Tag Archives: CMHC

“Let’s remember how we got here” – Looser and Looser CMHC Limits

Let’s remember how we got here:

• Prior to 1999 you needed 10% for a mortgage and that mortgage had a maximum amortization of 25 years. CMHC also had limits on how much you could buy with their insurance.

• Just after 1999 CMHC lowered the down payment to 5% with price limits on how much they would insure depending on the area. Amortizations were still 25 years. There would be no price limit on what they would insure if 10% or more was put down.

• By Sept. 2003 CMHC allowed 5% down on 25 yr amortizations but they removed all price ceiling limitations. Now any mortgage would be insured regardless of the value of home purchased.

• In March 2004 CMHC began allowing Flex-Down products which permitted the 5% down to be borrowed and 1.5% closing costs to be borrowed (essentially zero down, but 95% insured.

• In March 2006 you had 0% down, 30 yr amortizations. This became 0% down, 35 yr amortizations later in the year. Interest only payments were allowed for 10 years.

• In November 2006 CMHC began allowing 0% down, 40 yr amortizations along with interest only payments for 10 years.

• Canadian banks ramped this up by allowing up to 7% cash back offers if you would take on a mortgage with them. You could basically get paid if you bought a house.

• Not only were the rules surrounding the granting of money loosened, but CMHC’s cap for granting mortgages grew from $100 Billion in 2006 to almost $600 Billion today.

- this fine summary from ‘golden_boy’ at VCI 11 Jun 2013 7:40am

Less Expensive Is Better – “So they’ll buy a less expensive home. Good. I consider that desirable.”

flaherty

“It will mean that some people will not buy into the market. It will also mean that some people will buy less into the market… so they’ll buy a less expensive home, or less expensive condominium. … Good! I consider that desirable.”
– Jim Flaherty, Canadian Minister of Finance, April 2012 news conference regarding mortgage condition tightening, as recapped on Global TV News, 18 Dec 2012 [hat-tip Greenhorn for the archived video clip]

Not less of a home, note, but a less expensive home.
This is, indeed, desirable.
– vreaa

Mortgage Policy Decisions – “The pressures on the Minister of Finance are to do the wrong thing.”

Whatever happens in the housing market, former central bank governor David Dodge thinks there’s a bigger issue at stake. The rules that shape the housing market should not be subject to the whims of politicians, he says. Finance ministers should not be allowed to make them up on the fly, in the manner that Ottawa has over the past several years.
Mr. Dodge believes a system should be devised to measure house prices against other benchmarks, to determine when mortgage insurance rules need to be tightened or loosened, regardless of political considerations.
“There are different ways one can go at that, but you don’t want it all in the hands of the Minister of Finance. Because generally, the pressures on the Minister of Finance are to do the wrong thing,” he said.
Mr. Dodge also believes that the mortgage insurance system places too much emphasis on keeping banks healthy by protecting them from mortgage losses, rather than keeping the economy healthy by ensuring that housing supply is in line with demand.
Looking back on that angry meeting with CMHC executives in 2006, and with the benefit of seeing what has happened to the housing market, he stands by his criticism. “I have no reason to revise what I said at the time at all. I think [loosening the rules] was a mistake,” Mr. Dodge said.

Even some former CMHC insiders are now calling for a radical rethinking of what the institution does.
Gary Mooney, a former director on CMHC’s board, says “it is now time for root and branch reform,” including “an honest evaluation of CMHC’s relationship with our major financial institutions.” Private competitors – of which there are currently only two – could play a bigger role in providing mortgage insurance, he suggests.

Mr. Flaherty has gone even further, asking whether the federal government should be in the business of guaranteeing loans for the benefit of banks. In a recent interview with The Globe, he said he wants Ottawa to look at privatizing CMHC in the next five to 10 years. Proponents of that idea say one of the main benefits would be to reduce the taxpayer’s exposure to mortgages – and to a housing slump.

But Mr. Dodge argues that’s not really the case. Ottawa is already in too deep.
“The system as a whole is too big to fail,” he says.
“And when something is too big to fail, the government will come in.”

Ms. Kinsley, CMHC’s CEO, declined several interview requests from The Globe and would not comment for this article.

- from ‘Ottawa’s $800-billion housing problem’, Tara Perkins and Grant Robertson, The Globe and Mail, 26 Dec 2012

CMHC allowed the mis-pricing of the risk of lending capital, and this contributed to the massive speculative mania in Vancouver RE. Note how this opinion is now becoming mainstream.
By the time prices have crashed (in a year or three?) we’ll have certain individuals saying both “We all knew it was a bubble” and “Who could have possibly foreseen this?”, sometimes in the very same paragraph. Just watch.
Further point: As usual when markets go through one of these massive manias, policy rethink always happens after the fact, when the horse has long since bolted and the market is already looking after the problem.
– vreaa

“I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”

housing-obrienxxrb1
Sarah O’Brien and her husband Darryl Silva were able to buy a home a few years ago because their 35-year mortgage kept payments low.

