I’m usually pretty calm during a crisis—I’m a New Yorker, after all. I’ve endured everything from the horrors of Sept. 11 to the blackouts of Superstorm Sandy and beyond. But the coronavirus feels even scarier, perhaps because it will last so much longer—and that definitely has me on edge.
Yet as I was folding an enormous basket of laundry the other morning (the piles have exploded since my college-aged girls returned home), I decided to light a pine-scented candle, still on display in my living room since Christmas. And as I breathed in its calming scent, I instantly felt my shoulders relax.
Yup, one of the unexpected upsides of having to shelter in place is my rediscovery of the joys within my own home—a sentiment that many of my friends and family say they’ve felt, too.
So, in case you need something positive to focus on as you’re holed up at home, here are a few things about home that are making me and my fellow neighbors smile during this bleak hour.
1. Discovering food I totally forgot I had
Since we can no longer pop out to local restaurants and even grocery runs are discouraged, I decided to do a full excavation of my pantry—and was pleasantly surprised by what I found in its depths.
I could probably live for weeks using the forgotten foods in my pantry and deep freezer. I unearthed seven kinds of rice, pork and cabbage dumplings, boxes of bread crumbs, and a few cans of tuna.
Larry Perlstein of Westport, CT, reports discovering parts of his pantry that he hasn’t seen since he moved in to his house 12 years ago. The items included a box of raisins dating to 2015, which he wisely decided not to eat.
“But I also found lots of sprinkles, both rainbow and chocolate, and I’ve read they last forever,” he says. Baking projects are now on deck with his 12-year-old.
Christina Vercelletto of Babylon, NY, has reaped the same sweet rewards at her house.
“I’m baking with my daughter using every neglected box mix we have, plus a bag of coconut and white chocolate chips that we bought in the fall but never used,” she shares.
2. Having time to organize and declutter my house
New York City resident Anne Levy did a colossal cleaning and reorg of her house in order to prepare both of her daughters to learn remotely, and so her school teacher husband could teach from home.
“The place feels lighter—and I feel mentally lighter, too,” she says. Levy gathered nine bags of clothing and textile donations and plans to keep on purging.
Meanwhile, I’ve finally whittled down my linen drawer. My amazing mother-in-law, you see, gives me every tablecloth she’s tired of—and she runs through several a year, which means the two dresser drawers where I store these linens is full to bursting. During this virus crisis, I’ve finally had a chance to tackle this spot and embrace only the tablecloths I truly love—and toss that yellow-and-green tropical number in the middle!
3. Taking long, luxurious baths
I used to complain about this tub (too big, takes too long to fill, a pain to clean), but I no longer sing that tune. Instead, I’m digging around for bath salts, oils, and other potions to pour in so I can soak my stress away. I’m using it as long as the coronavirus lasts—and maybe longer.
4. Having date nights—in the basement
Stressful days like these were made for streaming mindless movies and TV shows, which I’m suddenly finding pretty enjoyable in my little basement. It’s dark and cold, but we have excellent Wi-Fi and comfy chairs, so I’m ready to embrace regular date nights here with my hubs.
5. Checking off home to-do lists
Working from home has given me pockets of down time, and as a result, my perpetual list of household chores is just about whittled to zero. Burned-out lightbulbs? Replaced! No-slip mats finally laid under dangerous throw rugs? Done. Next up, I’m steeling myself to enter the basement “scary closet” (so named because of the occasional mouse that pops up) to sort through my garden pots that I hope to plant once this crisis is over.
Granted, I will be thrilled once this coronavirus scourge has finally lifted—but until then, I will try to look at the silver lining and relish all the comforts and opportunities that staying at home has to offer.
Muncie, IN — Maintaining a routine, helping others and taking time to focus on self-care are among the tips one Ball State University professor is sharing to help people stay “sane and safe” while practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jagdish Khubchandani, a health sciences professor, has 15 recommendations to “counterbalance” the physical and psychological effects of social distancing, which involves reducing close contact with others in an effort to help stop the spread of the disease, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours and daily activities.
