Brokers reaping the benefits of an unseasonably hot December market saw the pool of potential originations cool  considerably in January, with new numbers pointing to a continuing trend for the all-important spring season.

“The national housing market is stabilizing and remains well balanced,” said Gary Morse, CREA’s president. “That said, forecasts for economic and job growth going forward vary widely for different parts of the country, suggesting a possible continuation of a softening trend in some markets.”

National resale housing activity retreated in January from the strong finish reported for December 2011, with overall sales down 4.5 per cent month over month.

With sales down by more than new listings, the national market shifted further into balanced territory, argues CREA, although the national average home price was up less than 2% year-over-year in January, ranking it among the smallest increases of the past year.

That suggests brokers will increasingly face two challenges in trying to maintain their revenue streams heading into the make-or-break spring market: falling prices and a dwindling number of sales.

It also means they’ll likely have to work harder to maintain their compensation levels. The climate may further compel mortgage professionals across the country to engage in buy-downs as a way of better competing with increasingly aggressive banks.

“You got to do what you got to do,” Grant King, president and principal broker for Ottawa-Carleton Mortgage Inc., told MortgageBrokerNews.ca. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. And I don’t think (consumers) have to be told to ask for a buy-down these days.”

Indeed. As MortgageBrokerNews.ca reported earlier this week, brokers are now attracting national media attention for their willingness to undercut bank competitors with buy-downs.

“Mortgage brokers are once again undercutting the banks and some are willing to buy down your rate — eating part of their commission in the process — to gain customers,” reads a National Post article in Monday’s Financial Post. “Steep mortgage discounts from the major banks have all but disappeared from the market, leading mortgage brokers to make sacrifices for market share amid new rumours that another major Canadian bank is going to bring its business completely in-house.”

The article gives consumers a heads-up about the possible benefits of today’s rate wars, chief among them, the increased willingness of mortgage professionals to do what it takes to retain clients.

January’s market cooling may add further impetus to that competition.

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