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Borrowers lock in, lenders offer choice in competitive spring housing market

Construction workers work on building new homes in Calgary, Alberta, in this file photo taken May 31, 2010. A year ago, one of the hottest parts of Canada's red-hot housing market was Alberta's oil capital of Calgary, where cash-rich consumers fought for the fanciest home on the block. Now, a plunge in crude prices is pulling the housing market with it. REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS INDUSTRIAL REAL ESTATE)

A growing number of Canadians are calling the bottom of the mortgage-rate market and choosing to lock in monthly payments, a new survey suggests.

A CIBC poll, conducted byNielsen, says 57 per cent of Canadians aren’t betting on mortgage rates to fall further and would choose a fixed-rate mortgage if they were to acquire, refinance or renew a mortgage today.

That’s up from 48 per cent of Canadians who said they’d choose fixed rates when the survey was done in 2014 and just 39 per cent in 2011.

The CIBC poll says 30 per cent of respondents would pick a variable-rate mortgage if they were to acquire, refinance or renew a mortgage today, while 11 per cent weren’t sure.

“The poll results confirm what many of our clients are telling us, that they don’t expect rates to go any lower and, in today’s housing market, they want the comfort and security of knowing exactly what their mortgage payments will be for the next four or five years,” says Barry Gollom, a vice president at CIBC. He also cites the rising cost of housing as a good reason for consumers to choose a fixed rate.

Mortgage wars heat up

The survey results come amid a renewed price war among mortgage lenders, many of which are offering rates of around 2.79 per cent for a five-year, fixed term.

Some lenders are also pushing special features. For example, RBC is once again offering employee pricing of 2.69 per cent for a five-year, fixed mortgage, according to the Globe and Mail, while PC Financial is advertising 2.75 per cent for a four-year mortgage and up to one million PC points.

Mortgage rates have dropped in recent weeks as part of the spring home-buying surge and since the Bank of Canada (BoC) cut its benchmark interest rate in late January. The BoC move was intended to help spur the economy hurt by the impact of lower oil prices. Some economists predicted rates would drop again in the weeks leading up to the last BoC rate announcement in early March. However, the BoC held steady.

BoC governor Stephen Poloz said the drop in oil prices is having an “atrocious” effect on the Canadian economy, according to a report in the Financial Times on Monday. Poloz also said the lower dollar and growing U.S. economy could help prop up other sectors across Canada, such as manufacturing.

Rates to rise

Economists are less convinced these days that the BoC will cut rates again this year.

“The odds of another rate cut coming in April are lower than we previously thought, though we still wouldn’t rule it out completely,” said Capital Economics Canada economist David Madani in a recent note.

RBC said recently it expects the overnight rate to stay at 0.75 per cent for the remainder of this year. Many economists see interest rates rising again in 2016.

Among respondents in the CIBC poll, 44 per cent expect mortgage rates to increase next year, which compares to 47 per cent surveyed last year and 61 per cent in 2011.

Gollum says today’s historically-low rates are an opportunity for first-time homebuyers, as well as homeowners looking to refinance their mortgage.

Still, he encourages consumers to think beyond rates when making a decision on a mortgage. That includes their financial situation, other monthly payments, and their retirement saving goals.

“You want to be able to sleep at night and not worry that you won’t be able to make your monthly payments,” he says..

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