Make social distancing a positive by taking time to focus on your personal health, training, diet, physical activity levels and health habits, as well as reassessing your work.
Cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetables, vitamins and proteins to your diet. (Most U.S. adults don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables). Eat two or three meals a day.
Go for a walk or exercise at home. “Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.”
Don’t let anxiety or being at home lead to binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but try to sleep at least seven hours a day.
Know that social distancing can cause anxiety and depression because of disruption to routines, isolation and fear over a pandemic. If you or someone you know is experiencing either, help is available.
Make the best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings and engage with co-workers with the same frequency required during active office hours. “The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.”
Small breaks during social distancing are also good times to reassess your skills and training – consider taking an online course, pursuing certification, undergoing training or personality development, or learning a new language.
Engage in spring cleaning, clear clutter and donate household items. Home clutter can harbor pollutants, lead to infections and result in unhygienic spaces.
Social distancing shouldn’t translate to an unhealthy life on social media. Although you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety and fearmongering, you can also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.
Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey and leisure-related time-spending patterns worldwide, “too much time” is spent on screens. Except for one to two times a day to watch, read or listen to national news for general consumption and local news for updates on the spread of COVID-19 in your community, you’re likely overconsuming information and taking away time for yourself and from friends and family.
Reach out to others and offer help. Social distancing should help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g., the elderly, disabled and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and people living in shelters). “You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help.” This can be done from a distance via a phone or by online activities, as well as giving.
Check your list of contacts on email and your phone. It may be a good time to check on your friends’ and family members’ well-being. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier and engaged. “Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.”
Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active. For example, listen to music or sing; try dancing or biking, yoga or meditation; take virtual tours of museums and places of interest; sketch or paint; read books or novels; solve puzzles or play board games; try new recipes; and learn about other cultures.
Don’t isolate yourself completely – social distancing shouldn’t become social isolation. Don’t be afraid, don’t panic and do keep communicating with others.
“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies — with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today — social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”
Source: Safety & Health The Official Magazine – March 18, 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the federal government is launching the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a new programme that will provide $2,000 a month for four months to individuals who lost their work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking outside of his residence where he is self-quarantining with his family, Trudeau acknowledged the dilemma facing Canadians trying to process mounting bills without a steady income, noting that “far too many Canadians are having these tough conversations about their finances and their future.”
With nearly 1 million people applying for employment insurance last week, Trudeau stated the new programme is in the process of being set up.
“An application portal will launch as quickly as possible and people should start receiving money as soon as 10 days of applying,” he said.
The programme will replace a pair of initiatives, the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit, that were announced last week. Trudeau said the decision to combine the two earlier programmes into a new endeavour was done “in order to streamline the process.”
Last week, the President of the Canadian Bankers Association announced that all six major banks would offer deferral payments on their mortgages and other credit products. Just like many public announcements over the last couple of months, many were left with more questions than answers.
One question that still has yet to be answered is, how deferred mortgage payments might affect your credit score? Equifax recently announced, “In the event that a [lender] makes a credit relief or payment deferral program available to its consumers to opt out of making monthly payments during the pandemic, Equifax’s expectation is that the [lender] would take actions on its system to ensure that it does not report any derogatory/missed payment information to the credit bureaus that is misaligned with the program it has implemented.”
Scott Hannah, B.C.-based CEO of the non-profit Credit Counselling Society, was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “I don’t see creditors punishing consumers for being as responsible as they can under circumstances beyond their control.”
Many financial professionals have been posting messages online and sending emails to reassure the public and their clients that a deferral payment will not affect their credit score.
I agree that Canadians should not have their credit affected by deferred payments, although I predict a much different reality for consumers starting April 1. Lenders update the payment history of each credit account electronically to Equifax and TransUnion.
In order for these deferred payments to not be reported to the credit reporting agencies as late, as Equifax alluded too, the lender would need to “take actions on its system to ensure that it does not report any derogatory/missed payment information to the credit bureaus.”
