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Canadians Can Get Better Mortgage Deals

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 26 March 2002 00:00

Do banks count on Canadians passively accepting what's offered at mortgage renewal time? Studies have shown that the majority of Canadians renewing their mortgage accept the terms offered by their lender without asking for more or shopping around for a better deal.

Too many unquestioningly settle for what's offered when lenders are ready to give better terms -- but only if they are asked. With rates on the rise, it's time to take a new stance at renewal time.

So, what may be gained by checking out the competition or by raising Oliver Twist's question "please may I have more?" Better interest rates, lower fees, favourable prepayment penalties, more flexibile qualifying criteria and perhaps more congenial people to deal with.

We are so programmed into thinking "bank" -- and "big bank" at that -- when we think money that many Canadians never consider approaching a trust company, insurance company, credit union, mortgage company or a private lender for their mortgage.

If doing your own negotiating is intimidating, why not let a professional handle things for you. The extra bonus here is that in many cases the lender pays this professional, not you. Lenders are represented by agents or brokers who sell mortgages under their own business names for a commission, but are not employed by the lender.

Usually, these acknowledged agents are mortgage brokers, insurance brokers, real estate brokers or financial advisors who advertise and sell mortgage products, perhaps from more than one lender, under the agent's business name.

While it is wise to clarify whether you are dealing directly with the lender or not, there can be added benefits to not going direct. For instance, mortgage brokers operate under agency common law which means you have some one with fiduciary duties to protect you and your interests versus the "buyer beware" caveat that is all that stands between you and a bank loans clerk. Mortgage brokers, because they deal in volume, can often negotiate a better rate with your chosen lender than you can as a single borrower or mortgagor.

Most banks only allow about 30 days before the maturity date to renegotiate your mortgage so you can feel a bit rushed. Some lenders will let you lock in a rate 60 or 90 days before the maturity date, but often only if you ask. Start your search 3 or 4 months before maturity and use the Internet to help you shop around. Aim to lock in as soon as possible before maturity since interest rates are predicted to be on the rise.

If you are afraid to rock the boat because you may no longer qualify for the mortgage, don't panic. You may be stuck with this lender until your finances improve, but lenders do not re-qualify you at renewal time as long are your payments are up to date. Even if you've lost your job, you can renegotiate the terms, just stick to talking about the rate, amortization period, payments and term. For more on these details, see my November 27, 2001, article "Can Canadians Refinance Now?" .

Most banks will offer 0.5% to a full percentage point off their posted rates without a battle. If you have more cards to play, try and better this. Do you have most if not all of your other business with this lender? How long have you been a customer? Just remember, if they say they give everyone a particular break in rates when asked, then the negotiation has not really begun.

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PJ Wade

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