Friday, August 04, 2006

MPs pay mortgages with meal allowances

The secret board of MPs that manages internal House of Commons affairs is allowing MPs who own a house or condo in Ottawa as their second home to pay down their mortgages with a $75 per diem intended for meals, the Citizen has learned.

The per diem is in addition to a $25 daily accommodation allowance MPs receive year-round if they own a second house or condominium in the capital, and using it to buy a home is allowed despite a rule forbidding mortgage payments from a separate $24,000 expense allowance.

Combined, the per diem and the accommodation allowance could add up to $17,225 a year for house costs and mortgage payments if an MP spends only four days a week in Ottawa while Parliament is sitting.

The $25 daily accommodation allowance is available without receipts throughout the year as long as the MP does not rent out the residence.

The move outraged John Williamson, head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who noted parliamentarians last week defended a $4,000 hike to the general expense allowance for all MPs by saying it was transparent compared to earlier expense payments.

"MPs insist their expenses are completely transparent and now we're discovering a meal per diem can be used to pay off a housing mortgage? This is the height of arrogance, this is beyond the pale," said a clearly upset Mr. Williamson.

A surprised Conservative MP Garth Turner said he was unaware of any option for using per diems to help pay down mortgages and added he lost money on a house he purchased during his first term as an MP from 1988 to 1993.

He argued the per diem and accommodation allowance could help an MP turn a profit by selling a house or condominium in a seller's housing market
.
"I didn't claim a nickel when I owned that house," Mr. Turner said. "If it looks like it subsidizes real estate purchases through a back door, it's wrong. Average Canadians have to pay their mortgages out of their after-tax dollars."

Continued...

Condo living is not for everybody

MONEY 401 Those who want to be left alone to follow their own desires should look elsewhere,


Condo living requires flexibility, co-operation and compromise... words you don't see often in developers' ads.

It's not the right place for you if you want to be left alone to follow your own desires.

Moving into a condominium development means obeying its rules, even if you disagree with them.

You may have to leave your cat or dog behind.

You may be restricted from putting decorations on your front door.

You may be prohibited from renting out your unit for short periods.

These rules make sense in terms of avoiding conflicts among people trying to live closely and peacefully together.

Short-term rentals, for example, can be disruptive to long-term owners.

'If tenancies of under six months are permissible, you risk buying into a building that is really just a disguised hotel,' says Keith Bricknell, a condo owner in downtown Toronto.

'You will never really get to know or trust your neighbours, because some of them will be changing, as often as daily.

'Unfortunately, that has implications for things like security and the care that residents take in avoiding damage to the common elements.'

This is an extra dimension you rarely hear about when you move into a condo. You learn about it through experience.

You will be governed by a condo corporation, which can pass bylaws of all kinds. It has the power to raise your monthly fees and levy a special assessment for upgrades.

Continued...
Refu"

Good advice before buying summer home

By Douglas Hunter (Cottage Life Books, $35)

Never having owned a summer home, but having enjoyed many visits to cottages owned by friends and relatives, I didn't realize all the possible pitfalls. This book explains them.

Heavy emphasis is placed on the income tax aspects for both buyers and sellers.

If the book has a flaw, it is that author Douglas Hunter is Canadian and he constantly over-emphasizes the Canadian taxation and ownership laws. However, most of the book applies to buyers and sellers of virtually all vacation cottages.

Approximately half of the book is devoted to locating a suitable area for acquiring a cottage. After the search narrows, Hunter explains details of what to look for because buying such a property is much different than purchasing an urban house or condominium.

Unique methods of financing the purchase of a vacation cottage are explained, but without great detail. Hunter suggests contacting local mortgage lenders. He explains the tax consequences of deducting mortgage interest on a second home.

Unexpected in this book are the very complete discussions of sharing cottage ownership with friends or relatives and possible pitfalls to anticipate and resolve."

Mortgaged Dreams

Owning your own home is the great Canadian dream, and a wide range of mortgages means almost everyone can choose the debt that suits them best

Attitudes to debt have changed over the generations as real estate prices have skyrocketed in Greater Vancouver and the rest of B.C. While survivors of the Great Depression worked to be mortgage-free, many younger people have been anything but reluctant to borrow money to finance the home they have always dreamed about.

Lindsey McDonald bought her first real estate in Cloverdale two years ago when she was 22. The ambitious student sees her mortgage as an opportunity to build wealth and expects to sign up for more and bigger loans in the years to come.

