When double dipping is okay

Blog Posts David Cooke 31 May

Perhaps you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza catches someone double dipping in the salsa. While this is considered unsanitary and bad manners, some forms of double dipping are okay.

Sometimes two levels of government want you to do something, so they offer you an incentive. The idea is that people’s behavior over time changes and it becomes the norm to do this.
Several years ago when I was having my furnace cleaned and serviced, the service man told me that the firebox had rusted and fumes could flow through my home. He turned the furnace off and told me that I needed a new one.

At the time, the local natural gas company was offering discounts on furnaces for people who switched over to their company. The local electricity provider offered lower rates to people who bought a heat pump and the federal government had a program to encourage people to become more energy efficient. As a result, I was able to triple dip – I got a discounted more energy efficient furnace with air conditioning and a new lower rate for electricity.

That program is gone now but there are others that you can benefit from. At this time Alberta residents are being bombarded with ads and flyers from window companies. They say that if you replace your windows now you can qualify for a $1,500 rebate through the provincial government. What they are not telling you is that you can double dip. If you get an energy audit before the windows are replaced and you apply to your mortgage default insurance company , whether it’s CMHC, Genworth , or Canada Guaranty, you may qualify for a 15% rebate on your premium ! On a $400,000 mortgage with 5% down you pay $16,000 in fees. How nice would it be to get $2,400 back?

The programs vary from province to province and cover windows, hot water tanks, appliances. You can check out what’s available here or ask your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker for more information. Go ahead and double dip.

A few reasons why you should consider a Variable Rate Mortgage

Blog Posts David Cooke 23 May

Five-year fixed mortgage rates continued their upward march last week as the five-year Government of Canada (GoC) bond yield they are priced on hit its highest level in seven years. Meanwhile, five-year variable-rate discounts deepened, further widening the gap between five-year fixed and variable rates.

When I started working in the mortgage industry in 2005, variable rate mortgages saved you more money than fixed rate mortgages 95 out of the past 100 years. First time home buyers were worried about what their home costs would be and avoided variable rate mortgages (VRM’s) because of the risk of rates going up higher than the fixed rate, but experienced home owners often took a VRM at mortgage renewal time.

However, in the past 5 years, most people have gravitated towards fixed rates because the gap between fixed and variable rates was small enough that the cost of uncertainty outweighed the potential reward for most borrowers.

Once again , the gap is widening. While fixed rate mortgages are going up due to the bond yield, variable rate mortgages have moved in the other direction.  Two years ago a VRM would be offered at Prime rate + .20%,  but later it reverted to Prime – .30% . In recent months, rates have dropped even further with some lenders offering Prime -1.0% !  You now have a choice between a 5-year fixed rate of 3.44-3.59% depending on the lender and a variable rate with a discount that calculates out to 2.45% . With a gap this large, it’s worth considering if you are risk tolerant enough to have a VRM.

Even if you are skittish, you can ask your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker to notify you if rates are going up and switch you to a fixed rate if they go above a certain percentage. Will your bank do that for you? I don’t think so. Be sure to have this discussion with your broker when your mortgage comes up for renewal or if you are considering a home purchase.

5 ways you can kill your mortgage approval

Blog Posts David Cooke 16 May

So, you found your dream home, negotiated a fair price which was accepted. You supplied all the needed documentation to your mortgage broker and you are waiting for the day that you go to the lawyer’s to sign the final paperwork and pick up the keys.

All of a sudden your broker or the lawyer calls to say that there’s a problem. How could this be? Everything has been signed and conditions have been removed. What many home buyers do not realize is that your financing approval is based on the information the lender was provided at the time of the application. If there have been any changes to your financial situation, the lender is within their rights to cancel your mortgage approval. There are 5 things that can make home financing go sideways.

1 Employment – You were working for ABC company as a clerk for 5 years making $50,000 a year and just before home possession you change jobs. The lender will now ask for proof that probation for this new job is waived and new job letters and pay stubs at the very least. If you change industries they will want to see more proof that you are capable of keeping this job.
If your new job involves overtime or bonuses of any kind that vary over time, they will ask for a 2 year average which you will not be able to provide.
Another item that could ruin your chances of getting the mortgage is if you decide to change from an employee to a self-employed contractor just before possession day. Even though you are in the same industry, your employment status has changed . This is a big deal killer.

2. Debt – A week or two before your possession date, the lender will obtain a copy of your credit report and look for any changes to your debt load. Your approval was based on how much you owed on that particular date. Buying a new car or items for the new home need to be postponed until after possession of your new home.
Don’t be fooled by “Do not pay for 12 months” sales campaigns. You now owe this money regardless of when the payments start. Don’t buy a new car and don’t buy furniture for the new home. This will increase your debt ratio and can nullify your financing.