Lenders big and small have been bombarded with phone calls that have put pressure on their personal and electronic systems. Are you willing to gamble your credit score and assume that every lender has updated its reporting system?
Millions of Canadians have found errors in their credit reports. For over a decade, I personally have received thousands of calls from consumers stating that a customer service rep told them one thing, only to find out that it was reported incorrect on their credit report.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what the customer service rep, the government, or what the industry experts tell you. If the lender’s internal system sees it as a late payment, that is how it will report. No one will know for sure if all these deferred payments will report correctly or not.
We can all agree that the amount of deferred payments over the coming months is unprecedented. For this reason, I expect an increase in the amount of mortgage, loan and credit card payments reporting incorrectly on Canadian credit reports.
Even with the chance that a deferred payment will show up as a late payment, many Canadians will still need to take advantage of such programs being offered by banks.
For those that don’t really need to defer their payments this month, I suggest you wait until it is necessary. A deferred payment is not free money. You will have to pay the lender back with interest.
Any delay is just going to increase the amount on future required payments. My hope is that, going forward, underwriters or those reviewing credit applications will be lenient on any late payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, I am positive that the credit scoring system will not show much sympathy. On average, one late payment will drop your score 20 to 40 points.
A low credit score, regardless if it was caused by an error or not, will make it much more difficult to qualify for best-rate financing, renting, some employment opportunities and discounted insurance premiums. This is not to say your life will be over, but it will take at least 6 to 12 months for your credit to recover.
For those who have no choice but to request a deferred payment, here are some ways to protect your credit.
Request electronic or written confirmation that the payment is being deferred.
Ask for the employee number or service rep’s name that confirmed your deferred payment.
Write down the day and time you talked to the customer service rep.
Place all supporting documentation and record keeping in a safe place where you will actually remember where to find it.
Track both your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports for at least the next few months
If you do see an error, reach out to your lender and the credit reporting agencies to open up a dispute.
I’m sure the thought of making another call might be overwhelming for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have already spent hours on the phone to request the deferred payment.
For anyone who has something better to do than to spend hours listening to the annoying automated voice and elevator music, I suggest you start with suggestion number three.
I don’t want to create panic or be like Chicken Little saying the sky is falling. The point I sincerely want to get across is that reporting errors are common and always have been.
It is unrealistic to think there won’t be any errors as a result of the increased demand for deferred payments. Regardless of what happens, now is the perfect time to monitor and learn how to better protect your credit.
Some Canadians looking to defer mortgage payments due to COVID-19 say they are facing delays, confusion and outright denials from the country’s big banks.
“My wife called the 1-800 number for Bank of Montreal, talked to an adviser on the line to see what we are eligible for,” said Evan McFatridge of Dartmouth, N.S., whose family is down to a single income because his wife has been laid off from her job at a restaurant.
“She was told that our mortgage was too new to qualify for a deferral,” he said.
As part of the government’s pledge to help Canadians suffering financially due to COVID-19, Finance Minister Bill Morneau asked the heads of Canada’s big banks to allow people to defer mortgage payments for up to six months.
The banks responded by issuing a statement saying they “have made a commitment to work with personal and small business banking customers on a case-by-case basis to provide flexible solutions to help them manage through challenges such as pay disruption due to COVID-19; child-care disruption due to school closures; or those facing illness from COVID-19.”
But some Canadians looking for relief from mortgage payments say they’re encountering a confusing, opaque and seemingly arbitrary process that is only adding to the stress of illness, isolation and lost income.
“I called in yesterday, spent two hours on the phone, and they required a full credit check and credit application in order to even see if I was qualified [for a deferral] and then didn’t even give me a time frame,” said one former BMO branch manager.
CBC has agreed to keep his name confidential because of his concerns that his comments could jeopardize his current employment situation.
“So, they had to speak to both me and my wife over the phone, get all our income, our jobs, our assets, our liabilities, said they had to send it to the credit department for review and that someone would contact us,” he said.