In contrast, John and Joan Ross bought their first home in 1959 and 'survived and sufficed' to become the mortgage-free owners of a bigger home on Vancouver's west side by the end of the 1970s. As children of the Great Depression, the two seniors have avoided significant debt ever since.

In the middle are baby boomers such as Bill and Marlene McLean who bought their first property in the early '70s, worked like the dickens to pay off the mortgage within eight years, and have repeatedly refinanced their home to renovate or build 40 houses for sale. With retirement on the horizon, most of their contemporaries can only wish they had been so bold.

Attitudes to debt have changed over the generations as real estate prices have skyrocketed. At the same time, mortgages have evolved to do much more than simply sustain the great Canadian dream of home ownership.

Continued...

CMHC mortgage moves may be on shaky ground

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. recently announced moves that critics say will drive many home buyers to the poor house, as it were, and could leave Canadian taxpayers on the hook.

CMHC is offering mortgage insurance for interest-only loans and on amortizations up to 35 years, while also scrapping the typical $165 application fee on high-ratio loan products for people with less than 25-per-cent down payment.

With an interest-only loan, a borrower can pay interest only for the first 10 years, then pay both interest and principal. Payments are initially low, but since the entire loan must still be paid off within the original amortization period, payments balloon as the principal starts being paid down, and again if interest rates rise.
The first issue is whether a government agency like CMHC should be competing with private companies like Genworth Financial in the business of offering mortgage insurance on interest-only loans.

If CMHC has to pay out a rash of defaults, the money will come out of Canadian taxpayers' pockets. The argument has also been made that mortgage insurance protects the money lender, not the homeowner.

A recent report by CIBC World Markets noted that outstanding residential mortgages rose by 10.9 per cent during the year ending this past April, adding that "the current wave of growth in mortgage outstanding is of a higher risk," and that the moves by CMHC imply that "we will see increased default risk in the mortgage market."

The second issue is the wisdom of making mortgages easier to get by Canadians who are already in a massive hole of debt, with a savings rate that has fallen from 16 per cent in 1985 to negative 0.5 per cent in 2005, meaning they are now spending more money than their current disposable income.

Continued...

Condo market bubble?

A correction in the red-hot Toronto area condominium market 'cannot be far away,' says a leading housing economist.

Buying for investment purposes in the Toronto market has been 'far in excess of market needs' and buyers face 'very high risks,' said economist Will Dunning in his most strongly worded analysis yet of the Toronto market, released yesterday.

Nearly a decade into a robust housing cycle, high-rise sales remain extremely strong, with second quarter sales at an annual rate of 20,800, a record high, said Dunning."

While other housing economists have expressed concern over what they see as a potentially frothy condo market, Dunning, a former Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. economist, has been among the most conservative.

Price appreciation for condos continues at a good clip — 5.9 per cent year over year — and the average condo rent has increased 2.1 per cent.
But this won't last long, according to the gloomy forecast.

"An onslaught of condo completions is just beginning and I expect that rents will start to fall late in the year with the possibility of price weakness to follow," said Dunning.

Continued...

Title fraud can happen to anyone, cost can be enormous

(Jul 28, 2006)
It happened to Susan Lawrence. While going through proceedings to sell her home earlier this year, the area woman learned that she had become the victim of fraud, joining a growing number of Canadians who have been victimized by real estate title fraud.

"I went to the bank to discuss my mortgage because of the pending sale," says Lawrence, who has lived in her home for almost 30 years. "I found out my mortgage had been discharged and a new fraudulent mortgage assigned to my house at another bank without my knowledge. I couldn't believe it. I had heard of mortgage and real estate fraud, but never thought it could happen to me."

The scam occurred as follows: someone unknown to her forged her signature, discharged her existing mortgage, took out a new mortgage for almost $300,000, pocketed the money, then defaulted on the mortgage and disappeared.

Ms. Lawrence believes her nightmare started when a For Sale sign went up on her front lawn, giving fraudsters an opportunity to consult the MLS listing for the property and gather information they needed. Then they simply posed as her to fraudulently sell her house, discharge her small mortgage and take out a new one.

After several sleepless nights and endless hours spent with her lawyer, her bank finally withdrew a possession lawsuit, which meant she did not have to move out of her home. Good news under normal circumstances, except that now she is faced with having to restore her title, even though the new mortgage on her home was obtained fraudulently by a third party.