3. Down payment source – And yet again I reiterate that the approval is based on the initial information you have provided. You will be asked at the lawyer’s office to verify the source of the down payment and if it is different than what the lender has approved, then you may be in trouble. For example, you said that you were going to save the funds and then at the last minute Mom and Dad offer you the funds as a gift. There’s no problem accepting the gift if the lender knows about it in advance and has included this in their risk assessment, but it can end a deal.

4. Credit – Don’t forget to make your regular credit card payments. If your credit score falls due to late payments, this can kill your financing. If you have a high ratio mortgage in place which required CMHC insurance, a lower credit score could mean a withdrawal of their insurance once again , killing the deal.

5-Identity Documents – This can be a deal killer at the lawyer’s office. The lawyer is required to verify your identity documents and see that they match the mortgage documents. Many Canadians use their middle names if they have the same name as their parent. Lots of new Canadians adopt a more Canadian sounding name for their day-to-day lives but their passports and other documents show another name.

Be sure to use your legal name when you apply for a mortgage to avoid this catastrophe . Finally, keep in touch with your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage professional right up to possession day. Make this a happy experience rather than a heartbreaking one.

It’s not all about the rate: Amortization & Renewals

Blog Posts David Cooke 14 May

Have you spoken to a mortgage broker lately? When it’s time to renew your mortgage you have the freedom to do a number of things that are not possible at any other time without a financial penalty. Renewal time is an opportunity.

Have you looked at your mortgage amortization lately? Let’s say that you started your present mortgage 10 years ago and you had a 30-year amortization. You now have 20 years left on your mortgage but your situation has changed. Your children have grown up and one is ready to leave for college and another one will follow in a couple of years. An easy way to help the kids out would be to refinance your home. However, the rules have changed and if the value of your home has not risen a lot and you have not paid down the balance, you may not have the 20+% you need to withdraw the equity.

Another possible solution would be to use the amortization on your mortgage to help you achieve your financial goals.
You can extend the amortization and lower your monthly payments thus freeing up cash flow.

Here’s an example. With a balance of $400,000 on your mortgage:

By adding 5 years to your mortgage you can lower your payments by $320 a month. If that’s not enough and you have more than 20% equity , in other words, your mortgage is less than 80% of the value of the home, you can extend your mortgage to 30 years with most lenders.

This will free up $520 a month. When your children graduate you or your mortgage broker can contact the lender and have your amortization lowered again. Note that changing the amortization can result in costs. Check with your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker before you make any changes to your mortgage.

5 Things to know before buying a Rural Property

Blog Posts David Cooke 10 May

After several years as a home owner, my friend was set to buy the home of his dreams. He always wanted to own an acreage outside of town. He had visions of having a few animals, a small tractor and lots of space.
As a person with experience buying homes, he felt that he was ready and that he knew what he was getting into. Wrong. As soon as you consider buying a home outside of a municipality there are a number of things to consider, not the least being how different it is to get a mortgage.

Zoning – is the property zoned “residential”, “agricultural” or perhaps “country residential”?

Some lenders will not mortgage properties that are zoned agricultural. They may even dislike country residential properties. Why? If you default on your mortgage the process of foreclosing on an agricultural property is very different and difficult for lenders. Taking a farm away from a farmer means taking their livelihood away so there are many obstacles to this.
If you are buying a hobby farm, some lenders will object to you having more than two horses or even making money selling hay.

Water and Sewerage – if you are far from a city your water may come from a well and your sewerage may be in a septic tank. A good country realtor will recommend an inspection of the septic tank as a condition on the purchase offer. Be prepared for the inspection to cost more than it cost you in the city. Many lenders will also ask for a potability and flow test for the well. A house without water is very hard to sell.

Land – most lenders will mortgage a house, one outbuilding and up to 10 acres of land. Anything above this amount and it will not be considered in the mortgage. In other words, besides paying a minimum of 5% down payment you could end up having to pay out more cash to cover the second out building and the extra land being sold .

Appraisal – your appraisal will cost you more as the appraiser needs to travel farther to see the property. It may also come in low as rural properties do not turn over as quickly as city properties. Be prepared to have to come up with the difference between the selling price and the appraised value of the property.

Fire Insurance – living in the country can be nice but you are also far from fire hydrants and fire stations. Expect to pay more for home insurance.

Finally, if you are thinking about purchasing a home in a rural area, be sure to speak to a Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker before you do anything. They can often recommend a realtor who specializes in rural properties and knows the areas better than the #1 top producer in your city or town.

Unique Homes Have Special Problems

Blog Posts David Cooke 6 Apr

Recently one of the former members of the boy band New Kids on the Block expressed an interest in buying this lighthouse off the coast of Virginia in the U.S. Unique homes can be a lot of fun to own and to live in. However, there are some things you should be aware of before you make an offer on a unique property. He probably paid cash for this property because unique properties can be difficult to find financing for.