“They had no criteria for what they’re looking for. If they said to me, ‘One of you has to be laid off. One of you has to be in isolation. You have to sign a disclosure statement.’ Fine.”
The man’s wife is on reduced hours at home because she has to care for their kids, whose schools have been shut. Facing the loss of a large chunk of their family income, he said ,he wanted to get ahead of the problem and defer two or three months of payments.
“Even if I had to pay the interest payments during that time and they deferred the principal amount so the balance stayed the same, so be it, that’s fine,” he said.
“I’ve been through things in Alberta like the Fort McMurray fires where basically [all that was required then] was a call in to defer payments.”
Questions for banks unanswered
CBC News asked each of the big five banks for more information on the criteria for the case-by-case-based decisions on mortgage and credit deferrals.
Who would qualify?
Is there an application process?
Does the entire household have to be off work?
Will they require documentation?
None of the banks answered any of those questions.
TD, CIBC and Scotiabank all responded by repeating their commitment to work with personal and small-business banking customers on a case-by-case basis. Each encouraged customers to contact their call centres directly or visit their websites.
BMO and RBC did not respond to emails from CBC News.
‘My family will run out of money’
RBC customer Elsie Mamaradlo of Edmonton said she was also denied a deferral because her mortgage was too new.
“I got so frustrated and at the same time worried,” said Mamaradlo, who lost her job when the public recreation centre she works at was shut down due to coronavirus concerns.
Mamaradlo said that without the mortgage deferral, she faces a grim future.
“My family will run out of money for food and essentials,” she said.
Mamaradlo’s mortgage is insured with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The government is purchasing up to $50 billion of insured mortgage pools through the CMHC, which says that stable funding for the banks and mortgage lenders is meant to ensure continued lending to Canadian consumers.
In a tweet, CMHC said it “will support lenders in allowing deferral of mortgage payments for up to six months for those impacted [by the coronavirus].”
Alyson Whittle of Cochrane, Alta., said her bank, B2B, which is a subsidiary of Laurentian Bank, told her she could defer her next mortgage payment but then the following payment would be double.
“I was super frustrated,” she said.
Whittle, who works in sales for a home builder, and her husband, a utilities driller, are both out of work.
“My mom came to visit us and she had just come back from Las Vegas and developed a respiratory illness,” she said.
After that visit, Whittle says both she and her husband started feeling similar symptoms. They’re now both off work in isolation but haven’t been tested yet.
Laurentian Financial Group’s assistant vice-president of communications, Hélène Soulard, said it’s possible Whittle called before they were able to inform their call centre representatives about the deferral options.
“Rest assured we are committed to helping our customers who are facing hardships if they are not able to work due to illness, job loss or other reasons related to the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.
Hey, home buyers, just how stressed out are you these days?
Maybe you’ve finally come to grips with the crazy, sky’s-the-limit prices still sweeping through most major markets. Perhaps you’ve made peace with the ever-looming threat of another recession. Quite possibly you’ve even dismissed all that stuff about a coronavirus pandemic, and you’re blithely unconcerned about any aftershocks from the upcoming elections.
But when it comes to finding available homes on the market—where and when you want to buy ’em—well, that’s a challenge even the most battle-tested wannabe homeowners are struggling with these days.
And make no mistake: It is a battlefield out there. The problem is, there just aren’t enough homes on the market to satisfy all of the would-be buyers—and that causes prices to spike ever higher in many parts of the country.
Nationally, inventory plunged 13.6% in January compared with a year earlier, representing the biggest drop in more than four years. Few markets have been immune to the plunge. There are now 164,000 fewer homes on the market, the fewest number since 2012, when realtor.com® began collecting the data.
In some of the tightest markets, well-priced homes in the most sought-after locations can sell within a few hours of going up for sale. In others, there are enough properties for sale that buyers don’t need to make a split-second decision and can be choosier.
That’s why our economics team searched for the metropolitan areas where it’s easiest to buy a home—and where it’s not.