“In 2006, the new Conservative government in Ottawa allowed CMHC to tinker with its tried-and-true formula. One of the key changes was in mortgage length: CMHC would insure mortgages 35 and 40 years in length.
The measures helped people like Sarah O’Brien, who bought her first home at the age of 26. She and her husband, Darryl Silva, purchased a condo three years ago in Etobicoke, on the western side of Toronto, with a down payment of just 5 per cent. Mortgage rates were low, which helped. But so did the bank’s willingness to give them a CMHC-insured 35-year mortgage. The longer amortization held their biweekly payments to about $700.
“We’re young to be getting into the real estate market, so if the monthly amounts were significantly higher, we probably wouldn’t have,” Ms. O’Brien said. “We probably would have waited.”
The arrival of buyers like Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Silva has changed the market, however. Home buyers have responded to low rates and easy mortgage rules “by bidding up the price of houses,” said bank analyst Peter Routledge at National Bank Financial. Since 2000, the price of houses across Canada has risen 127 per cent; they’ve gone up nearly 50 per cent since 2006.
“You can never really provide cheap housing,” argues Moin Yahya, associate professor of law at the University of Alberta. “All you can really do is provide cheap cash, which of course then drives up the price of housing. You’re only distorting the market.”


“What is beyond dispute is that CMHC’s rules have enabled a change in behaviour among home buyers like Ashleigh Egerton. When she and her boyfriend bought a townhouse in Brampton, Ont., in May, 2008, they could have made a 5 per cent down payment – but opted to put nothing down instead.
“Instead of putting that money into the house, we felt like we’d be off to a better start if we had some money to furnish the house,” Ms. Egerton says. “I wasn’t under the impression that I would be paying this house off. This wasn’t the house that we would be staying in forever, it was just about getting into the market, getting a place.”
But the zero-down mortgages created a new problem in the housing market: Buyers who weren’t building any equity in their properties, since the payments were primarily covering the interest in the early stages of the loan. When Ms. Egerton moved out about two years later after splitting up with her boyfriend, the pair still didn’t have any equity in the home.”


– above two anecdotes excerpted from ‘Ottawa’s $800-billion housing problem’, Tara Perkins and Grant Robertson, The Globe and Mail, 26 Dec 2012

Examples of two couples who bought houses, but shouldn’t have; and who, under normal circumstances (and, ironically, at lower prices), wouldn’t have.
– vreaa

“The bank called us and offered us a $300K HELOC on the $315K leaky condo without us even asking for it.”

“Our personal experience in 2008 really shook my confidence in how mortgage and HELOC approvals are handled by banks.
We used to own a 1Bedroom 1 Bath 780 Sqft “Penthouse” in East Vancouver, one block to Commercial Drive.
It was a good location, we renovated it from the inside, great so far… However the building had major issues from the outside and needed a complete rainscreening job. The Strata members fought each other for a long time and renovations were postponed while the damage got worse. Our share when it finally got done $78K.
We had no mortgage on it at the time and were able to get a loan from CMHC for the repairs which we took because it was interest free. Anyways, we sold the place for 315K after the renovation was done and made a good profit as I had bought it very cheap, back in 2001 when everybody was afraid of leaky condos and there were no buyers for this even though the location was great and the unit was nice from the inside.
Here is the part that shows the recklessness of lending though: After we were approved for the CMHC funds one of the major 5 banks who we were banking with at the time called us and offered us a HELOC on the place without us even asking for it.
I asked them how much could they give us and the answer was that based on the location, size and age they can give us up to 300K if we wanted to.”

Mike at VREAA 23 Dec 2012 2:14pm

“Five years ago my girlfriend and I were pre-approved for over 400k on a mortgage, without showing or proving any income.”

“Five years ago my girlfriend and I were approved for over 400k on a loan. You know, the kind that get pre-done before you shop. Well, that was without showing or proving any income. This was by word of mouth at a mortgage broker’s office. I said I have the papers to back my claims, she said doesn’t matter, we trust your word.
Why would phoney valuations made by a computer surprise anyone in today’s environment?
We never pulled the trigger on a place… good thing too!”

kc at VREAA 23 Dec 2012 9:12am

G&M On Emili – “Everyone is getting nervous now. There is more and more potential of a downturn in the marketplace.”

“Where banks once sent human appraisers to assess a home’s value and determine whether to provide a mortgage for it, the banking industry – encouraged by the federal government’s own Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) – had largely converted to a faster and cheaper system of automated underwriting, using computerized models to determine how much money to safely lend. The models weren’t perfect, but they were close enough. And what did it matter? House prices always seemed to be going up in Canada anyway.”

