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Archive for March, 2017

Know Thy HELOC

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Know Thy HELOC

What makes Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) so attractive for so many is that these credit lines are so abundant, so cheap and so easy to get.

As house prices continue to rise, a HELOC can be a great option for cheap and easy money to fund home renovations, consolidate debt or pay for pricey post-secondary educations. But don’t approach these loans carelessly. There are still things to consider when borrowing against the equity in your home.


According to the Globe and Mail, for many Canadians, HELOCs have replaced credit cards as their number one source for borrowing. Outstanding balances on lines of credit hit $266-billion in March of 2015. According to Statistics Canada, they were just $35-billion in 2000 and $100-billion in 2005. Today, HELOCs comprise 59 per cent of Canadians’ non-mortgage personal debt.

Major banks generally offer home equity lines of up to 80 per cent of the equity in a home. And some lending thresholds automatically increase with each mortgage payment creating a growing credit source potential.

Credit counsellors caution that home equity lines of credit allow people to borrow sums far greater than ever before. And since most financial institutions require payment only on the interest of the credit lines, the principal can grow quickly over time.

They worry what will happen to debt-ridden Canadians should interest rates rise or if the economy goes south. Some say events far less catastrophic such as an illness or decline in the housing market could ruin highly indebted Canadians.

According to the CBC, homeowners could face big problems with interest rate hikes as the increases would apply to variable-rate lines of credit and mortgages. If interest rates jumped by two or three per cent, those who pay only interest on their lines of credit would see payments jump by a whopping 50 per cent.

More Pros of HELOCs:

  • The money is cheap cheap.
  • The money is flexible as you can borrow as much or as little of what you need up to your limit.
  • ou can pay off any time in full without penalty
  • – HELOCs offer the lowest possible payment and flexible payment plans, including an interest-only option.


  • It’s easy to borrow more than you initially intended.
  • It’s much harder to switch a HELOC to another lender without paying legal fees.
  • HELOC rates are not fixed. They can always be arbitrarily increased by the lender, even if the prime rate doesn’t change.
  • Lenders can reduce your HELOC borrowing limit for any reason, even if you have a perfect repayment history. This may happen when you carry a large balance and continually rack up debt and/or make only small payments. It may happen more if home prices start falling or unemployment starts rising notably.
  • Title insurance fees can be higher on a HELOC than on a regular mortgage.
  • HELOCs are more difficult to transfer to a new property. It’s common to have to discharge or pay them off completely.
  • There can be a negative impact on your credit score if you borrow a large percentage of your approved HELOC limit.



Vacant Homes Hit All-Time High

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

You may have read the story about that vacant home in the city’s west end that’s been empty for more than 25 years. Neglect and suffering centre on that tale of woe but that’s not the kind of unoccupied homes we’re talking about here.

Newly released 2016 Census numbers from Statistics Canada show that 99,236 homes in Toronto are not regularly occupied. Again, that’s nearly 100,000 dwellings in the city that are left empty for the most part. These numbers are identified by the owners of the residences.


According to Better Dwelling, this represents 4.5 per cent of all homes in the city, and a 10.5 per cent change over the past 5 years. The general population grew by 4.5 per cent during the same period, which means this trend appears to be accelerating.

A large part of the city comes in with dwelling vacancies under five per cent. However, a few concentrated areas skewed up the numbers such as the Concord area of Vaughan, which showed unoccupied dwellings at 35.27 per cent.

The downtown averaged higher than the rest of the city. South of Bloor Street, east of Roncesvalles Ave. and west of Yonge Street showed an average of 8.79 per cent unoccupied. King St. West, also known as the fashion district, showed 21.81 per cent or 3,316 units not regularly occupied, while the stretch going up Yonge Street also had a higher than normal concentration compared to the rest of the city.

While you might think foreign buyers are responsible for the vacancies, remember that the numbers comes from census takers, who are Canadian residents and not offshore investors. Some believe owners are using their properties for short-term rental uses such as the type you might list with Airbnb or a pied-a-terre. Still others believe they are owned by speculators who are waiting for the right time to sell.

According to the Census released in February, Canada is home to 1.3 million temporarily unoccupied residences. That’s enough to house 3.2 million people. The Toronto numbers have tripled since the 2001 census. They are followed by Montreal and Vancouver.

But it is smaller cities, towns and rural areas that lay claim to having the most empty homes percentage-wise with St. John’s, Saskatoon, Halifax and St. Catharines leading the pack.

In 2015, Paris implemented a tax that has since tripled to 60 per cent on vacant dwellings. And last year, Vancouver issued an empty home tax aimed at making properties available for lease in a city that has near-zero vacancy rentals.


Foreign Ownership in the GTA

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Throughout history when a scapegoat can be conveniently blamed for something negative it’s human nature to point a finger. When that scapegoat is foreign, even better goes the thinking. Far-off culprits are much easier targets thanks to distance and unfamiliarity.

Could that thinking be behind the GTA’s high house prices?


It depends who you talk to. For some time, foreign investment in real estate has been blamed for the rising cost of housing in the Toronto real estate market. Fuelled in large part by the Vancouver market, offshore investors were slapped there last year with a 15 per cent tax. The result of which has been a big drop in foreign buying.

So the question is, is the same true of the GTA market? The Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) recently released new research refuting that theory. The TREB information showed that fewer than five per cent of the 113,133 residential real estate transactions in 2016 involved foreign buyers. The data showed that more than half were buying homes for themselves or family members. According to a November Ipsos survey of TREB agents, about 25 per cent of the homes purchased by non-Canadians were rental investments.

Despite calls for a foreign buyer tax like the one in Vancouver, TREB believes such a move would be misguided. Should a 15 per cent foreign buyer tax be implemented in the GTA, TREB fears the move may hike real estate prices outside of the GTA, where the tax doesn’t exist. It also warns that such a tax could reduce the already limited supply of rental housing and discourage immigration to the GTA.

But not everyone buys the TREB findings. Some say the TREB figures are not a true picture of foreign ownership in the GTA because the numbers don’t account for new construction sales, which could up the figure from TREB’s estimate of 4.9 per cent by another five to 10 per cent.

The Vancouver tax seems to have worked. In January, sales were down about 40 per cent from the same time last year. But Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said that the province will not follow British Columbia’s move to introduce a tax on foreign homebuyers.

Meanwhile, don’t look for price relief in the near future. TREB reported that the average home price in the GTA skyrocketed at the end of 2016. The average home price hit $730,472 in December, which is a 20 per cent increase compared to December 2015. Prices are estimated to rise again substantially in 2017 with hikes in the neighbourhood of 10 to 16 per cent.


The data included on this website is deemed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS® and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.