Susan Leslie, vice president of claims and underwriting at First Canadian Title, estimates the average case of real estate fraud to be $300,000, compared to estimates of $1,200 by the RCMP for cases involving credit card fraud. Meanwhile, industry insiders estimate that real estate fraud costs Canadians between $300 million and $1.5 billion a year.

"The onus is on homeowners to prove the crime and it can be very costly - financially and emotionally - to clear your name," said Leslie. "Unlike traditional forms of insurance, for a one-time premium, title insurance is an effective and inexpensive way to ensure title to your property is protected. Title insurance covers legal expenses related to restoring title and is available to existing home owners even if they have owned their property a long time."

Ms. Lawrence's troubles are the latest in a string of real estate title fraud cases across Canada. The Law Society of British Columbia, after four years of investigations, recently approved $32.5 million in payments to cover a multi-million-dollar real estate fraud case involving Vancouver lawyer Martin Wirick. The high-profile case involved transactions between 1998 and 2002 and affected hundreds of victims in the scheme. Other cases across the province include:
* A Mississauga man tried to sell his parent's home last year and discovered that someone had fraudulently sold the home for $400,000. The case was resolved after $11,000 in legal fees, but the fraudster is still at large.

* A Brantford woman received a call from a mortgage collector saying she was three months behind on her mortgage payments for a home she didn't know she owned. Later that night she also discovered that two other properties had been mortgaged in her name, leaving her on the hook for more than $400,000.

Visit www.ProtectYourTitle.com to learn how to protect yourself.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Home inspectors save future headaches

It looks like your dream house on the outside, but a few weeks after you move in, you discover mice, electrical problems or asbestos.

Like a scene out of the 1986 comedy, The Money Pit, the beautiful house you were excited to move has now become a financial burden.

This is the case for some new home buyers who don't cover all their bases by doing research before moving into a new home.

Hiring a home inspector is a part of the home buying process that is optional, but may save numerous headaches down the road.

Continued...

30 per cent of Canadian renters plan to purchase a home within three years,

Canadians continue to favour home ownership over renting despite rising home prices and modestly higher interest rates, according to the results of a study released today by Scotiabank, which indicates that 30 per cent of Canadian renters plan to purchase a home within three years.

"Steady job and wage gains continue to support Canadians who want to make the move from renting to owning," said Adrienne Warren, Senior Economist, Scotia Economics. "Many potential new homeowners, however, will look to less expensive housing options such as townhomes and condominiums due to some erosion in overall affordability."

Despite the optimistic view of homeownership, current renters who are not planning to buy, outlined a number of deterrents to purchasing a home. The study found the most commonly cited reasons include: commitment of ownership (37%), high cost of real estate (17%), living paycheque to paycheque (12%), poor credit (7%), and student loans (5%).

Continued...

Mortgage rate peak near

Mortgage rate peak near economists: 'The end's not far away'

The short-term outlook for inflation and interest rates in Canada is a whole lot less clear since Friday's jobs report that signalled the economy is hotter than expected, but the long view is that borrowing costs and the pace of price increases are approaching their apex.

After Friday's report that Canada created almost 100,000 jobs last month, the Canadian dollar has shot up almost US2 cents to US91 cents in the past two trading days on bets the Bank of Canada is not done raising interest rates to corral inflation, and probably has one more quarter-percentage-point increase to go. That's a change from earlier last week, when the expectation was that the central bank's trend-setting target for overnight interest rates wasn't going any higher than the 4.25% it is now.
"If we are not done watching the Bank of Canada raise interest rates, we're 25 basis points from it, so the end's not far away," said Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada.

The report that changed the view, and that has people calling mortgage brokers again on concern they should lock in before rates rise further, showed the economy created almost four times as many jobs as economists had expected. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.1%, the lowest since 1974.

Continued...

Ontarians Eager to Buy Homes but Lack Understanding of Legal Risks

Only 10% Understand Real Estate Lawyer's Role

Many Ontarians have jumped into the busy real estate market without fully appreciating the legal dimensions of home buying.

Homebuyers put a great deal of time and energy into finding their dream home. Real estate lawyers put the same careful attention into investigating the legal issues related to the property and closing the sale," says Kathleen Waters, an experienced real estate lawyer and Vice President, TitlePLUS. "That's where your real estate lawyer becomes an invaluable resource: he or she navigates you through the major legal implications of home purchase, and can help prevent a dream home from turning into a nightmare."