“Inventory is falling—even in the easiest markets to buy a home,” says realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “For buyers, it means there are fewer options to choose from, they have to make quicker decisions when they’re out there shopping, and they’re probably also dealing with rising prices.”
And while this may sound like a bonanza for sellers, keep in mind that most of them are also in the market to buy a new home. So there’s that.
To come up with our findings, we looked at the number of listings per 1,000 homeowner-occupied households in the 100 largest metros in the fourth quarter of 2019. The analysis was based on the number of homes for sale relative to the local population. And we narrowed our findings to one per state for some geographic variety.
So where can buyers get a home without losing their mind, and where would they want to sign up for meditation and relaxation classes? Let’s dig into the findings—and the trends they’re showing.
At first blush, the metros with the most homes on the market may not seem like they have much in common. But many of the metros in this hodgepodge are in the South, a less expensive part of the U.S. long popular with retirees and second-home seekers. But many of the cities in our rankings have strong economies, drawing younger buyers as well.
You want to buy a home fast? Head to Florida!
Why does the Sunshine State dominate our list of easiest places to buy a house, when nationally the trends are going the other way? After all, on our unfiltered list, Florida takes six of the 20 spots with the highest inventories of homes on the market. (We limited our list to just one metro per state.)
Well, some of it is seasonal: Florida’s busy real estate season kicks off in the fall, when the Northerners and Midwesterners head south. Sunshine State sellers begin planting those “For Sale” signs in the yards and listing their homes in earnest toward the end of the year, unlike the rest of the country, which heats up in the spring and summer.
But it’s also a function of the fact that builders are currently stepping up new construction to meet the greater demands of a tsunami of retiring boomers.
Reasonably priced Cape Coral, a city with about 400 miles of canals on Florida’s southwestern coast making it popular with vacation home buyers and seniors, snagged our top spot. The area has been affected by recent hurricanes and toxic blue-green algae blooms in recent years, which may be why the area has a bit more inventory than other Florida destinations.
“It has a city-suburb feeling,” says longtime Cape Coral real estate agent Nelson Rua, of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. “We have local mom and pop stores instead of big franchises, and geographically we’re very well-protected by the storms because we have these barrier islands in front of us.”
The metro’s median home list price was $325,050 in January, according to realtor.com data.
While Cape Coral inventory may seem high, at 37.9 properties per 1,000 households, it’s still falling compared with the previous year. And that’s something it has in common with all of the other Florida entries on our larger list (including Miami, Deltona, North Port, and Jacksonville). Lower mortgage interest rates have spurred more buyers to take the plunge, and inventory in Cape Coral actually plunged 22% year over year in January.
Starter and more affordable homes tend to go quick, while the more expensive ones can linger on the market, according to Brad O’Connor, chief economist of the Florida Realtors, the state’s Realtors association.
It’s just easier to find a home in beach and retirement destinations
For many of the same reasons as in Florida, it’s easier to find homes in beach and retirement destinations with strong economies, like Charleston, SC (No. 3), and Virginia Beach, VA (No. 4). South Carolina and Virginia are both tax-friendly states, appealing to those living on fixed incomes, and both have lots of good jobs and are more friendly toward builders.
Charleston has its port, Boeing and Volvo plants, and a thriving tourism industry driving the economy. And its old-world-style cobblestone streets, hanging moss, gorgeous architecture, and renowned food scene may be why buyers are coming up with the metro’s median list price of $422,500. (That’s about 29% more than the national median of $300,000.)
Real estate broker Randy Bazemore, of Century 21 Properties Plus, is seeing lots of 55-and-up buyers moving to the area as well as younger professionals working in the tech industry.
Meanwhile, Virginia Beach has one of the largest military presences in the nation with more than 86,000 active-duty personnel stationed in the area. The median list price there is $310,000.
For well-heeled retirees or second-home buyers, Honolulu (No. 10), with a median list price of $655,050, has plenty of options for sale.
