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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


What is a mortgage?

A mortgage is a contract between a borrower and a lender to repay a loan. It gives the lender some assurance that the borrower will pay back the borrowed money. When you get a mortgage to buy a house, you borrow money from a person or company and you promise to pay back that money, usually with interest and in regular payments. The lender makes sure you'll repay the loan with a mortgage, or "charge", against your house, which is registered at the Land Title Office. You have the right to pay off the mortgage and get the charge on your house removed. For more on mortgages, called "Mortgages and Financing a House Purchase".

What is a conventional mortgage?

A conventional mortgage is usually one where the down payment is equal to 20% or more of the purchase price, a loan to value of or less than 80%, and does not normally require mortgage loan insurance.

What is mortgage loan insurance?

Mortgage loan insurance is insurance provided by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), a crown corporation, and GE Capital Mortgage Insurance Company, an approved private corporation. This insurance is required by law to insure lenders against default on mortgages with a loan to value ratio greater than 80%. The insurance premiums, ranging from 2.50% to 3.75%, are paid by the borrower and can be added directly onto the mortgage amount. This is not the same as mortgage life insurance.

What is a fixed rate mortgage?

The interest rate on a fixed-rate mortgage is set for a pre-determined term - usually between 6 months to 35 years. This offers the security of knowing what you will be paying for the term selected.

What is a variable rate mortgage?

A mortgage in which payments are fixed for a period of one to two years although interest rates may fluctuate from month to month depending on market conditions. If interest rates go down, more of the payment goes towards reducing the principal; if rates go up, a larger portion of the monthly payment goes towards covering the interest. RBC open variable rate mortgages allow prepayment of any amount (with certain minimums) on any payment date.

Should you go with a short or long-term mortgage?

A longer-term mortgage is worth considering if you have a busy life and don't have time to watch mortgage rates. Our 4, 5 and 7-year mortgages let you take advantage of today's rates, while enjoying long-term security knowing the rate you sign up for is a sure thing.

If you want to keep your mortgage flexible right now, you can explore a shorter-term mortgage that usually allows you to take advantage of lower rates and save.

What is a down payment?

Very few home buyers have the cash available to buy a home outright. Most of us will turn to a financial institution for a mortgage the first step in a potentially long-standing relationship. But even with a mortgage, you will need to raise the money for a down payment.

The down payment is that portion of the purchase price you furnish yourself. The amount of the down payment (which represents your financial stake, or the equity in your new home) should be determined well before you start house hunting.

The larger the down payment, the less your home costs in the long run. With a smaller mortgage, interest costs will be lower and over time this will add up to significant savings.

How can you acquire a home with as little as 5% down?

Most lenders now offer insured mortgages for both new and resale homes with lower down payment requirements than conventional mortgages - as low as 5%. Low down payment mortgages must be insured to cover potential default of payment, and their carrying costs are therefore higher than a conventional mortgage because they include the insurance premium.

With all low down payment insured mortgages, you are responsible for:

· appraisal and legal fees

· an application fee for the insurance

· the payment of the mortgage default insurance premium (although the amount of the premium may be added to the mortgage amount).

What is the minimum down payment needed for a home?

A minimum down payment of 5% is required to purchase a home, subject to certain maximum price restrictions. For instance, in the Greater Vancouver area the maximum purchase price with 5% down is $250,000. Any purchase price in excess of $250,000 requires a minimum of 10% as a down payment. In addition to the down payment, you must also be able to show that you can cover the applicable closing costs (i.e. legal fees and disbursements, appraisal fees and a survey certificate, where applicable).

Regardless of the amount of your down payment, at least 5% of it must be from your own cash resources or a gift from a family member. It cannot be borrowed.

Lenders will generally accept a gift from a family member as an acceptable down payment provided a letter stating it is a true gift, not a loan, is signed by the donor. Where the mortgage loan insurance is provided by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the gift money must be in the your possession before the application is sent in to CMHC for approval.

Mortgages with less than 25% down must have mortgage loan insurance provided by either CMHC or GE.