While we don’t have lighthouses in Western Canada, another type of property does come onto the market from time to time; church conversions.
I had a client last year who owned a church conversion in a small town in Saskatchewan. The building was great. It had lots of room, and it was on a large lot.

The problem was trying to find a lender who would lend on a church conversion. I found out that the big banks would lend but only in larger cities and towns. They would lend on homes in small towns in Saskatchewan and Alberta but not both. The only solution was to go to a local credit union that knew the property and the town.

Why won’t big banks do unique homes like this in smaller centres? Marketability – if the borrower doesn’t keep up their payments it would take months to find a buyer who wanted something like this and it would cost the bank a lot to keep the property until a buyer could be found.
Another lesson to be learned – before you make an offer on a unique property always check with your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage professoinal to see if you can get financing on your special home.

4 Smart Features that will boost the value of your property

Blog Posts David Cooke 4 Apr

People have a lot of different ideas on how they want their home to look. Some want a modern look while others like traditional cottages. But one thing that more and more people want is smart technology in their homes. This adds value and desirability to your home making it easier to sell for the asking price.

In a recent survey, 35% of first time home buyers put smart technology as a priority in their home purchase.
What is a smart home? A smart home is a residence that uses internet-connected devices to enable the remote monitoring and management of appliances and systems, such as lighting and heating.

Smart thermostat – Is a thermostat that can be controlled remotely by your smart phone and will eventually learn your heating and cooling patterns. You can turn up the A/C in the summer from your office and the house will be cool by the time you get home. These features are convenient but they also help you save money on home heating and cooling costs.

Connected Lights – allow you to turn on or dim lights at different times of the day. Combined with a Smart thermostat they can help you to save half your average energy costs.

Smart Locks – these are really cool ! You can program your front door to unlock when guests arrive using Bluetooth or WiFi or some smart phones.

Wireless Security – We have all seen photos of burglars stealing packages from the front door of a home , or perhaps you have seen the TV ad of the lady at the spa who can see 2 unsavory looking guys at her front door and speaking to them and scaring them off. You may have seen the YouTube video of a house that caught fire in Ft. MacMurray and the firefighters extinguishing the blaze. The home owners were able to watch this from a hotel room in Edmonton. Check with your insurance company, you may qualify for a large discount in your rates by having this home security.

Finally, not only is your home more desirable and comfortable, but this is achievable in both new and existing homes. Speak to your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker about having these additions to your home added to your mortgage either with a Purchase/Refinance Plus Improvements or a HELOC. They can advise you on the best options for your particular needs.

March is fraud awareness month

Blog Posts David Cooke 21 Mar

You may have heard that March is Fraud Awareness Month. Authorities are trying to raise awareness of identity theft , phishing schemes and other forms of fraud. What you may not know is that as many as 1 in 5 Canadians are committing mortgage fraud whether they know it or not.

Fraud for Shelter

Is defined as any time a person “intentionally provides inaccurate, fraudulent or incomplete information to a lender in order to secure a mortgage that they might not otherwise be granted,” according to the Canadian Bankers Association.

You may intend on paying off the mortgage according to the terms in the contract but you may have fudged the numbers a bit to help you obtain the mortgage. Perhaps you borrowed the down payment money and intend on paying it back but you did not declare it as a gift; you may ask a friend to go on the application as a co – borrower when they won’t be living in the house with you. You might be friends with your boss at a small company and ask him to fudge your income to show you make $50,000 instead of $40,000 or alter your employment letter to show you make more than you do or have been on the job longer than you actually have been. This is all fraud.

What can happen to you if the truth comes out? Not only will the lender call the loan and you have to find alternative financing within 24 hours, but you could end up with fraud showing on your credit report. Imagine how unhappy your employer would be if they find out?

Fraud for Profit
You want to buy a rental property but you only have enough for a 5% down payment, nowhere near the 20% required to purchase a property that you don’t intend to live in.

Something that also happens too often is a friend or acquaintance tells you that they want to buy a property, but their credit won’t be in good shape for another 3-6 months. They offer to pay you $5,000 to use your name and credit to purchase the home and then they will take you off title when everything is good. Don’t fall for this. You are what the RCMP call a “straw buyer”. What they do is buy a home from another member of their gang at an over inflated price. They then make 2 or 3 monthly payments and then they take off leaving you stuck with a home you can’t sell for that price and obliged to make up any shortfall between the foreclosure selling price and the amount the lender mortgaged the home for.

Title Fraud
In this case, you are the victim. If you own a home free and clear, the fraudsters steal your identity, take out a mortgage on your property without you knowing it and take off with the funds leaving you to prove that you didn’t refinance your home The legal bills and the damage to your credit rating will be ongoing for a year or two at least.