Watch: The 4 Markets Where Homes Are Appreciating Fastest
New construction gives inventory a boost—at least in some places
Lack of new real estate construction in much of the country has been a big problem ever since the housing crash brought everything to a dead stop more than a decade ago. Finally things are picking up again—at least in those markets where permitting is easier, labor is cheaper, and plenty of land is available for builders to put up more homes.
Often, these places also have fewer regulations, which can hold up the process. That’s partly why Las Vegas (No. 5), Des Moines, IA (No, 8), and Houston (No. 9) made the list. Charleston, as well as many of the Florida metros, has also seen a lot of new construction.
In Des Moines, there’s new construction in the suburbs to the north and west of the city, says local associate broker Paul Walter of Re/Max Concepts. But there are also just more folks putting their existing homes up for sale. Those two reasons may be why the metro area saw a 3% bump in inventory, the only one in our top 10 to not be lower in inventory compared with the previous year.
“Homes not being underwater would be the big driver” in the increase in inventory, says Walter.
The other metros that made our top 10 were Bridgeport, CT, at No. 2. The city has more inventory as there’s less demand than in other parts of the country thanks to the state’s shaky economy and high taxes.
Get ready for a shocker: New York City came in at No. 6! That’s because its metro area is so enormous, there are homes for sale in the surrounding suburbs, exurbs, and smaller cities, including on Long Island and in upstate New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Plus, while there’s basically no such thing as affordable homes for sale in Manhattan, there is a glut of luxury condos sitting on the market waiting for uber-rich buyers with millions of dollars to come around—$1.7 million studio condo, anyone?
OK, now let’s go to the dark side—the metros where you’ll have to jump on new listings the moment they hit your inbox. Get ready!
Buyers are having a tough time in tech cities
No surprise here: The tightest U.S. real estate markets are the ones with blazing hot job markets—and these days that usually means tech hubs. And these places often have pricey real estate to match their blazing economies. There’s a constant influx of new workers, all slugging it out for a very limited supply of housing.
Silicon Valley’s San Jose, CA, which had the fewest homes for sale, is also one of the most expensive markets in the country. There are just four, yes four, listings per 1,000 households. That kind of shortage explains why the median list price is just a hair under $1.1 million. If we hadn’t capped our ranking at just one metro per state, fellow astronomically pricey tech metropolis San Francisco would be close behind.
Unfortunately, not all tech workers make seven- or eight-figure salaries, causing them to search for homes farther and farther out from city centers—and their gigs.
But inventory is likely to rise, at least a little, in the coming months, says Patrick Carlisle, the chief market analyst for the San Francisco Bay Area for Compass. “This market takes a while to wake up from the holidays.”
Part of the problem is homeowners are staying in their properties longer so there isn’t much turnaround, says Carlisle. When they do move out, owners often rent out their properties and pocket the lucrative income instead of putting them on the market. And the lack of new construction is exacerbating the crunch. What is erected often skews luxury, well out of the price ranges of most buyers.
In Seattle, home of the online retailing giant Amazon.com—and No. 3 on our tightest inventory list—a simple equation is responsible for the lack of housing, according to Chris Bajuk, a local real estate agent at HomeStart Real Estate Associates.
“When people have good-paying jobs plus low interest rates, that’s fuel for the fire,” he says.
Plus, there’s not much available land for builders. The city and outlying suburbs are constrained by water, mountains, and zoning rules.
Other tech meccas on our list include Salt Lake City (No. 6), aka Silicon Slopes; Boston (No. 7), a financial, higher education, and tech center; and Washington, DC (No. 9). The real estate market in DC has exploded since Amazon announced it would be installing its second headquarters just outside of the nation’s capital, employing thousands of tech workers.
Inventory is drying up in the Rust Belt’s comeback cities
On the opposite side of the booming, ultraexpensive tech meccas are the Rust Belt cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Some of these urban meccas have been investing in their downtowns and staging comebacks, becoming more appealing to buyers and investors seeking affordable real estate without sacrificing amenities. And many folks want to get in while they still can afford to buy.