How can you use your RRSP to help you buy your first home? Today, about 50% of first-time home buyers use their RRSP savings to help finance a down payment. With the federal government's Home Buyers' Plan, you can use up to $25,000 in RRSP savings ($50,000 for a couple) to help pay for your down payment on your first home. You then have 15 years to repay your RRSP.

To qualify, the RRSP funds you're using must be on deposit for at least 90 days. You'll also need a signed agreement to buy a qualifying home.

Even if you have already saved for your down payment, it may make good financial sense to access your savings through the Home Buyers' Plan. For example, if you had already saved $25,000 for a down payment - and assuming you still had enough "contribution room" in your RRSP for a contribution of that amount you could move your savings into a registered investment at least 90 days before your closing date. Then, simply withdraw the money through the Home Buyers' Plan.

The advantage? Your $25,000 RRSP contribution will count as a tax deduction this year. Use any tax refund you receive to repay the RRSP or other expenses related to buying your home.

While using your RRSP for a down payment may help you buy a home sooner, it can also mean missing out on some tax-sheltered growth. So be sure to ask your financial planner whether this strategy makes sense for you, given your personal financial situation.

Can I use gift funds as a down payment?

Most lenders will accept down payment funds that are a gift from family as an acceptable down payment. A gift letter signed by the donor is usually required to confirm that the funds are a true gift and not a loan. Where the mortgage requires mortgage loan insurance, Canada mortgage and housing corporation requires the gift money to be in the purchaser's possession before the application is sent in to them for approval. Where mortgage loan insurance is provided by GE Capital this is not a requirement. See 'what is mortgage loan insurance?' for further information.

How much can I afford to pay for a home?

To determine 'affordability' you will first need to know your taxable income along with the amount of any debt outstanding and the monthly payments. Assuming it is your principal residence you are purchasing, calculate 32% of your income for use toward a mortgage payment, property taxes and heating costs. If applicable, half of the estimated monthly condominium maintenance fees will also be included in this calculation.

Second, calculate 40% of your taxable income and deduct all of your monthly debt payments, including car loans, credit cards, lines of credit payments. The lesser of the first or second calculation will be used to help determine how much of your income may be used towards housing related payments, including your mortgage payment. These calculations are based on lenders' usual guidelines.

In addition to considering what the ratios say you can afford, make sure you calculate how much you think you can afford. If the payment amount you are comfortable with is less than 32% of your income you may want to settle for the lower amount rather than stretch yourself financially. Make sure you don't leave yourself house poor. Structure your payments so that you can still afford simple luxuries.

Can I get a mortgage to purchase a home?

Subject to qualification, yes. In fact, even purchasers with 5% down may qualify to buy a home and make improvements to it. For high-ratio financing, both Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and GE Capital, insured mortgages are available to cover the purchase price of a home as well as an amount to pay for immediate major renovations or improvements that the purchaser may wish to make to the property. This option eliminates the need to finance the renovations or improvements separately. Some conditions apply.

Where the improvements are cosmetic, the mortgage loan insurance premium is unchanged from the standard schedule. Where the improvements are deemed to be structural, the mortgage loan insurance premium is increased by .50% over the standard schedule. For information on mortgage loan insurance premiums see high-ratio home mortgage financing.

What is a pre-approved mortgage?

A pre-approved mortgage provides an interest rate guarantee from a lender for a specified period of time (usually 60 to 90 days) and for a set amount of money. The pre-approval is calculated based on information provided by you and is generally subject to certain conditions being met before the mortgage is finalized. Conditions would usually be things like 'written employment and income confirmation' and 'down payment from your own resources', for example.

Most successful real estate professionals will want to ensure you have a pre-approved mortgage in place before they take you out looking for a home. This is to ensure that they are showing you property within your affordable price range.

In summary, a pre-approved mortgage is one of the first steps a home buyer should take before beginning the buying process.

What are the costs associated with buying a home?

First and foremost, you have to make sure you have enough money for a down payment - the portion of the purchase price that you furnish yourself.