In conclusion, mortgage fraud is a concern to all of us. It affects us directly as fraudulent mortgages cost lenders on average $300,000 each; a cost that is passed on to us with higher interest rates and fees. Be careful and be aware. Mortgage fraud is a problem for all Canadians who are home owners or potential home owners. If you have any questions, contact a Dominion Landing Centres mortgage professional near you. For more information on mortgage fraud click here.

How the mortgage industry became green

Blog Posts David Cooke 27 Feb

When I started working as a broker in 2005, the mortgage industry and the financial industry in general weren’t very eco-friendly. Let’s face it. When someone buys a home, there’s a paper trail. Starting with the mortgage pre-approval which can run four pages,  the Offer to Purchase, which is another 12 pages, income documents, notices of assessment, appraisal, and MLS listing condo documentation to add to the pile of paper. Often you would end up with a stack of paper 50-60 pages high. I needed a copy, the lender needed a copy and then my broker needed to keep a copy on file for seven years. I found that I was going to Staples and buying a case of 5,000 sheets of paper every year. I recall going to my broker’s office and seeing the admin assistant struggling to find a place to put another big box of files as the storage room was full.
What a difference a few years makes. Lenders started to accept documents in PDF format, saving us from faxing them, while brokers and lenders started to use secure servers to store the documents and the paper pile dropped for me from 5,000 sheets a year to less than 500. With photo scanning apps on phones, I expect that the paperwork will continue to shrink.
However, there are other signs of greening in the financial sector. Products like CMHC’s Purchase plus Improvements allow us to encourage our clients to change their windows and doors for more energy efficient ones, adding insulation and putting the renovations into their mortgage. In addition, if the repairs result in an Ener-guide reading of more than 82, or if they buy a new Built Green Canada home, they can qualify for a 15% rebate in their mortgage default insurance premiums.
We may not be building windmills or using solar power, but the Mortgage Industry has definitely become greener in the past decade. If you have any questions, contact a Dominion Lending Centres mortgage professional near you.

6 Reasons To Get A Home Inspection Before You Buy

Blog Posts David Cooke 23 Feb

Image Source: Mark Moz

In an active housing market sometimes buyers are urged by their realtors to make an offer with no conditions. As a mortgage broker this always makes my heart skip a beat. I know from experience that financing can go sideways and you need to be sure it’s in place before removing conditions.
Another item that should not be forgotten is a house inspection. You may have a good eye for décor but house inspections are not for amateurs. We have all heard, “Never judge a book by its cover” so why would you make the most important purchase in your life without checking it out? This may be the best $300-$500 you ever spent. Here’s why.

#1 – It provides an out for the home buyer.
Sometimes hidden structural issues like a cracked foundation or saggy beams can mean expensive repairs. If the price can’t be re-negotiated then you have a way to walk away from an expensive mistake.
A few years ago I had a client who I preapproved for a mortgage. He found the perfect house in south east Calgary and made an offer which was accepted. He then ordered a house inspection while I arranged the mortgage. The inspector came back and told my client that there were 10 things he could see in the house that indicated that it had been used as a grow op. My client used this to break the contract and went on to buy another home without any problems.

#2 – Revealing illegal additions or improper renovations
If the DIY seller wired the house improperly or used sub-standard materials your home insurance could be null and void if you had something happen in the future. The home inspector for my first home noticed that the indoor outdoor carpet in the master bedroom had been glued to the hardwood, something that resulted in a multi-day project we were not counting on.

#3 Safety and Structural issues
Inspectors go up into the attic , and down into the farthest reaches of the basement and can spot things like mold, holes in the chimney, improper wiring or improperly vented fans.

#4 – Aiding in the planning for future maintenance expenses
Unless the home is brand new you will need to replace a number of things; water heaters last 6-10 years, roofs about 20 years , furnaces about 25 years. . The report will include an estimate on the remaining life for each of these expensive items which will give you time to save for their eventual replacement.

#5 Bargaining power
If you find something that will cost a considerable amount to replace or repair you can go back to the seller’s agent and ask for a reduction in the price. A leaky roof may cost $3000 to replace. Perhaps the seller would split the cost with you? It’s worth asking.

#6 Peace of Mind
Finally, for your own peace of mind. When you have spent all your hard earned cash on a home and will be paying it off for 20+ years, it’s easier to sleep at night knowing that the house won’t come tumbling down on you or that you paid too much .
While an inspection cuts into your budget at a time when you need all the cash you can get, you will find it is money well spent. NOTE: If you live in an area where housing prices are rising quickly your appraisal may come in low as the property is appraised based on sales in the previous 90 days. Ask your Dominion Lending Centres mortgage broker and your realtor if this is the case for your area.