Self-employed increasingly turning to private lenders for mortgages

TORONTO — The self-employed are among the growing number of Canadians turning to private lenders in order to obtain a mortgage.

While many prospective homeowners are driven to alternate lenders because of government-mandated stress tests and poor credit scores, the self-employed often have additional burdens to overcome in proving their income.

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"There's more and more people seeking private loans than ever before and that's a direct result of government making it more and more difficult to qualify," says Dan Caird, a mortgage agent with Dominion Lending Centres.

According to the Bank of Canada, private lenders have doubled their share of the mortgage market in Greater Toronto since 2015, accounting for eight per cent of mortgages in 2018.

These lenders are less concerned about income and more focused on the property's value in case they have to foreclose. The tradeoff is higher interest rates and fees.

Still, the option can be helpful for the self-employed who expense as much as they can in order to reduce their taxable income and who have a strategy to beef up their credit score with a goal of returning to a traditional lender.

Caird said it's usually more financially advantageous to "expense the heck out your business" and show less income.

"Sure you're going to pay a half a per cent, a per cent, sometimes two to three per cent [more] on your mortgage but ...they usually end up coming out ahead by claiming less income and just paying a bit more on the mortgage," he said in an interview.

However, the writeoffs make it harder for lenders to obtain the 35 to 44 per cent debt-to-income ratio sought by traditional lenders.

Proving a sufficient track record of income to qualify for a mortgage can be the biggest challenge for people who work for themselves.

"Assuming a self-employed borrower had great credit and ample equity, we used to be able to simply state their income to the bank and show a notice of assessment to prove no taxes owing," said Robert McLister, found of mortgage news website RateSpy.com

"Those days are long gone."

The government now wants verifiable proof of true earnings while the stress test makes the hurdle even higher by requiring almost 20 per cent more provable income to qualify for the same mortgage available in 2017, he said.

That has pushed more people to alternate lenders.

"Self-employed mortgages without traditional proof of income are a different animal from your cookie cutter AAA bank mortgage," McLister added.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. is trying to ease the paperwork required to obtain mortgage loan insurance, said Carla Staresina, vice-president risk management, strategy and products.

It introduced changes last October that suggest additional factors lenders could consider if the borrower has been operating their business for less than two years, including having sufficient cash reserves, predictable earnings, acquisition of an established business and previous training and education. It is also encouraging acceptance of a broader ranger of documents.

"Our aspiration really is to make sure everyone in Canada has a home they can afford and that meets their needs," Staresina said from Ottawa.

"We know self-employed Canadians make up about 15 per cent of Canada's labour force and so we want to make sure that any difficulty that they have in qualifying for a mortgage is mitigated and that we've got some options for them."

McLister said the program will help "at the margins," particularly those who recently started a business or bought an established operation.

Caird said there's been some other steps in the right direction. He pointed to a new product from the Bank of Nova Scotia that allows incorporated companies to use retained earnings in the business to help applicants qualify.

Genworth Canada and Canada Guaranty also have programs to help self-employed borrowers, but require the business be open for at least two years.

The mortgage broker's task is to convince lenders that the borrower is a good credit risk by adding back specific deducted expenses to net income to improve the debt-to-income calculation, said Caird.

While having a sound credit history is very helpful, mortgages can still be obtained for those with less-than-stellar records, for a cost.

Three essentials for borrowers are to have up-to-date taxes, be organized and consult a mortgage broker long before the mortgage is required.

"If your taxes aren't up to date it's going to be next to impossible to get a lender to give you a mortgage at any sort of reasonable rate or term."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version didn't specify the Bank of Canada report only referred to Greater Toronto.

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