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A first-time homebuyer’s guide to Canadian government programs and incentives

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Photos: James Bombales

Whether you want to stop paying skyrocketing rental rates, start building equity, or own property that can be passed down to your children, purchasing a home is likely a long-term goal of yours. However, with rising home costs and the mortgage stress test introduced in 2018, achieving that goal can be a challenge for many Canadians. Fortunately, there are a number of programs and incentives offered by the federal government that first-time homebuyers can apply for.

“First-time homebuyers in Canada have the opportunity to take advantage of some great federal government programs to assist them when purchasing their first home,” says Michael Therriault, Financial Advisor at Scotiabank. “They can apply for multiple programs as long as they are eligible, so it is strongly recommended for potential first-time homebuyers to meet with a financial advisor at their bank to go over their individual circumstances and to help determine the best program(s) for them.”



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1. Home Buyer’s Plan

Early withdrawals from an RRSP are usually considered taxable income, but with the Government Home Buyer’s Plan, you can apply your RRSP savings toward the price of your home — tax free.

“The Home Buyer’s Plan (HBP) is a program that allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 ($50,000 per couple) in a calendar year from your registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) to buy or build a qualifying home for yourself or for a related person with a disability,” says Olga Coulter, Senior Account Manager at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). “To be eligible, you must be a first-time homebuyer (ie. you haven’t purchased a home or lived in a spouse’s home within the last four years) and have a written agreement to buy or build a qualifying home for yourself or for a related person with a disability.”

However, it’s important to note that that these funds must have been in your account for at least 90 days before the purchase of your home and they do have to be paid back within a 15-year timeframe. “Essentially, you are ‘borrowing’ these funds from your RRSP as they need to be repaid over a 15-year period beginning the second calendar year after the withdrawal,” adds Therriault.



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2. First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit

Introduced in 2009, the First-Time Home Buyers’ (FTHB) Tax Credit helps to make purchasing a home more affordable by allowing Canadians to claim a portion of their home purchase on their personal tax return that same year. This helps to offset expenses like legal fees, home inspections and other closing costs.

“The FTHB Tax Credit offers a $5,000 non-refundable income tax credit amount on a qualifying home acquired after January 27, 2009,” says Coulter. “For an eligible individual, the credit will provide up to $750 in federal tax relief.”

To be eligible, you, your spouse or common-law partner must have acquired a qualifying home (a unit located in Canada purchased after January 27, 2009) and cannot have lived in another home you or your partner owned in the year of acquisition or in any of the four preceding years.



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3. GST/HST New Housing Rebate

If you are purchasing a new construction home, performing substantial renovations to an existing home, or rebuilding a home that was destroyed by fire, you will want to apply for the GST/HST New Housing Rebate. Filling in this form can save you thousands of dollars, as it recovers a portion of the goods and services tax (GST) or the federal part of the harmonized sales tax (HST) if all eligibility conditions are met.

“You may qualify for a rebate of part of the GST or HST that you paid on the purchase price or cost of building your new house, or on converting a non-residential property into a house,” explains Coulter. “You may also be eligible if you are doing substantial renovations or have hired someone to complete substantial renovations to an existing home, such as an addition.”

CMHC Mortgage Loan Insurance Programs

In addition to tax-related programs, first-time homebuyers have access to several CMHC Mortgage Loan Insurance Programs that can help them achieve the dream of homeownership. Listed below, these programs offer flexible terms and conditions to meet a variety of financing needs and are available throughout the country.



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4. CMHC Purchase

While it’s ideal to put at least 20 percent down, home prices in cities throughout Canada are rising faster than many homebuyers can save. “CMHC Purchase can help open the doors to homeownership by enabling homebuyers to buy a home with a minimum down payment of 5 percent,” says Coulter. “The premiums can either be paid up front in a lump sum or incorporated into an applicant’s mortgage loan payments.”



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5. CMHC Improvement

With such tight housing markets throughout the country, homebuyers may be interested in purchasing a fixer-upper that needs a little TLC. “CMHC Improvement allows the purchase of an existing residential property with improvements and new construction financing,” explains Coulter. “Features include flexible financing options with the option for CMHC to manage up to four advances at no cost to the borrower.”



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6. CMHC Newcomers

Obtaining a mortgage can be especially difficult for newcomers to Canada. If you’re a permanent resident with a strong credit rating you may be able to qualify for a typical bank mortgage, however, if you don’t meet all the criteria, the CMHC Newcomers program can help.

“We have helped newcomers with permanent resident status become homeowners with a minimum down payment starting at 5 percent – regardless of how long they have been in Canada,” says Coulter. “Non-permanent residents can also purchase a home with a minimum down payment of 10 percent of the value of the home.”