Continued...


Homeowners can expect more interest rate hikes

Homeowners can expect to another half percentage point interest rate hike over the next year, says the chief economist with the Canadian Institute of Mortgage Brokers and Lenders.

Will Dunning said that increase might take a little of the heat out of the real estate market, but he doubts it would be enough to cause prices to fall.

New home sales are strong, prices are continuing to rise and the new housing starts are either growing slightly or remain flat in most parts of the country, he said.

Speaking at a mortgage symposium in Halifax Monday, Mr. Dunning said fixed rates remain the most popular mortgage choice for homeowners, but the heavily promoted combination fixed rate/variable rate mortgages are gaining in acceptance as people looking at the uncertainty in the marketplace see them as a way of managing the risk.

Drawing on the results of a survey he carried out in March, he said most people renewing their mortgages are happy with their situation, generally because their payments on a five-year mortgage are less today than they were when they last renewed. People who took out a one-year mortgage might not be as happy as their payments are likely going up.

The survey also found that 66 per cent of people believe mortgage rates will continue to climb, but only 25 per cent believe the increases will negatively impact their standard of living.

With increasing rates, Mr. Dunning said mortgage holders will likely shop around more, a practice he encourages.

"Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. The gap between the posted rates and the discount rates is as large as I’ve ever seen."

The posted rate at many major banks is around 6.75 per cent, while the discount rate is as low as 5.3 per cent, he said.

At least part of the reason for the gap is the tremendous growth in the number of companies getting into the mortgage business over the past few years and with an increasing number of players comes heightened competition.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Navigating the mortgage maze

Going crossed-eyed over the myriad mortgage options these days? Don't despair, says a local real estate expert and author.

With the right knowledge, research and professional team backing you up, there are some great deals to be had, says Douglas Gray, president of National Real Estate Institute Inc, and author of Mortgages Made Easy: The All-Canadian Guide to Home Financing.

And it all starts with proper preparation, including doing an online credit check to make sure your financial affairs are as they should be, and knowing how much a lender will potentially grant you, Gray says.

His No. 1 piece of mortgage advice: Don't deal directly with lenders, but work with a mortgage broker who can seek out the best deals from up to 100 different lenders.

'They know all the big players, and who's hungry - and you don't pay a penny to the mortgage broker,' says Gray, who also advises homebuyers to do a little comparison-shopping, and talk with at least three different brokers.

But with affordability rates in Vancouver at an all-time low, sometimes the best deal is still out of financial reach - and that's where parents come in.

More and more often, 'parents are giving their children a leg up, maybe because they've got a lot of equity in their own homes,' says Gray.

But don't expect them to hand over a down payment or co-sign a mortgage at the snap of your fingers - if you want your parents' help, impress them with your research and 'plant the seed' early, he says.


KNOW YOUR OPTIONS

When it comes to mortgages, getting the best deal almost always comes down to preparation and research. Here are 10 key questions to ask yourself before you sign on the dotted line:

1. Is your income secure? Will it increase or decrease in the future?

2. Are you planning on increasing the size of your family, and therefore your living expenses?

3. Can you afford to put aside a financial buffer for unexpected expenses or emergencies?

4. Are you planning to purchase the property with someone else?

5. If so, can you depend on their financial contribution?

6. Have you determined the amount of mortgage you'll be eligible for?

7. Have you determined all the expenses you will incur relating to the purchase transaction?

8. If you're relying on income from renting out part or all of your newly acquired property, do you know the city and strata bylaws?

9. Have you researched mortgage brokers and companies on the Internet?

10. Have you run a credit check on yourself to see what lenders will see?

Source: Mortgages Made Easy: The All-Canadian Guide to Home Financing, Douglas Gray (John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd, 2006).

Bankruptcies keep falling

Personal bankruptcies have fallen to the lowest level in seven years, cushioned by a strong labour market, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said Monday.

Bankruptcies, on average over the past three months, fell 7.6 per cent from last year but – like most economic reports of late – the headline number masked regional discrepancies. In Alberta, they tumbled 17.5 per cent, while bankruptcies in Quebec and Atlantic Canada rose 3.6 per cent and 1.8 per cent, respectively, CIBC said in its bankruptcy report.