To qualify for a conventional mortgage you will need a down payment of 20% or more. However, you can qualify for a low down payment insured mortgage with a down payment as low as 5%.

Secondly, you will require money for closing costs (up to 2.5% of the basic purchase price).

If you want to have the home inspected by a professional building inspector - which we highly recommend - you will need to pay an inspection fee. The inspection may bring to light areas where repairs or maintenance are required and will assure you that the house is structurally sound. Usually the inspector will provide you with a written report. If they don't, then ask for one.

You will be responsible for paying the fees and disbursements for the lawyer or notary acting for you in the purchase of your home. We suggest you shop around before making your decision on who you are going to use, because fees for these services may vary significantly.

There are closing and adjustment costs, interest adjustment costs between buyer and seller and (depending on where you live) land transfer tax - a one-time tax based on a percentage of the purchase price of the property and/or mortgage amount.

Finally, you will be required to have property insurance in place by the closing date. And you will be responsible for the cost of moving.

Remember, there will be all kinds of things you'll have to purchase early on - appliances, garden tools, cleaning materials etc. So factor these expenses into your initial costs.

How does bankruptcy affect qualification for a mortgage?

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your bankruptcy, generally some lenders would consider providing mortgage financing.

How will child support affect mortgage qualification?

Where child support and alimony are paid by you to another person, generally the amount paid out is deducted from your total income before determining the size of mortgage you will qualify for.

Where child support and alimony are received by you from another person, generally the amount paid may be added to your total income before determining the size of mortgage you will qualify for, provided proof of regular receipt is available for a period of time determined by the lender.

What should the length of my mortgage term be?

The length of mortgage terms varies widely - from six months right up to 25 years. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the term, the lower the interest rate the longer the term, the higher the rate.

While four or five year mortgages are what most home buyers typically choose, you may consider a short-term mortgage if you have a higher tolerance for risk, if you have time to watch rates or are not prepared to make a long-term commitment right now.

Before selecting your mortgage term, we suggest you answer the following questions:

1. Do you plan to sell your house in the short-term without buying another? If so, a short mortgage term may be the best option.

2. Do you believe that interest rates have bottomed out and are not likely to drop more? If that's the case, a long mortgage term may be the right choice for you. Similarly, if you think rates are currently high, you may want to opt for a short to medium length mortgage term hoping that rates drop by the time your term expires.

3. Are you looking for security as a first-time home buyer? Then you may prefer a longer mortgage term, so that you can budget for and manage your monthly expenses.

4. Are you willing to follow interest rates closely and risk their being increased mortgage payments following a renewal? If that's the case, a short mortgage term may best suit your needs.

What are the monthly costs of owning a home?

Needless to say, you'll have financial responsibilities as a home owner.

Some of them, like taxes, may not be billed monthly, so do the calculations to break them down into monthly costs. Below you will find a list of these expenses.

The Mortgage Payment

For most home buyers, this is the largest monthly expense. The actual amount of the mortgage payment can vary widely since it is based on a number of variables, such as mortgage term or amortization.

Property Taxes

Property tax can be paid in two ways - remitted directly to the municipality by you, in which case you may be required to periodically show proof of payment to your financial institution; or paid as part of your monthly mortgage payment.

School Taxes

In some municipalities, these taxes are integrated into the property taxes. In others, they are collected separately and are payable in a single lump sum, usually due at the end of the current school year.

Utilities

As a home owner, you'll be responsible for all utility bills including heating, gas, electricity, water, telephone and cable.

Maintenance and Upkeep

You will also have to cover the cost of painting, roof repairs, electrical and plumbing, walks and driveway, lawn care and snow removal. A well-maintained property helps to preserve your home's market value, enhances the neighborhood and, depending on the kind of renovations you make could add to the worth of your property.

Should I wait for my mortgage to mature?

Lenders will often guarantee an interest rate to you as much as 90 days before your mortgage matures. And, as long as you are not increasing your mortgage, they will cover the costs of transferring your mortgage too. This means a rate promised well in advance of your maturity date, thus eliminating any worries of higher rates. And if rates drop before the actual maturity rate, the new lender will usually adjust your interest rate lower as well.