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7. CMHC Self-Employed

Homebuyers who are self-employed may have difficulty qualifying for a mortgage given that their monthly income may be less predictable. CMHC’s Self-Employed program allows business owners with proper documentation to access mortgage loan insurance under the same criteria and insurance premiums as those with more calculable income.

“Self-employed Canadians make up about 15 percent of Canada’s labour force,” says Coulter. “CMHC facilitates access to mortgage loan insurance for business owners by providing enhanced flexibility for satisfying income and employment requirements for all self-employed borrowers at no additional cost.”



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8. CMHC Green Home

“CMHC Green Home encourages homebuyers to choose more energy-efficient housing options to increase comfort and healthier living, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Coulter. “The program offers a partial premium refund of up to 25 percent directly to borrowers who either buy, build or renovate a home to make it more energy-efficient using CMHC insured financing.”

The amount of the refund varies depending on the level of energy-efficiency achieved by your home as assessed by Natural Resource Canada (NRCan). Condo buyers are also eligible for the CMHC Green Home refund if the building is built to the LEED Canada New Construction standard.

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What Is A Housing Bubble? And Are We In One?

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What is a housing bubble? You’ve undoubtedly heard the term, but what does it actually mean, and is Canada experiencing one? Whether you already own a home, are considering buying one in the near future, or you’re waiting for the right time to sell, here we answer what is a housing bubble, what causes it, and how it may affect you.

What is a Housing Bubble?

A housing bubble happens when the price of homes rises quickly, at an unsustainable rate. Typically, a price-growth rate that’s in the high single-digits is considered to be healthy and sustainable. Under healthy conditions, homeowners continue to earn equity over time, sellers can make a profit on resale, and buyers can still afford to get into the market. This type of price growth can usually be explained by economic factors, such as an employment boom and favourable interest rates.

On the other hand, a housing bubble can happen as a result of non-organic growth. For example, if speculators were flooding the market, buying up homes to take advantage of rapid price growth, with the intention of selling in the near term for a hefty profit. When prices are deemed to have hit a high point, speculators list their properties for sale. This massive influx of listings, coupled with stagnating demand, causes prices to plummet and results in a “housing market crash.”

A housing bubble is a temporary event and prices eventually return to normal levels, when demand rises again and home-buying activity resumes.

What Happens When a Housing Bubble Bursts?

During a housing bubble, homes become overvalued. When the bubble bursts, prices fall. Homeowners who have no intention of selling are unlikely to feel the direct impacts of the bursting bubble. However, these market conditions often indirectly impact other aspects of the economy, so to call homeowners who aren’t selling “free and clear” would be misleading. The ripple effects of a bursting housing bubble would likely touch most of us, in one way or another.

Homebuyers who purchased a home during a housing bubble likely paid considerably more than it is worth. Properties bought by end-users as a residence, with no intention of being sold in the short-term, will eventually rebound closer to “normal” values and at some point, return to positive growth.

A housing bubble poses the biggest risk to home sellers. Those who purchased in the bubble, but now find themselves forced to sell their home, will come up short on resale. They bought the home at a price that exceeds what they can recoup, putting them in the red with no asset to show for it.

For example, someone purchased at peak market prices, but due to circumstances such as a job loss or the inability to carry the costs for any reason, now has no choice but to sell in a down market. The seller still owes money to their mortgage lender on a home that they no longer own.

Are We in a Housing Bubble?

The Canadian housing market took a surprising upward turn during the COVID-19 pandemic, after coming to a grinding halt in mid-March. The slow-down was short-lived, and what followed through the remainder of 2020 was a a spike in demand for homes met by a shortage of supply. With 2021 well underway, there appears to be no end in sight.

There are a number of factors that indicate we’re not experiencing a bubble caused my market speculators, contrary to some media reports.

A recent online survey of RE/MAX brokers and agents in Western Canada, Ontario and Atlantic Canada found that speculators are not a factor in the Canadian real estate market at this time. In fact, more than 96% of RE/MAX brokers and agents supported this finding, confirming that the majority of homebuyers are end-users. Speculators tend to wait out hot markets, buying when prices are down and selling when they’re up again. The short-term investment opportunities they’re generally looking for are hard to find under current market conditions. Bully offers and bidding wars are commonplace, and we continue to see demand outpacing supply with the release of the monthly housing market data. These factors are generally inhospitable to speculators and investors.

For a housing bubble to burst, there needs to be a steep incline in inventory and new listings, and a decline in demand – neither of which is likely to happen any time soon.

Housing Crash 2021? It’s Highly Unlikely.

