Best mortgage rates in Canada
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WATCH: September 6, 2023 Bank of Canada announcement
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The Canadian mortgage market has seen considerable volatility in recent months, and the first weeks of September 2023 are no exception. Surging bond yields have continued to put upward pressure on fixed mortgage rate pricing, while variable mortgage rates remain elevated following the Bank of Canada’s June and July rate hikes that brought the target Overnight Lending Rate to 5%. If you're shopping for a mortgage rate in Canada right now, here are some economic factors you should be aware of.
September 2023 mortgage market update
CPI update: Inflation is a closely-watched metric by the Bank of Canada, and is the main measure that informs its monetary policy; the Bank uses its policy rate – also called the benchmark or Overnight Lending Rate – to influence inflation. When inflation is trending too high, as it has done following the end of pandemic lockdowns in 2021, the BoC responds by hiking its trend-setting rate. Doing so stifles consumer and borrowing activity, thereby cooling the rate of inflation growth. The opposite occurs when the economy is experiencing a slump; the BoC cuts interest rates to make it cheaper to borrow, thereby incentivizing borrower behaviour.
The latest Canadian consumer price index (CPI) came in at 4% in August, exceeding economists’ forecasts and surpassing July’s higher-than-expected figure of 3.3%. According to Statistics Canada, this uptick has been driven in large part by an increase in gasoline prices, which have gone up by 0.8% year over year (the first annual increase this year) and 4.6% on a monthly basis. Shelter costs also played a major role in the growth of inflation, with rent costs climbing steadily across the country. Mortgage interest costs, already the single largest contributor to rising inflation, went up slightly on a monthly basis, with August’s figure of 30.9% above the previous month’s 30.6% reading. While grocery price growth continues to be excessively high, the pace has slowed somewhat, with an increase of 6.9% in August compared to July’s 8.5%.
Given this most recent update, it remains unclear whether the Bank of Canada will opt to raise its benchmark Overnight Lending Rate in its next announcement on October 25, or leave it unchanged. The next Canadian CPI report, expected in mid-October, will certainly be a deciding factor in how the Bank chooses to proceed.
Bond market update: Government of Canada five-year bond yields – which lenders use to set the price for their fixed mortgage rates – have surged following the most recent hot inflation data. They reached 4.15% on August 15, a high not seen since 2007. With yields remaining firmly above the 4% threshold, there is currently heavy upward pressure on fixed mortgage rates. Investors can expect bond markets to remain quite volatile in the coming weeks, as there are still a few data reports – such as job numbers and the next CPI report – out before the next Bank of Canada rate announcement on October 25.
Real estate update: The Canadian housing market slowed down in August, as tougher borrowing conditions engendered by the Bank of Canada’s June and July rate hikes and chronically high home prices sent would-be buyers and sellers to the sidelines. According to the most recent figures published by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), a total of 40,257 homes were sold in August, up by 5.3% year over year, but down -4.1% on a monthly basis. As well, August’s annual growth was lower than the 8.7% seen in July.
Increased inventory has helped to stem price growth and provide home buyers with a small measure of relief and a greater selection of housing options. Although national inventory increased by just 0.8% from the previous month, this is an indication that new supply is returning to more normal levels. The national sales-to-new-listings ratio (SNLR) fell to 56.2%, indicating that the national housing market can be considered balanced. According to CREA, a ratio within 40 - 60% indicates a balanced market, with above and below that threshold representing sellers’ and buyers’ markets, respectively.
According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, just over half of all local markets saw an increase in buyer appetite. That doesn’t include the Greater Toronto Area, however, where a monthly decline of -8.7% was enough to offset the national picture to “slightly negative.” Sales also dipped in the Fraser Valley by -11.1%, but rose in Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary.
However, the MLS Home Price Index, which measures the value of the most typical type of home sold, was up by 0.4% on both an annual and monthly basis. The average Canadian home price stood at $650,140 in September, up by 2.2% year over year, but down by 20% from the pandemic-era peak of February 2022.
Buyer appetite has fallen the most in Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, followed by Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton-Burlington, London and St. Thomas.
Highlights from the Bank of Canada's September 6, 2023 announcement
On September 6, 2023, the Bank of Canada held its target for the overnight rate steady at 5.00%.
- Numerous data points that the Bank of Canada uses to make its decisions supported a rate hold, including soft Q2 GDP numbers, slowing consumption, a softening national housing market and more slack in the labour market. That said, inflation remains stubbornly above the Bank’s 2% target, and the Bank was crystal clear that it would effect further rate hikes down the road if needed to achieve its goal.
