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OSFI Considering Mortgage Amortization Changes

House price squeezeFederal policy-makers are exploring additional mortgage rule tightening, CMT has confirmed.

A spokesperson from Canada’s banking regulator, The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada (OSFI), verified that it is looking at the issue of limiting amortizations to 25 years on conventional mortgages (those with 20%+ equity). Currently, those “low-ratio” mortgages can have amortizations up to 35 years.

OSFI is “doing some preliminary consultation with financial institutions” on the matter, said the spokesperson.

Those communications appear to be behind the scenes with banks and federally-regulated trust companies. OSFI will not be issuing a public statement in the very near term (i.e., next week).

OSFIThe regulator added, “We are working to determine the desirability of some changes given current conditions in housing markets and recent trends in household indebtedness.”

“A decision in that regard would be taken once we hear back from the industry. Any proposed changes to our mortgage guideline that may result from this work would be subject to a public consultation process.”

Officials from OSFI, the Department of Finance (DoF) and the Bank of Canada have been working together closely. Their aim is to stabilize housing, moderate debt levels and reduce economic exposure to rising rates.

jim_flahertyWhen implementing the last set of mortgage changes in 2012, Finance Minister Flaherty made it crystal clear that he considers it “desirable” to make home buying more difficult.

In December, he told reporters: “Less demand, lower prices, modestly, in the housing market are much better for Canadians than a boom followed by a bust. So I’m all for a soft landing.”

But real estate has been more resilient than many expected. And some at the DoF are not satisfied that housing is slowing fast enough.

Recent data show national home sales down roughly 15% year-over-year. Mortgage volumes have dipped as well. But home prices are marching stubbornly higher, hitting a new record high in March according to Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) figures.

There’s every reason to suspect that the DoF will keep applying air brakes until the housing plane has no more lift. Then it becomes a question of whether home prices glide lower or break into an all-out dive (a lower probability).

This article is in follow-up to Friday’s story: Death Sentence for Extended Amortizations?

Rob McLister, CMT