Wednesday, March 24, 2010

TORONTO - Recent first-time homebuyers say they felt pressure to enter the market as they contended with jitters about rising home prices and higher mortgage rates.

The Bank of Montreal says as many as one-third of respondents in a homebuyers survey believe their expectation that housing prices would increase, and interest rates would soar, left an impression on their decision to make a purchase in the short term.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency among home buyers," said Lynne Kilpatrick, senior vice-president of personal banking at BMO.

"While we encourage Canadians to pursue their home ownership dreams we recognize it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the purchase and this can lead to stretching one's budget too thin."

The results come as Royal Bank released its own homeownership survey on Wednesday which showed that a majority of Canadians expect to see higher mortgage rates over the next year.

RBC's annual homeownership survey said 64 per cent of Canadians expect high rates, with about the same number of mortgage holders concerned about higher rates.

Economists expect the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates by between half a percentage point and a full point over several months beginning this summer to fight inflationary pressures in the economy.

With many Canadians taking on larger and larger mortgage debt in expensive markets across the country, higher rates could create financial problems for some homeowners.

In the Royal Bank survey, three-quarters, or 73 per cent of homeowners, feel strongly that homebuyers need to think ahead to ensure they will still be able to make their mortgage payment if rates rise.

The bank says six-in-10 mortgage holders say they have taken advantage of current low interest rates to pay more principal on their loans.

Eighteen per cent of homeowners say they've made a lump sum payment on their mortgage and 16 per cent have doubled their payment to reduce their principal.

While 84 per cent of mortgage holders believe they are doing an excellent or good job of paying down their mortgage, 49 per cent say their mortgage is larger than they thought it would be at this stage in their life.

Marcia Moffat, RBC's head of home equity financing, says the best advice for homeowners is to review their mortgage holdings with a financial adviser to position themselves for any changes.

BMO's senior economist Sal Guatieri added that a cooler housing market is "just around the corner."

Yet "with rising interest rates expected, and the introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax in Ontario and B.C., prudence may be a good choice for many new entrants in the housing market."

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