- Given the Bank’s refusal to rule out further rate hikes if deemed necessary, Canadians should budget for possible future rate increases.
- Canadians with variable-rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) will be happy to see their rates staying stable, as will anyone looking to get a mortgage in the fall.
- Fixed rates aren’t directly affected by the Bank of Canada’s rate hold, but the bond market is unlikely to rise significantly in response to this announcement. Anyone looking to get a fixed-rate mortgage should get pre-approved in order to hold today’s rates for up to 120 days, which will protect them in case of any rate rises during that period.
- It remains to be seen whether this rate hold is sufficient to give home buyers the confidence they need to go house-hunting in the fall, or whether the current rate environment is so high that even with this rate hold, would-be home buyers remain on the sidelines.
Factors that can affect your mortgage rate in Canada
It’s important to understand that the best mortgage rate you qualify for may change depending on your unique borrowing profile. Here are some of the factors that influence what mortgage rate you qualify for:
The type of mortgage: If your mortgage is for a refinance, rather than a purchase or renewal, you’ll be eligible for higher rates. For individuals with an existing mortgage who have good credit and more than 20% equity in their homes, in addition to refinancing, you can also explore a home equity line of credit (HELOC).
Your down payment: If you’re purchasing a home and your down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price and the value of the home you are purchasing is less than $1 million, you’ll be required to purchase mortgage default insurance (sometimes known as CMHC insurance). This insurance is added to your mortgage amount and, while it will cost you money, it will result in a lower mortgage rate as your mortgage is less risky for your lender. If you’re renewing your mortgage, in order to be eligible for the lowest mortgage rates you would have needed to purchase CMHC insurance on the original mortgage.
Your intended use of the property: Your mortgage rate will be higher if you plan to rent your property out vs. live in it as your primary residence.
Your amortization period: Insurable mortgages (i.e. mortgages for homes valued at less than $1 million with a down payment of less than 20% of the purchase price) in Canada have a maximum amortization period of 25 years. Regardless of the price of your home, if you make a down payment of at least 20%, you are able to access a mortgage that allows a longer amortization period, such as a 30-year period. While longer amortization periods will usually result in a lower monthly payment, they can come with a slightly higher interest rate. Moreover, by taking longer to pay back the mortgage, you will pay more in interest overall than you would with a shorter amortization period.
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How to choose between a fixed or variable mortgage rate in Canada
Variable vs. fixed mortgage rates
The difference between fixed and variable mortgage rates is whether or not they will change over the term of your mortgage. Fixed rates will stay the same over the course of your mortgage term (usually 5 years), while variable rates will change alongside changes in your lender’s prime rate.
Fixed mortgage rates:
Fixed mortgage rates are a historically popular option, with 5-year fixed mortgage rates accounting for nearly two-thirds of all mortgage requests made on Ratehub.ca in 2022. The benefit of a fixed mortgage is that you are protected against interest rate fluctuations, so your regular payments stay constant over the duration of your term, regardless of what happens in the market. A fixed rate mortgage is ideal for you if you have a low appetite for risk. You’ll know how much you’ll be paying monthly right from the outset and not have to monitor interest rates.
Variable mortgage rates:
Variable mortgage rates are typically lower than fixed rates but can vary over the duration of your term. Variable mortgages are prone to market behaviour (via the prime rate) which affects your payments. That means your payment amounts can change over time. Variable rates remained substantially lower than fixed rates throughout 2021 and into 2022, leading a large number of buyers to opt for 5-year variable-rate mortgages. However, as variable-rate mortgages climbed to rates that are higher than fixed-rate mortgages over the course of eight consecutive rate hikes between March 2022 and January 2023, their popularity has substantially diminished.
While variable rates are generally lower, they do fluctuate and can be viewed as more risky when compared to fixed rates. Moreover, variable rates have actually been higher than fixed rates since the end of 2022. That said, variable mortgage rates have some key advantages you should know about:
- You can convert a variable rate to a fixed rate at any time without a penalty as long as you stay with your original mortgage lender.
- Breaking a variable rate mortgage is substantially less expensive than breaking a fixed rate mortgage. To estimate the cost of breaking your mortgage, our mortgage penalty calculator is a useful tool.
According to York University Professor Moshe Milevsky’s landmark 2001 study, historically, over 90% of Canadians who have maintained a variable mortgage rate throughout their entire mortgage term have paid less in interest than those who have stuck to a fixed rate.
