“HIGH MORTGAGE” PLANS: A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD?

「高成數按揭」計劃:雙刃劍?

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At the time of print, HSBC had just raised the prime rate for the first time in a decade, from 5% to 5.125%. This was not a surprise but an official signal that we're at the end of a long cycle of cheap financing. Facing a new interest rate environment, should buyers choose high mortgage plans to secure properties?

The benefits of high mortgage plans allowing purchasers to borrow up to 80% of a property's value (or even 90% for properties under HK$4M) are obvious. A smaller down payment enables a larger purchase, and allows buyers to enter the market now instead of saving over many years. This is naturally attractive for many buyers.

Two main types of institutions offer high mortgage plans—banks and developers. Banks are strictly regulated and can only offer high loan-to-value mortgages on purchases of HK$6M or below, and the borrower must pass income stress tests to ensure they can bear the additional interest burden over time, even if rates increase in the future. If expected interest payments are deemed to be affordable relative to the borrower's income, then the application qualifies for mortgage insurance from the government-owned Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation.

Developers can offer financing plans on their first-hand sales without a stress test, including properties valued over HK$6M. Such loans typically use progressive interest rates that are low for the first few years (only slightly higher than bank rates), then increase to the Prime Rate (currently 5.125 to 5.375%) plus X%. Although this is significantly higher than banks' lending rates (roughly double), these plans have been very popular, leading to strong first-hand sales in recent years. Even knowing that the progressive rate will increase, and therefore also the all-in purchase cost, many buyers still choose to take this risk. Why?

Buyers often plan to refinance the developer loan with a bank loan in the future, before the progressive rate increases. Given the steady increase of property prices over the last decade, people may believe a 50% refinancing in the future may cover the 80% mortgage of today. While this has been a plausible strategy in the past, the market may not continue to rise. The key mainly lies in the stress test.

Refinancing with a bank loan hinges on passing the bank's stress test and qualifying for mortgage insurance and a higher LTV loan. If failed, the buyer must come up with the additional down payment (potentially 30% of the property value) to avoid high progressive rates. Otherwise, they cannot refinance and must begin paying the much higher interest cost.

Since developers don't conduct stress tests when granting loans, the best way to protect against this is to conduct your own. Will your future income safely cover a higher interest rate (3% or more)? Will you have liquid capital to cover an additional down payment, if needed, especially if property values fall? If you cannot refinance, will you be able to cover the progressive rate on the developer loan? When considering a high mortgage loan, carefully consider these questions to be sure of your financial position throughout the loan period.

筆者於撰寫本文時, 豐銀行剛剛將最優惠利率由5%上調至5.125%,為十二年內首次。這並不意外,亦表明低息按揭貸款的周期已正式踏入尾聲。面對新的利率環境,買家置業時應否選擇高成數按揭計劃?

高成數按揭計劃的好處顯而易見,按揭成數最高可達八成(4百萬元以下的物業甚至高達九成)。低首期讓買家可選擇樓價較高的物業,亦讓買家可選擇即時入市,在買家眼中自然別具吸引力。

高成數按揭計劃主要由兩類機構提供:銀行及發展商。銀行一向受嚴格監管,現時只可向樓價6百萬或以下之物業提供高成數按揭。借款人需通過銀行的壓力測試,確保將來利率即使上升,業主亦能應付額外利息支出。若預期利息增長及供款與入息比率達可負擔水平,便符合香港按揭證券公司的按揭保險申請資格。

發展商可在無需通過壓力測試的情況下為一手物業提供高成數按揭計劃,即使6百萬元以上的物業亦適用。此類按揭貸款通常使用漸進式利率,由最初幾年利率較低(僅略高於銀行利率),再逐漸調高至最優惠利率(目前為5.125-5.375%)另加X%。雖然發展商按揭利率遠遠高於銀行按揭利率(大約兩倍) ,但此類計劃近年一直很受歡迎。明知道漸進式利率變相增加總購買成本,為什麼買家仍然選擇承擔這種風險?

買家一般計劃日後在利率上升前將發展商按揭轉按至銀行,但鑒於過去十年來樓價穩步上升,有人認為將來的五成轉按將相當於今日的八成按揭。在過去幾年這是合理的策略,但市場未必能持續攀升,關鍵在於能否通過壓力測試。

日後能否轉按至銀行亦視乎買家是否符合高成數按揭之申請資格。如果未能通過壓力測試,買家必須繳付額外首期(或會超過樓價的三成)才可成功轉按至銀行。

由於發展商在審批按揭時未必會進行壓力測試,為防止供款比例失衡,最佳方法是自行進行壓力測試。將來的收入能否負擔更高利息(3%或以上)?尤其是在樓價下跌時,是否有足夠流動資金來繳付額外首期?若不能轉按,能否承擔發展商按揭的高息?在考慮高成數按揭時,買家應仔細考慮這些問題,以確保在整個按揭周期維持健康的財務狀況。

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