The one-time industrial hub of Buffalo, NY, which sits on the Canadian border near Niagara Falls, came in second place. If we didn’t cap our list at just one metro per state, nearby Rochester, NY, would have been next in our rankings.
Buffalo’s revitalization is attracting folks from other parts of the country, says associate real estate broker Ryan Connolly of Re/Max Plus. The Buffalo metro’s median list price was $197,950 in January—about a third less than the national median.
“We are seeing incredibly, incredibly low inventory levels,” says Connolly. The number of homes for sale fell 16% year over year in January, to 6.1 listings per 1,000 households. “It’s really frustrating for buyers.”
That’s leading to multiple offers and folks offering over the asking price on homes in good shape during the busy season. It’s so bad that about a year ago, he saw 23 offers come in on a three-bed, two-bath ranch home in a Buffalo suburb.
“It was a nice home, be we weren’t expecting that,” Connolly says.
Buyers are also clamoring for homes in Columbus, OH, which earned the fifth spot in our ranking. It’s the capital of Ohio and home to Ohio State University and its roughly 45,000 students—buoying it economically. But there simply aren’t enough homes to go around.
“When we had the recession, we didn’t build any new houses. [And] we’re still not building enough homes,” says real estate agent Jeff Cotner of Re/Max One in Pickerington, OH, a Columbus suburb. “The inventory shortage is not going to go anywhere for a while.”
The use of Canada’s benchmark rate in administering the mortgage stress test is currently under review, according to an official with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI).
In a speech to the C.D. Howe Institute, Ben Gully Assistant Superintendent, Regulation Sector, said the use of the benchmark qualifying rate as the floor of Guideline B-20 stress testing for uninsured mortgages is “not playing the role that we intended.”
Uninsured mortgages (those with more than 20% down payment) are currently stress-tested on the higher of the borrower’s contract rate plus 200 bps, or the benchmark rate, which is currently 5.19%.
“For many years, our data showed the difference between the benchmark rate and the average contract rate was about 2%. This provided a healthy buffer,” Gully said. “However, the difference between the average contract rate and the benchmark has been widening more recently, suggesting that the benchmark is less responsive to market changes than when it was first proposed.”
Indeed, fixed mortgage rates have been on a downward trajectory since the beginning of 2019.
What likely won’t be changing is OSFI’s use of the contract rate plus 200 basis points for stress testing uninsured mortgages. “This helps borrowers and lenders manage a sudden change in circumstances such as an income loss, increased interest rates, and/or additional expenses,” Gully said. “This will therefore remain a key part of OSFI’s guideline B-20.”
Gully added that “while we are aware of contrary opinions, “institutions, markets and borrowers have all come to see the value of a qualifying rate even if there remains debate about the appropriate level of responsiveness.”
“It’s an interesting acknowledgement [by OSFI] that the BoC posted rate is now possibly too stringent a test given our market rates,” Paul Taylor, President and CEO of Mortgage Professionals Canada told CMT. “This is very encouraging for the marketplace and own lobby efforts.”
In his speech, Gully also provided OSFI’s take on other aspects of the mortgage industry.
For mortgage renewals, existing lenders don’t typically re-underwrite the loan if the borrower is current with their payments. “OSFI sees this as a reasonable practice…” Gully said. “However, we do expect lenders to update their risk analysis throughout the life of the loan.”
“We will continue to look at this issue closely through regular reporting on rates for new originations and renewals,” he added. “If we see outliers, then we will follow up directly with lenders to understand why this is happening and what they are doing about it.”
OSFI recognizes that combined loan products, such as HELOCs, “can make adding more risk easy for borrowers,” Gully said, adding that, “OSFI is concerned that some lenders may be taking on more risk than they bargained for with these open-ended commitments.”
The problem, he noted, is that loan products such as HELOCs can conceal increasing debt loads while payments remain the same.
“This can make assessing credit quality more difficult for lenders,” he said. “We are working with the Bank of Canada to collect data to assess the potential vulnerabilities of these products as well as the larger market and economic issues.”