Many condo buyers could be bankrupted even before they get the key to their apartments

Condo buyers struggle to adjust to borrowing rule changes

Recent changes to mortgage rules in Canada have left some condo buyers unable to afford their purchases, say professionals who are watching some clients struggle to hang on to their future homes.

For years, buyers have been pre-approved for mortgages for units in Toronto buildings before shovels are even in the ground. But new federal rules on borrowing means new realities for people who thought they got the green light.

“In the past four years, the amortization [period] has gone down from 40 to 25 years,” mortgage broker Jake Abramowicz told CBC News in a recent interview.

“As a result, suddenly that pre-approval [buyers] had in 2009 is no longer valid. They will either need to have more income or more down payment.”

If buyers are unable to make the necessary adjustments, they could face losing their deposit.

Abramowicz said the buyers caught in this position are doing “whatever they can” to ensure they can still close deals on their condos.

Some of the options they are pursuing can include selling assets, refinancing existing properties or reaching out to family members for help.

Oksana Miroutenko, a Toronto real estate lawyer, said she believes that up to 10 per cent of her clients have been scrambling to come up with additional funds.

Miroutenko said that in some cases, it is possible that some buyers could end up being sued by a developer.

“If the market conditions are not the best and the builder has to put the property on sale again and if the purchase price is lower than the price that you purchased, then the builder has the right to sue for the difference,” she said.

Industry professionals say they don’t believe that defaulting on pre-approved mortgages is a widespread problem. But with thousands of units reaching completion in the coming year, there is potential for the problem to grow.

Click on the video above to see a full report from the CBC’s Aarti Pole.

And they say …

Canada’s soaring real estate market: You feel good now, but you’ll pay later

It’s a bad thing for Canada if housing prices keep rising.

Soaring house values are the most significant financial event of the past decade for the typical household. Now, it’s time to question how much good has come of it.

The housing boom has certainly been a major contributor to our economy, which came through the past five difficult years in comparatively good shape on a global basis. While a burst bubble in housing sank the U.S. economy, Canada’s housing sector has generated jobs and wealth.

But housing has also created serious financial disruptions that will hurt our well-being in the years ahead. We can’t see it coming because we’re too fixated on the idea that rising prices are an indicator of prosperity and success.

The problem with housing wealth is that it’s an illusion for many people. Baby boomers have done fabulously well in housing, but can’t bank much of their gains because the smaller homes and condos they will downsize to have also appreciated in price. Young buyers have no chance of seeing the kind of price gains their parents did in the housing market, and their mortgage costs may choke them financially without major wage gains over time to take the edge off rising interest rates.

Rising house prices make us feel good as a nation, so arguing against them makes you a bit of a crank. And yet, serious financial minds like David Chilton are questioning the benefit of a soaring real estate market.

Mr. Chilton, who wrote The Wealthy Barber and a recent sequel called The Wealthy Barber Returnsappears in a video on retirement that was posted to The Globe’s website this week. He talks about how people without company pension plans need to save more than even he originally thought, but concedes it isn’t easy. A key reason: expensive real estate.

“Everybody wants prices rising, rising, rising,” Mr. Chilton says. “I’m telling you that at the end of the day, it’s better for an economy when housing is more affordable and money on a cash-flow basis can be dedicated to other purposes.”

House prices have appreciated by about 6 per cent annually over the past 15 years, triple the rate of inflation. It’s actually understating the drawbacks of rising prices to say they’re preventing people from saving for retirement. The bigger story is that the normalization of rising house prices has turned us into a society of spenders and borrowers.

First of all, rising home values allow people to increase their capacity to borrow through home equity lines of credit. The more your home is worth, the more debt you can have. Second, there’s a subtle encouragement to borrow and spend through what’s known as the wealth effect of rising house prices.

With low interest rates greasing the way, we’ve reached historically high levels of household debt in comparison to income. But with our houses increasing in value, aren’t we getting richer, too? In reporting recently on the state of household finances, Statistics Canada cited rising house prices as a major contributor to the strongest quarterly rise in household net worth since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Talk about good news you can’t use. While rising net worth provides a sense of satisfaction, it’s actually rather useless in improving your day-to-day financial picture. It doesn’t cut your debt level, or make it easier to pay your debts every month. Moreover, both debt levels and net worth are rising at the same time. You could argue that rising net worth is actually responsible for our national debt problem.

One more reason that soaring prices do more harm than good is that they threaten to alter the demographics of home ownership in ways we will regret. Young adults are having trouble affording first homes, which suggests trouble ahead for boomers who want to sell and move on with their lives.

House prices have already accelerated much faster than incomes in recent years. If this trend continues, people with average incomes may as well accept that they’ll never own a home near the downtown of a major city. Their future lies in the suburbs, which means long and potentially costly commuting every day (more on this in a future column).

The best thing that could happen to the housing market would be a long cooling-off period of stagnant prices, or even a modest decline. If you care about a sustainable, accessible housing market for you and your kids, that’s what you should hope for.

For more personal finance coverage, follow Rob Carrick on Twitter (@rcarrick) and Facebook (robcarrickfinance).

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