At the same time, Ontario bankruptcies are falling as strength in Ottawa, Toronto and Kitchener offsets higher rates in Sudbury and Windsor, cities more vulnerable to the strong Canadian dollar.

“Looking at development in the pipelines, it appears that there is little risk of any significant deterioration in the bankruptcy situation in the near future,” CIBC economist Benjamin Tal said in the report.

In one barometer that shows fewer people are likely going belly up, the delinquency rate in credit cards has stabilized at about 4.6 per cent — lower than its long-term average. Mortgage arrears, meantime, remain well below their long-term average and are “unlikely to rise strongly in the near future,” the report said.

CIBC forecasts little change in the number of bankruptcies this year and a 3 per cent-5 per cent increase next year as economic activity weakens.

Business bankruptcies, meantime, have fallen more than 18 per cent, on average over the past three months, from last year — a rate not seen since late 2002.

The largest decline in business bankruptcies was in Alberta where the number of bankruptcy filings plunged by almost 40 per cent during the year ending April.

Ontario was the only province that saw an increase in the number of business bankruptcies in the period, weighed down by difficulties in the manufacturing sector.

The number of business bankruptcies is expected to fall by 7 or 8 per cent this year be little changed in 2007, CIBC said.
“At the same time, we expect the regional divergence to widen with bankruptcies in the manufacturing sector in Ontario and Quebec continuing to rise, reflecting the impact of a strong dollar and some softening in demand from south of the border.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lower-income housing units get leg up

A recent forgivable loan from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) will ensure that residents of the Homewood Mansions near Carlton and Jarvis streets can continue to live in safe buildings.

The CMHC has passed down $762,000 in funding for the 67-unit rental apartment at 1 Homewood Ave. and $528,000 for a 44-unit rooming house at 7 and 9 Homewood Ave. The money is part of an initiative to help ensure that Toronto maintains a certain number of affordable housing units.

"Part of the review we do before giving out funding is to determine if, in fact, the tenants are lower-income earners and if, in fact, the rents are kept below a certain level," said CMHC spokesperson Mark Salerno. "We want to ensure that the buildings remain safe to live in and that we retain an affordable housing stock in the city."

While the funding comes in the form of a loan, Salerno said that the CMHC will forgive the loan provided certain conditions are met. First, the money must be used for repairs and maintenance to keep the building safe. Second, the landlord must keep rents at an affordable level.

"The system is predicated on the landlord agreeing to place a ceiling on the rent after the repairs," he said. "It's deemed fully forgivable over a period, so they have to earn that forgiveness. Over that given period, if the landlord decides to put the rent up above the agreed level, they have to pay back a prorated amount of the loan."
The money for the Homewood Mansions has been used to redo plumbing and electrical infrastructure in the buildings, as well as some more visible renovations.

"(Tenants) have new kitchens, new bathrooms, everything's new," said Homewood Mansions co-owner Mary Campisi. "With things like the plumbing and electrical, it was important to get everything up to safety code, and before it wasn't. It's an ongoing thing where we want to keep these buildings safe for our tenants."

The funding dollars are especially welcome since, with landlords of lower-income housing developments taking in less in terms of rent dollars, repair and maintenance costs often must come out of the developers' pockets. In other cases, landlords will raise rent to cover the cost of such work.

"It's important because we can make sure everything is up to par without having to take money from tenants in our building," Campisi said. "Some of them would have a hard time making ends meet if we raised the rent."

In addition to the Homewood Mansions, the CMHC also gave forgivable loans to rental apartments in North York and Bloor West Village. The Homewood Mansions were by far the largest of the buildings and received the bulk of the $1.6 million in total funding doled out by the CMHC at the end of May.

"Our main concern is when some buildings are in a poor state of repair or when there are (safety) code deficiencies," Salerno said. "It's an issue of life safety and a way to help both the landlords and the tenants."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

CIBC lowers mortgage costs

Two days after the Bank of Canada raised short-term interest costs, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TSX: CM) said Friday it is trimming its posted mortgage rates.
Among the changes, CIBC's one-year closed rate slips to 6.25 per cent from 6.30 per cent, while the three-, five- and 10-year rates each decline by one-fifth of a percentage point, to 6.45 per cent, 6.75 per cent and 7.55 per cent.
The bank's move followed Wednesday's quarter-point increase in the prime lending rate to six per cent at all the major commercial banks, after the Bank of Canada raised its overnight rate to 4.25 per cent from four per cent.
While it increased the cost of short-term money for the seventh time since last autumn, the central bank also signalled that its series of hikes is likely over.
On bond markets, where banks fund their mortgage obligations, the Canadian yield curve flattened this week, as would be expected after the central bank's increase at the short end.
'Interestingly, though, the flattening came through entirely in the long end, where yields declined four basis points,' a commentary from the Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX: BNS) observed.
'For both the Canadian and U.S. curves, yields between the target policy rate all the way to the long end are now nearly flat.'"