CMHC’s automated underwriting program – called Emili – had been stamping its approval on millions of mortgages as safe. But in Emili-approved cases where the banks were forced to foreclose, the homes turned out to be worth much less than believed.
As the housing market in Canada begins to cool and the federal government talks of a soft landing for home prices, rather than a hard crash, attention is turning to the factors that fed record borrowing and contributed to overheated sales and price increases – and the risks that now lie within the financial system. Rock-bottom interest rates propelled Canadian real estate to undreamt-of heights, and Ottawa’s decision to loosen mortgage rules added to the froth, as marginal buyers flooded into the market.
That much is amply documented. But an investigation by The Globe and Mail has uncovered a hidden risk in Canada’s housing markets: The rise of automated lending approvals, which has created a rapid-fire system that has financial regulators worried about the foundations that underpin Canada’s housing market. There are worries that the true worth of Canadians’ homes could be lower than what computerized methods spit out. There are also worries that unscrupulous human appraisers can manipulate home values.
Those distortions matter less in a strong economy and a rising market, in which price appreciation covers up any errors. But the days of steady gains in real estate are gone: Almost all major metropolitan markets have plateaued, and in some, such as Vancouver, housing prices are falling at a worrying pace.
“Everyone is getting nervous now,” says Phil West, a veteran of the appraisal industry who is critical of Emili. “There is more and more potential of a downturn in the marketplace.”


An on-site visit to a suburban Vancouver home with Mr. Sieb illustrates the concern. As he begins walking through the house, the appraiser grows skeptical about the information the bank has been given about this home.
The listing says this house – a bungalow listed for $479,000 – was built in 1980 and is newly renovated. He notes some fresh carpet and a recently installed light switch, but the kitchen and other rooms show troubling signs of age. “This isn’t a renovation,” he says flatly. “You wouldn’t call it that unless you were stretching what you see for the purpose of getting the value up.”
Mr. Sieb checks the dates stamped on the plumbing. “This place was built in the 70s,” he says, shaking his head.
This, he explains, is the sort of thing that the computers miss.
Last month, Mr. Sieb appraised a home that turned out to be several hundred feet smaller than what the paperwork on the house claimed.
“In my career,” says Mr. Sieb, who has been appraising for 30 years and now runs Inter-City Appraisals of Coquitlam, B.C., “maybe five times have I had the exact same measurements as the realtor.”


– from ‘Shaky foundations: How Ottawa’s computers get Canadian home prices wrong’, Grant Robertson and Tara Perkins, Globe & Mail, 22 Dec 2012[hat-tip Ralph Cramdown]

An article that is worth the entire read.
We particularly like the way the description of the current state of the market is not sugar-coated, the thorough discussion of the clearly fudge-able Emili system, and, in particular, the observation that these kinds of rethinks of aspects of market ‘regulation’ are only questioned when a market begins to fail. As the authors say: “Those distortions matter less in a strong economy and a rising market, in which price appreciation covers up any errors.”
– vreaa


UPDATE: Further regarding the Emili discussion:
“Over portfolios with hundreds of thousands of properties, there will always be overvaluation and undervaluation, and the overwhelming majority of those cases fall within safe parameters. What the public needs to know is the tail risk of auto-valued applications, versus appraiser-evaluated apps. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data to gauge that yet.
Inevitably, people will read the Globe’s story and think that CMHC is using some back-of-the-napkin formula to judge property risk. That’s so far from the truth. Emili is not some 100-line computer program written by a college intern. It is multi-million dollar mission critical technology benefiting from the best available data and over two decades of R&D.
CMHC knows the risk of it botching property valuations en masse. It has the public, press and regulators breathing down its neck around the clock. It knows the risks in automated valuations better than virtually anyone in the country because it’s processed millions of mortgage files since 1996. And it tirelessly optimizes its systems to statistically factor in and adjust for those risks. To imply that CMHC cannot account for “recent movements in home prices” is simply laughable.”

– from ‘emili Criticisms Resurface’, Rob McLister, canadianmortgagetrends.com, 22 Dec 2012
[hat-tip Ralph Cramdown, added at the suggestion of jesse/YVR]

Okay, fair point. One has to do a careful analysis of the entire risk across the whole CMHC portfolio, agreed; it’s not enough to point to a few anecdotes of errors in valuation assessment and conclude that the entire system is at high risk. The anecdotes could be representative example of a systemic bias towards overvaluation, but they could also simply be outliers.
At the same time, when Rob McLister expresses high confidence in CMHCs risk modelling, refers to the “multi-million dollar mission critical technology”, and states that this criticism of CMHC is “laughable”, we are not immediately reassured. After all, he is
the same guy who called the idea of 40% price drops “farcical”. Any market observer who lacks the imagination to see the possibility of such an outcome is at risk of being blinkered in their analysis.
When we hear market participants calling the idea of certain outcomes “laughable” and “farcical”, we’d strongly suggest one give serious thought to the possibility of those outcomes coming to pass. Why? Because their high confidence reflects the strong probability that a very substantial percentage of market participants are not prepared for that outcome, and that is the very mechanism by which such outcomes come to pass! This is closely related to the analysis of sentiment, and is Contrarianism 101.
When market participants are 100% convinced that stock ‘x’ can only go up, where does it go?
At 125, the thought of Nortel trading at 50 was “farcical”, and “multi-million dollar mission critical technology” showed that such a drop was impossible.
– vreaa