Most lenders send out their mortgage renewal notices offering existing clients their posted interest rates. The rate you are being offered is usually not the best one. Always investigate the possibility of a lower interest rate with the lender or another lender. If you don't you may end up paying a much higher interest rate on your renewing mortgage than you need to.

How can you pay off your mortgage sooner?

There are ways to reduce the number of years to pay down your mortgage. You'll enjoy significant savings by:

Selecting a non-monthly or accelerated payment schedule Increasing your payment frequency schedule Making principal prepayments Making double-up payments Selecting a shorter amortization at renewal

What is a home inspection and should I have one done?

A home inspection is a visual examination of the property to determine the overall condition of the home. In the process, the inspector should be checking all major components (roofs, ceilings, walls, floors, foundations, crawl spaces, attics, retaining walls, etc.) and systems (electrical, heating, plumbing, drainage, exterior weather proofing, etc.). The results of the inspection should be provided to the purchaser in written form, in detail, generally within 24 hours of the inspection.

A pre-purchase home inspection can add peace of mind and make a difficult decision much easier. It may indicate that the home needs major structural repairs which can be factored into your buying decision. A home inspection helps remove a number of unknowns and increases the likelihood of a successful purchase.

What is foreclosure?

Foreclosure is a legal action that a moneylender can take if a person who borrowed money using a mortgage stops paying back the mortgage. Foreclosure allows the lender to take or sell the person's house by first getting a court's permission to do so.

What happens if you miss a mortgage payment or make a late payment?

You do not automatically lose your house. Lenders don't want to foreclose if they don't have to because it is expensive and takes a lot of time. A lender will probably not start to foreclose until two or three months after you stop paying. Normally, a lender will first send letters demanding payment. Then, if you don't reply, the lender will usually start to foreclose and sue you at the same time.

If you have a short-term problem, like a temporary layoff, you may be able to make a deal with the lender to make smaller payments for a time, and add the amounts you fall behind to the total amount of your mortgage. Or you may be able to make smaller payments for a while and a larger catch-up payment later. Most lenders would rather make some sort of deal and keep the mortgage in good standing, instead of starting expensive foreclosure proceedings in court.

The law tries to help you if you have a good chance of paying what you owe and if you try to get your finances in order. Only in the worst case may you lose your house and any "equity" you've built up in it. Equity is the amount that your house value exceeds your mortgage loan and any other debts that other lenders have registered against your house.

If a lender starts to foreclose, what happens first?

The lender first applies to court for an "order nisi", which is the first order of foreclosure. If there's a Supreme Court Registry where your house is located, the lender has to start proceedings there, unless you agree otherwise.

You get a document called a "petition for foreclosure", which is the lender's application to the court. At the same time, the lender may also sue you in the same court proceeding for the amount of the mortgage that you still owe.

You must file a document called an "Appearance" within seven days of getting the petition You can get an Appearance form from the court registry. You must file the Appearance at the court address shown on the petition. Once you do this, no one can take any steps in the foreclosure without notifying you. If you don't file an Appearance, the foreclosure will go ahead without you, and you won't be able to protect yourself. After you file the Appearance, you will get a document called a "Notice of Hearing", which tells you when the lender will ask the judge for the order nisi to start the foreclosure.

What happens at the hearing?

The court will give the lender an order nisi, but it will also give you time to "redeem" the mortgage by paying the full amount you owe, plus interest, costs and taxes. This time is called the "redemption period" and it's usually 6 months. But sometimes the lender will ask the court for a shorter redemption period. So one good reason to attend the court hearing is to ask the judge for as much time as possible to get the money to pay off the mortgage or sell the house. If you need more time, you can ask for an extension. If you ask for a long redemption period or an extension, the court will want to know what you have done to pay off the mortgage and what chance you have of paying the mortgage or selling the house on your own or through your own real estate agent. It's better to use an agent in this case.

