise to refurbish and live in the properties for a certain period of time.

 

Baltimore

 

According to a bill adopted by the Baltimore City Council last month, the program would revitalize “marginal neighborhoods by matching construction ability at the grass roots of Baltimore to production of affordable housing for workers’ families and neighbors.” The idea is modeled after the 1973 “Dollar House” program, which sold rundown, city-owned houses for $1 and helped rebuild ravaged neighborhoods in the city throughout the 1980s. The original program also granted buyers low-interest loans to rehabilitate the properties as long as they lived in the homes for a certain amount of time.

Now, advocates want to restore the program to curb the city’s blight epidemic and prevent more homes from becoming vacant. The program would also create construction jobs, say advocates.

On the other hand, the housing commissioner argues that the program is outdated and that there is not enough government funding to address the estimated 16,000 to 46,000 vacant homes in Baltimore, reports The Baltimore Sun. That’s triple the amount in the ’80s. Plus, about 250,000 fewer people live in the city compared to when the program first started.

Nonetheless, real estate agent and affordable housing specialist Mable Ivory applauded the idea, arguing that city governments have implemented similar programs to revitalize distressed areas in Detroit and Harlem. “It has been proven that when home ownership increased among residents in neighborhoods like Harlem and Detroit, which were once plagued by urban blight and flight, crime declined and the communities became more beautiful as owners took pride in their neighborhoods and took better care of them,” she said in an email. “Baltimore seeks to mirror the success that has been experienced in Harlem and Detroit by creating a similar, discount homeownership program.”

Whether interested in buying a vacant property in Baltimore or purchasing an affordable home elsewhere, Ivory advises potential purchasers to “do their due diligence and research” before taking on the cost of homeownership. “If possible, before bidding on the properties, homeowners should do a property inspection with licensed professionals, such as contractors, architects, and engineers, to have a clear and full understanding of all the repairs needed to make the home inhabitable; the cost of the repairs; as well as the time it will take to complete the entire renovation. The good news is that there are mortgage loan programs available like the FHA 203(k) mortgage loan program, which provide financing for the total renovation of a home.”

Selena Hill   

by April 13, 2018 Editor’s Note: This post originally published on December 27, 2017

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Closing defaults hit Toronto sellers hard in housing plunge: report

Hundreds of homeowners whose real estate transactions collapsed in the aftermath of Toronto’s market plunge last spring lost an average of $140,000 in property value when they eventually managed to sell their houses, according to a new report.

The study is the first to measure the loss of market value associated with so-called closing defaults, an unwelcome reality of real estate that lawyers say surged in the last half of 2017.

The report also identifies high demand from real estate investors as a key factor that fuelled the region’s white-hot market in early 2017. Investors bought 16.5 per cent of all low-rise houses in the Greater Toronto Area in the first quarter last year, a 65-per-cent increase compared to 12 months earlier.

At least 866 sales deals for low-rise houses failed to close in the GTA last year, according to the study released on Thursday by John Pasalis, a Toronto broker who analyzes industry statistics. The actual number of closing defaults is likely much higher as many other homeowners in similar situations still have not found new buyers.

On average, Mr. Pasalis found that homeowners lost $140,200 in property value over the 4.5 months it took them to find another buyer later in 2017, or in the first quarter of 2018, for a combined total loss of $121-million in market value.

“It tells you how rapid the decline was,” Mr. Pasalis said. “It tells you how quickly the markets turn.”

For Vicki Clayton, the cost of her failed deal was even higher. After a buyer agreed to pay $1.9-million for her North York tear-down bungalow in late April, 2017, the transaction fell through as the market plunged and the two parties couldn’t agree on a lower price. She relisted her house and it recently sold for $1.27-million, a loss of $630,000.

“It’s really a sad state of affairs but that’s what’s happened,” said Ms. Clayton, who is 66 and recently retired from her job as an office manager.

Ms. Clayton, who said her health suffered from the stress associated with the failed deal, has launched a lawsuit for damages for lost market value, as well as for the defaulting buyer’s deposit.

The GTA’s real estate market whipsawed from huge gains to rapid declines last year. Home prices were up by 34 per cent in March, 2017, compared with one year earlier, but plunged after the provincial government announced a 15-per-cent foreign-buyers tax in late April, falling 18 per cent in just four months.

The sudden shift caught many by surprise and lawyers reported an uptick in calls from buyers and sellers whose deals were in danger of collapsing. “In some cases, it was beneficial for the seller to just reduce the price, bite the bullet, get the deal closed without litigation,” said Mark Weisleder, a real estate lawyer.

Others have headed to court as angry sellers try to recoup defaulting buyers’ deposits, which are usually held in trust until both sides come to an agreement or a judge issues an order, as well as damages for the difference between their homes’ initial selling prices and what they eventually settled for.

In some cases, lawyers said their clients are involved in litigation related to two properties, as both sellers and buyers, as the domino effect of a buyer not closing on a seller’s deal caused that person to then default on their own purchase of a new property.

“It can be a chain reaction,” said Wendy Greenspoon-Soer, a lawyer who specializes in property-related litigation and currently has about 10 closing default cases already in litigation or heading that way.

For his study, Mr. Pasalis isolated low-rise homes that were sold on the Multiple Listing Service in the GTA in 2017 and then checked to see if they were later resold by the same owner before the end of March, 2018, indicating the first sale collapsed.

Mr. Pasalis and his team found 1,784 properties that sold last year and were later relisted for sale but did not sell, although they did not determine whether the seller for both listings was the same.

He also identified 122 low-rise properties that closed successfully last year, but were later sold again by their new owners for an average loss of $107,325.

“I don’t know if it’s panic selling or just that they’re overstretched financially, they think things are going to get worse,” he said.

Source: Globe and Mail – 

Image result for toronto home sales january 2018

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