The Canadian housing market is still feeling the impacts of the pent-up demand from 2017, when the government introduced the foreign buyer tax and the mortgage stress test as a means to cool the overheating market. These policies prompted many homebuyers to move to the sidelines, opting to wait and save, with plans to re-engage in the housing market in a few years.

Now fast-forward a few years to 2020. COVID-19 had a similar impact on the market, whereby many homebuyers delayed their purchase plans due to pandemic-related uncertainties. That pre-existing pent-up demand for homes continued to swell. With Canadians subject to stay-at-home orders with nowhere to go and spend their hard-earned money, they collectively saved historically high sums, which was injected back into the housing market once consumer confidence returned. The spending came in the form of record-high home sales and for those who were unwilling to face the competitive resale market conditions, renovations to existing dwellings. In fact, Canadian real estate was said to be the driving force behind the Canadian economy in 2020.

Savings, low interest rates and low inventory continue to put pressure on the housing market.

Now, consider the housing needs of the 1.2 million people who are expected to immigrate to Canada through 2023, per the government’s 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan.

Given all this, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll experience the influx of real estate listings needed for a housing market crash – and if we did see those listings suddenly come on stream, there should be plenty of buyers to absorb them.

Homebuyers and Sellers, Do Your Due Diligence

Challenging market conditions and a still-present global pandemic have added some personal risk on the part of homebuyers and sellers. It’s important to remember that conditions vary across Canada, and can be dramatically different between provinces, cities, and even from one neighbourhood to the next. Now more than ever, it’s important to work with a trusted, experienced professional Realtor who can guide you though the buying and selling process.

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CIBC poll shows majority of homeowners have no plans to sell amid a tight housing market and low rate environment

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TORONTO, April 21, 2021 /CNW/ – As supply remains tight in key regions of the Canadian housing market, a recent CIBC survey finds that most homeowners say the pandemic has not changed their intentions of staying put, with many choosing to use their accumulated savings to renovate their current property rather than list it.

With only six per cent of homeowners polled saying they planned to sell pre-pandemic, the majority (77 per cent) say the pandemic has not impacted their housing plans. Most (63 per cent) agree that low interest rates haven’t motivated them to sell and upgrade to a bigger home either.

Many homeowners (34 per cent) have renovated their homes over the past year, while a similar number (31 per cent) say they plan to make upgrades in the next twelve months. Of those who have renovated, most (71 per cent) funded this with savings.

“As a potential homebuyer, these results suggest that supply won’t be improving in the near term, which makes it essential to understand what you can comfortably afford within your budget, and work with an advisor before you start looking at homes to have appropriate financing options in place,” says Carissa Lucreziano, Vice-President, CIBC Financial and Investment Advice.

“It’s a positive sign that many homeowners are using cash versus debt to fund renovations – we’re seeing prudent financial behaviour from this group. But whether you’re looking to sell or buy a home, or invest in renovations, these are big decisions that would benefit from the advice of a financial expert.”

Renters continue to be outpriced
For renters, the story has also been more of the same. Half (47 per cent) say they are still unable to own a home due to housing prices, with 34 per cent citing an inability to save for a down payment as the major hurdle. Many (66 per cent) say low interest rates due to COVID-19 have not motivated them to look at purchasing a home with the majority (91 per cent) saying the pandemic has not impacted their ability to pay rent.

Of those who co-habit with family or others, 46 per cent have no immediate plans of moving out, but close to a third (32 per cent) are saving for a down payment.

A lack of knowledge when it comes to purchasing a home may be contributing to the hesitancy of some potential homebuyers:  Four-in-ten (41 per cent) of all the respondents admit they need help understanding all of the costs associated with home purchasing, and a similar number (37 per cent) need guidance on  obtaining a mortgage in the current environment. A quarter of Canadians (27 per cent) say the fear of a recession/economic uncertainty is impacting their decision to buy or sell a home and 31 per cent claim they will only be able to afford a home with an inheritance or gift from their family.

“It appears for those looking to get into the housing market, financing and a lack of understanding remains an issue. With the help of an advisor, you can get an assessment of your financial capacity for a clear picture of what you can afford as a new homebuyer to achieve the ambition of homeownership,” added Ms. Lucreziano.

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The Rule Of 3 When Buying A Home (VIDEO)

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When it comes to buying a home, there are many factors to consider and the decision is likely not going to be an easy one.

In this episode of All Things Money (ATM), host Nicole Victoria provides her advice for being successful with regards to purchasing a property.

One major component the Money Coach highlights is the importance of separating what is nice to have against what is a must-have.

In order to help navigate the tradeoffs, Victoria utilizes a rule-of-three system, using the factors of price, size and style, and location where “what the rule says is that you get to be sticky on two out of those three things.”

For more on this and other money-related tips and advice, check out the full ATM series here.

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