How to select the term for your mortgage rate
Choosing between a short-term mortgage or a long-term mortgage can also affect your interest rate. A short-term mortgage generally offers a lower rate, and, as it requires more frequent renewal, you can benefit from lower interest rates when you renew, if rates stay low at your renewal. Long-term mortgages, on the other hand, offer stability, as you won’t need to renew it often. However, long-term mortgage holders may not be able to take advantage of lower interest rates if the market fluctuates.
Open vs. closed mortgages
If you’re wondering whether to get an open or closed mortgage, the answer is, while an open mortgage may make sense in certain circumstances, the overwhelming majority of Canadians opt for a closed mortgage. While open mortgages have extra flexibility that you might need, closed mortgages are by far the more popular choice not only due to their lower rates, but also because most home buyers do not intend to pay off their mortgages in the short term. Moreover, fixed-rate open mortgages do not exist and variable-rate mortgages are very rare. The most common type of open mortgage is the Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). Below are some quick facts about the differences between open and closed mortgages, and you can also find more detailed information on our blog about open vs. closed mortgages.
Closed mortgages have lower rates compared to open mortgages. Closed mortgages can come in fixed and variable form, but place restrictions on the amount of principal you can pay down each year. If you pay off the entire principal in a closed mortgage before the set term, you will face a prepayment penalty, which is normally a 3-month interest charge.
Open mortgages allow you to pay off your entire mortgage balance at any time throughout the term. The drawback is that you pay a premium for that option in the form of higher rates. You might opt for an open mortgage if you are planning to move in the near future, or if you’re expecting a lump sum of money through an inheritance or bonus that would allow you to pay more of your mortgage off.
How do I qualify for a mortgage in Canada?
While it’s important to think about qualifying for the best rates, you should also give some thought to the basics that you’ll need to qualify and get approved for your mortgage. To qualify for a mortgage, here are some of the most important things that prospective lenders will want to see.
A good credit score - You should have a credit score of 680 or higher to qualify for the best mortgage rates, but to qualify for a mortgage at all, you’ll need a credit score of at least 560. In addition to looking at your credit score, prospective lenders will also consider any derogatory information from your credit report, such as any missed payments (particularly if they have gone to collections). If you have bad credit, generally defined as a credit score of less than 660, you are unlikely to qualify for the best mortgage rates, and instead you’ll need to use a sub-prime mortgage lender like Equitable Bank or Home Trust. If your credit score is even less than 600, you will most probably need to use a private lender like WealthBridge. Sub-prime mortgage lenders are happy to work with people with a poor credit history, but they will charge higher mortgage rates. It's a good idea to have a detailed understanding of how your credit score affects your ability to obtain a mortgage.
Proof of income - You’ll also need to provide proof of income in the form of pay stubs and/or tax documents like your Notice of Assessment (NOA). Keep in mind that if you recently started a new job, even with proof of income, many lenders will want to see that you’ve held the position for at least a year.
Ability to pass a mortgage stress test - Finally, to be eligible for the mortgage amount you want, you will need to pass a mortgage stress test. The stress test ensures that you can still afford your mortgage payments at a higher mortgage rate, which is the higher of your contract rate + 2%, or what is called the "qualifying rate" and is set by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI). So, for example, if you were being offered a mortgage rate of 4.45%, the lender might do a stress test to see if you could still afford payments at 6.45% (4.45% + 2%), as that is higher than the qualifying rate of 5.25%.
Historical Canada mortgage rates
Looking at historical mortgage rates in Canada is a good way to understand which types of mortgage attract higher rates. They also make it easier to understand whether we’re currently in a low or higher rate environment, relatively speaking.
Here are some of the lowest Canada mortgage rates of the year for different types of mortgages over the past five years.
Is it worth working with a mortgage broker?
First, what exactly is a mortgage broker? Independent mortgage brokers are licensed mortgage specialists who have access to multiple lenders and mortgage rates. They essentially negotiate the lowest rate for you, and because they acquire high quantities of mortgage products, mortgage brokers can pass volume discounts directly to you. There are advantages to getting a mortgage directly from a lender as well as getting a mortgage through a broker, but there are differences between going with a bank vs. a mortgage broker. While going directly to your current bank lets you consolidate your financial products, using a broker allows you to shop around quickly and easily, at no cost to you.
Luckily, you don’t need to choose one or the other. You can speak to multiple banks and use a mortgage broker if you want to. Ratehub.ca is a great place to start, as we compare the best mortgage rates in Canada from multiple lenders. Once you’ve compared your options, we can put you in contact with your chosen provider.