British Columbia

Vancouver's tough real estate market just got a little tougher

Starting Jan. 1, new rules on mortgage lending come into affect. They set a new minimum qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages, or those with down payments 20 per cent or greater than their home price.

Change comes as Canadians face record-high levels of debt

The global economy appears to be slowing and this could be welcome news for homeowners with mortgages linked to the prime lending rate. (CBC )

Some home buyers might have to reconsider what they can afford in Vancouver as of Jan. 1.

New mortgage lending rules issued in 2017 by Canada's banking regulator set a new qualifying rate for uninsured mortgages (those with at least a 20 per cent down payment on the home price). 

Home buyers who have qualified for a mortgage at a rate of 2.9 per cent, for example, will now have to prove they could absorb a rate hike of two percentage points or the five-year average rate posted by the Bank of Canada  — whichever is higher.

The tougher new rules on mortgage lending are aimed at protecting lenders and borrowers; the federal government wants to make sure borrowers can afford a potential rate hike.

"If you're looking at a qualifying standard that has a higher interest rate, that means that for the same income you're going to be able to borrow less,"  UBC Real Estate Economist Tsur Somerville said.

Previously, only insured borrowers had to undergo such a test.

Some will be hit harder than others

Vancouver real estate agent Chris Ryan says the new rules will hit some local buyers harder than others.

"People who were looking at homes in the 2.5's now are going to be coming down and closer to the 1.9's, and so everyone is going to jump down a bit," Ryan said.

"Where that leads to, it's hard to predict," he added.

Vancouver Real Estate Agent Chris Ryan says the new rules will affect the market and says it's hard to predict how. (CBC)

The change comes as Canadians face record-high levels of debt.

"While this is going to be difficult for borrowers, particularly young borrowers in certain markets, what you want from your federal regulator is essentially to pay attention to a big picture and to take action before a crisis happens," Somerville said.

Sellers also affected

In Metro Vancouver, realtors say owning a detached home will become even more challenging than it already is.

"Homes that don't have suites or laneway houses, I believe those are going to become a little bit less desirable," Ryan said.

"People are going to be looking for houses that produce more income, with potentially one to two suites down below," he added.

Ryan says first time home buyers will be among the hardest hit. Real estate experts say the demand for attached homes like condos and townhouses will go up.

"Every time you put in a restriction, it makes it more challenging for people," Ryan said.

The new stress test rules won't apply to mortgage renewals, as long as they are with the same lender.

With files from Jon Hernandez