When the redemption period ends, the court can give the lender a final order of foreclosure - see "order absolute," below. Or, the lender can ask the court for the right to have their own real estate agent list your house for sale. If there are other people or companies with a charge against your house, besides the lender who started to foreclose, they may ask for the right to sell your house. If the court gives the lender or anyone else the right to sell your house, it gives them "conduct of sale". If anyone asks the court for conduct of sale for your house, you should ask the court to give you exclusive conduct instead. This means that only you are in charge of selling it. Or you can ask the court to give you at least joint conduct with the other person or company, so you have some control.

You can do two things during the redemption period You can pay off the lender that started to foreclose. To get the money for this, you can try to borrow from another lender or a relative, at a lower interest rate or over a longer repayment period. That would let you pay off the first mortgage and lower your monthly payments. But this may be hard, because most lenders look at your income to decide whether to give you a mortgage. And your income may be what stopped you from paying your current mortgage in the first place, which led to this situation.

Your other option during the redemption period is to try and sell the house, preferably using your own real estate agent. Invite several experienced real estate salespeople who do business in your area to look through your house and tell you what they think it would sell for. Be honest with them about your situation. Then choose the realtor you trust the most or feel most comfortable with. If you sell the house, you can use the money from the sale, first to pay any tax you owe, and then to pay the mortgage and other charges registered against the title, including court costs. If there's any money left over (equity), you keep it. But if the money from selling your house doesn't completely pay off all of the lenders, you may have to pay them the difference. Meanwhile, if the lender or anyone else with a charge against your house gets an offer to buy your house, they can apply to court for an order authorizing that sale.

What if you have no equity in your home?

If you owe more than you can sell the house for, you will probably want to get out of the situation with as little expense and trouble as possible. But you should still take action instead of ignoring the problem. You may want to work with the lender to minimize costs by agreeing to the foreclosure. Normally, you would only do this if the lender will give you a full release from your mortgage, meaning you won't owe the lender any more money. If the lender won't agree to this, you can just let the foreclosure proceedings go ahead and use the time as a rent-free period to get your finances back in order. If any other people or companies with debts registered against your house are not paid from the money from selling your house in the foreclosure, you will still have to deal with them. Otherwise, they can sue you for any money you still owe them.

The lender can apply to court for an "order absolute" The final order for foreclosure is called an "order absolute," and it comes after the redemption period ends. If the lender applies for an order absolute and the court grants it, the house then belongs to the lender and you have to leave it. You lose all rights to the house. You will no longer owe the lender any money, but if anyone registered a debt against your house after the mortgage, you'll still owe that money. In exceptional cases, you can apply to the court for relief from losing your house if you can pay the balance in full. Then the court can order the lender to transfer the house back to you.

If the court makes an order absolute, you owe nothing more to the lender If the lender sells your house after getting an order absolute, but doesn't get enough money from the sale to pay off the mortgage, you don't have to pay the difference. But lenders do not usually ask the court for an order absolute. Instead, they will usually sue you when they start to foreclose and ask the court to sell your house to pay off the loan. If the money from selling your home doesn't completely pay off the mortgage loan, the lender can try to collect the difference from you.

What happens if you have a second mortgage or other charges registered against your house?

Any mortgages or charges registered before the lender's mortgage continue and are still valid. But any that were registered after the lender's mortgage are cancelled and the holders of those charges lose their security. For example, if you have two mortgages on your house, and the first lender forecloses, the second lender will have to pay off the first lender or lose its security. Then the second lender would have to try to get you to pay its loss.

Summary A mortgage is a contract to repay a loan, secured with a charge on land. It's registered against your property in the Land Title Office. If you fail to pay the mortgage, for example, by falling behind in your mortgage payments, the lender may start to foreclose. Then if you can't pay the mortgage loan in full, either by selling your house or in some other way, the lender can take your property or sell it to pay off the loan.

If you receive a foreclosure petition, get legal advice. It doesn't cost much to have a first meeting with a lawyer. As well, you should see a lawyer if anyone asks you or your spouse to sign any new documents, because your spouse may not be liable under the original mortgage documents.