Monday, May 22, 2006

A real pain in the gas

"Unlike the United States, motor fuel prices are a sleeper issue here in Canada. At least politicians, at both the federal and provincial levels, are sleepwalking through it.

Stateside, it's one of the three key issues gripping the U.S. mid-term elections (illegal immigrants and Iraq being the others) and threatening to oust the Republicans from the House and Senate, ruining George W. Bush's final two years in office.

It may be resting peacefully in the minds of the politicians here, but Canadians are wide awake on how they are getting hosed at the pumps.

Serious discontent

According to a damning - if you are an oil company or elected official - Ipsos-Reid poll released yesterday, there's a serious mood of discontent out there. That's even true in Alberta, where high energy prices bring mega-millions into the provincial treasury and have touched off the largest energy boom in the province's history.

Albertans seriously resent the high cost of gas and diesel. So much so that only 40% of Albertans polled in late April and early May feel that gas prices are set 'fairly.'

In Ontario the number who feel that gouging is going on rises to 70%. In Quebec the distrust level hits 82%.

Poll respondents also have an inkling where the extra cash is going. Overall, 71% feel that energy company prices are excessive and the feds should bring in a 'special tax on windfall profits' that are made from gas.

Maritimers were the real cost-control hawks at 79%. In Alberta, only 37% "disagreed" with going after the pump pirates. Not an overwhelming endorsement of the leaderless Alberta Tories, especially considering oilsands outfits are getting their bitumen virtually royalty-free until payout in these times of record world oil prices.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's bold plan to roll back the hated GST by 1% apparently didn't impress Canadian gasoline consumers either.

Asked if the 1% token gesture was an "appropriate" response, seven in 10 Canadians gave Stevo the thumbs-down.
But the most distressing response to the poll - if you're a politician - was what Canadians answered when asked if the government should step in and regulate gasoline prices.

Across the country, 72% back the government getting involved in setting gasoline prices. In Atlantic Canada the support was greatest at 87%. That makes sense because some provinces already regulate pump prices, and the Nova Scotia election is being fought over throwing a noose around gas companies.

But the most telling number comes from free-enterprising, redneck Alberta, where only 39% said no to government intervention at the pump.

The inflationary effect of high gasoline prices may be about to have repercussions in other parts of the economy. It's the old ripple effect.

The C.D. Howe Institute circled the wagons this week and asked a panel of economic experts what Bank of Canada governor Dave Dodge should do on May 24 when he sets Canada's trendsetting interest rate again. It was a six-to-five split decision. But the slim majority recommended Dodge nudge up the rate by another 25 basis points to 4.25%.
Some even said the country's top money man must continue jacking up rates "significantly above the current level" to keep inflation at 2%.

Higher mortgage rates

If this translates into higher mortgage rates - which it inevitably will - then it could put even more pressure on Alberta consumers.

Yesterday, the Royal Bank of Canada revealed that we face the second-worst affordability in the country when it comes to buying a house.

"The good times for the Alberta economy have come at a cost to homeowners," the RBC Financial Group gloomed. House prices may be up 25% over a year ago, and income and employment growth may be the envy of the country.

"However the price of appreciation and higher mortgage rates outpaced this growth."

Remember what happened the last time Canadians were seriously stung with high gasoline prices and a roaring Alberta economy? Pierre Trudeau was able to muster enough political clout to bring in the national energy program to skim excessive windfall profits.

Stephen Harper is no Trudeau. But the Ipsos- Reid poll shows there's serious hurt across Canada - and right here in Oilberta - over gasoline prices.

Klein and Harper have been warned.

Home buyers look south of the line

The strong dollar has Canadians snapping up properties in Point Roberts.
Out of all my buyers this month, 50 per cent were Canadian, says Paul Rush of the Points National Real Estate, via telephone.

