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Mortgage Secrets from an Independent Mortgage Broker

Last Updated on February 27th, 2020

by David Larock

Canadian mortgage secretsIf you are buying a house or refinancing your mortgage, the siren song emanating from your local bank branch can be mighty tempting.

It’s just so darn convenient, and with all of those TV and radio ads featuring happy people reassuring you that your bank has only your best interests at heart – what’s not to like?

Well…your available options for one…and certainly their terms and conditions…and maybe the rate – but hey, I hear that some branches are now giving away free donuts on Fridays, so at least there’s that.

All kidding aside, borrowers who partner with experienced independent mortgage brokers gain access to a wide range of solutions that no single lender will ever be able to offer.

In today’s post, I’ll give you examples of mortgage options that you probably didn’t know you had, and that you aren’t likely to come across if your local branch teller doubles as your mortgage advisor.  

Rates

In the Canadian mortgage market, shopping around will usually save you money, while often increasing your flexibility and getting you better terms and conditions at the same time (more on those in a minute).

The money saving point was recently confirmed by a Bank of Canada (BoC) report called “Discounting in Mortgage Markets”. Surprisingly, the BoC’s research showed that people with higher incomes and asset bases were more likely to pay higher rates if all is else was equal – and the main reason was that this group assumed that their bank would automatically provide the best offer and as such, they didn’t test the wider market.

The report concluded that in the end “loyal customers pay more”. (Here is a post I wrote that summarizes their findings.)

Terms and Conditions

I have written extensively about the differences in the terms and conditions offered by the Big Five Banks versus those available at smaller lenders (see What’s in the Fine Print for a good summary).

Canada mortgage adviceThe bottom line is that Big Five mortgage contracts are full of little clauses and conditions that have the potential to pull significant amounts of money out of your wallet over time.

Examples include: inflating your prepayment penalty charge by using posted rates instead of contract rates, registering your mortgage as a collateral charge and convincing you to register a charge for 100% or more of the value of your property on title (terrible idea!), compounding variable-interest rates monthly instead of semi-annually, and then offering you lousy rates at renewal and hoping you won’t notice.

An experienced independent mortgage broker with access to the broader market will help you steer clear of these tricks and traps.

Solutions for Self-Employed Borrowers

If you are self-employed, there are reputable lenders who offer more flexible options for confirming your income. You usually need to have been self-employed for a minimum period of time and your line of work has to pass the smell test (expect underwriter scepticism to take over in the $70 to $80k range).

You also need to have a strong credit history, properties will always be subject to full appraisals, and mortgage rates will often be higher than the best available (but not unreasonably so).

As an aside, this type of lending is often misunderstood, and when done wrong, it can lead to substantial losses for lenders and borrowers alike. But it’s been available in the Canadian market for quite a long time and it’s about the closest thing we have to risk-based pricing.

Done right, this more flexible lending turns ‘no’ into ‘yes’ for self-employed borrowers who represent reasonable overall credit risks, and it rewards lenders handsomely for their marginally increased loan exposure.

Investment Property Financing

Property investors will find a significant variance in the way lenders underwrite rental-property applications.

Partnering with the right mortgage broker can enhance flexibility with income, expenses, vacancy rates, zoning, and more detailed aspects, like whether or not investment properties can be held in a corporation.

Rental investors are well-advised to explore the wide range of mortgage options that are available to them across the lending spectrum (and experienced independent mortgage brokers make great tour guides).

As with most types of lending, slight changes in the circumstances from one case to the other can mean that one lender offers a much better deal – and it is by no means always the same lender.

Relationship and Advice

Despite all of the advertising campaigns suggesting that your bank wants to be your buddy, you have a much better chance of forming a lasting relationship with an experienced independent mortgage planner.

For starters, it takes time and sacrifice to build a successful independent practice and that means we’re in this for long haul, so if you need more advice a few years down the road, we’ll still be around to pick up the conversation where we left off. In contrast, you might have already noticed that the faces at your local bank branch change quite often.

Also, independent brokers often have advanced training in financial planning or general finance, and we demonstrate our high level of commitment by working in the context of your long-term financial plan upfront, and by continuing to offer you an educated view of what’s happening in the interest-rate markets after your deal closes. Simply put: you are long term clients, not transactions.

The success of this approach has not gone unnoticed, and the Big Five have countered by dramatically increasing the size of their mortgage sales forces in a very short period of time, a strategic response that has focused on quantity – you will have to judge the quality for yourself. (Please note: I do not want to impugn all bank mortgage specialists; there are some good ones, but it’s no accident that the best among them usually convert to independent mortgage agents and brokers once they get established.)

A final point to clarify: Even though I think there is a need for better disclosure, I’m not anti-bank. In some cases, borrowing from one may be your best option; but if you end up at a bank after partnering with an independent mortgage broker you’ll know it’s because they won your business fair and square, not because it was convenient or because you were lured there by  seductive advertising or misguided loyalty.

David Larock is an independent full-time mortgage broker and industry insider who helps Canadians from coast to coast. If you are purchasing, refinancing or renewing your mortgage, contact Dave or apply for a Mortgage Check-up to obtain the best available rates and terms.
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