Ive had an increase in Canadian buyers in the last two to three months, prior to that it was mostly US buyers. Canadians are strictly going by the exchange rate and they know (Point Roberts) is close.

Waterfront properties, after all, may seem more affordable in the U.S. as the going price is about $10,000 per foot (measured along the shore). Small beach-front properties are selling for US $550,000 to $600,000 although at least one luxurious home is selling for US $1.6 million.

In Tsawwassen, however, RE/MAX manager Bob Cooke could find only two listings for waterfront homes and the cheapest was $1.7 million for 3,500 square feet and a 35-foot shoreline frontage, looking west.

Views are anywhere from $1 million to $2 million, Cooke says. Waterfront starts at about $1.8 million. I think theres a shortage of waterfront properties and prices are only going to rise.

But before you sell your home or drain that bank account to join the migration, Canadian buyers need to know a few things about purchasing American land.

First off, a Canadian without a Green Card may only reside across the border for 182 days per year and must have a home in Canada. The purchase must be for recreational use or pleasure.

Rush notes there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to access your property when you want to, either.

“It’s really up to US Immigration whether they let you in at all. It’s very strict; you need a permanent residence in Canada, not just an address, and you may have to show your mortgage payments or utilities as proof. It’s a delicate thing – I’ve known them to not let people in.”

As a result, Rush has found that most of the Canadians appearing at his office have dual citizenship, like him.
“They’re taking advantage of the high prices of Canadian real estate, selling out and moving here.”

Point Roberts realtor Jim Julius says most of his Canadian buyers are grandparents who are shopping for recreational property for their grandchildren.

“What we have now is a baby boomer demand for properties. They’re looking for places for their grandchildren so their children’s children have a chance to get out of the city—that’s a big deal.”

Home-buying intentions up slightly, report says

Renovation market also staying strong
May 20, 2006. 01:00 AM

More than 380,000 households in major Canadian cities indicated they were ready to buy a home this year, according to a survey released this week by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

The results of the CMHC's Consumer Intentions to Buy or Renovate a Home survey represents an average of 8 per cent of households in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.

While 8 per cent declared that they have a high chance of buying a home and could be considered as 'ready to buy' within the next 12 months, 5 per cent indicated that they have a 50-50 chance of buying. The survey is conducted using a sample of about 4,000 households in each centre surveyed.
'Intentions to buy are up from 2005 when 5 per cent of households were ready to buy a home. This year, strong intentions to buy are consistent with continued high levels of housing starts and sales of existing homes.

Favourable economic conditions, such as low mortgage rates and a healthy labour market are contributing factors to home-buying intentions,' said Bob Dugan, chief economist at the CMHC.

'Home-buying intentions are strongest in Calgary and Halifax, where 10 per cent of households reported that they are ready to buy a home. Purchase intentions are also strong in Vancouver and Toronto where 8 per cent of households are ready to buy, while the share is slightly lower in Montreal (7 per cent).

"Home renovations will remain strong this year, with 13 per cent of surveyed homeowners reporting they were ready to undertake renovations this year, costing $1,000 or more," said Dugan.
"The share of serious renovators is down compared to 2005 when 17 per cent of homeowners were ready to renovate. While the share of homeowners who intend to renovate decreased in 2006, the total dollar amount that will be spent on renovations is expected to increase."

Meanwhile, increases in Canadian house prices over the past five years — dramatic in Alberta and British Columbia and strong in the rest of the country — are the result of a robust economy that also provided a dramatic rise in key economic indicators and popular lifestyle and consumer items, according to a report released this week by Century 21 Canada.
Price increases over five years for typical homes across the country in a selection of markets surveyed by Century 21 range from as high as 129 per cent in Vernon, B.C. to as low as 12 per cent in Thunder Bay.

In Vernon, a 1,200-square-foot bungalow with three bedrooms and two bathrooms on a 55-foot by 100-foot lot increased in value to $355,000 this year (2006) from $155,000 in 2001.

The hottest housing markets in Ontario include Peterborough and Kitchener-Waterloo, Century 21 reported.

In Peterbourgh, the price of a typical home — 1,050-square-foot bungalow with three bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths — increased to $202,000 in 2006 from $131,000 in 2001, an increase of 54 per cent.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, a typical home — 1,200 square foot two-storey home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms — rose to $245,500 in 2006 from $163,000 in 2001, an increase of 51 per cent.