Is your house a home or a nest egg?

More than two-thirds of Canadians who bought in the last decade view their house as a place to live and just 31 per cent as a nest egg.

And that appears to be consistent among homebuyers, whether they bought recently, or back in 2003, before real estate in markets like Toronto and Vancouver virtually doubled or tripled in price, according to the annual spring survey of the residential mortgage market done on behalf of the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP).

It’s the first time that CAAMP has posed the question as part of its biannual survey, largely “because there has been so much chatter about whether people rely too much on their house as an asset,” said Will Dunning, the association’s chief economist and author of the report released Thursday.

“It’s more a test of peoples’ mindset: How important do you feel about your house as a financial asset. We’ll have to see how it evolves over time.”

The 34-page report paints a detailed picture of residential mortgage debt.

While homeowners across the country owed a combined $1.23 trillion on their homes as of February, that’s forecast to rise to $1.34 trillion by the end of 2015.

Related: How to cut thousands from your mortgage

There are currently some 9.55 million homeowners in Canada, almost four million of whom are mortgage-free, says the report.

Of the 5.6 million Canadian homeowners who still have mortgages, about 1.75 million also have Home Equity Lines of Credit. But about 16 per cent (900,000) of those homeowners have heeded Ottawa’s warning about record-high household debt and made voluntary extra payments averaging about $375 per month during the last year, notes CAAMP.

About 14 per cent (about 800,000) made lump sum payments during the same period and 7 per cent (roughly 425,000) stepped up the frequency of their payments.

Some 35 per cent of mortgage holders “took one or more of these three actions,” says the survey.

But not everyone was on the buy-down bandwagon: almost 11 per cent of Canada’s 9.55 million homeowners either increased their mortgage or drew on a Home Equity Line of Credit over the last year to consolidate debt, do home renovations or repairs, invest or make “other” purchases, says the survey.

The combined low-interest-rate equity takeout amounted to $53 million, or an average $51,000.

“Canadians have become more confident over time about their ability to weather a downturn in the housing market,” says the report, which has tested consumer sentiments in its surveys since the fall of 2010.

Most believe that real estate is a good long-term investment and remain moderately confident about the economy. Just 15 per cent said they are “nervous” about their mortgages.

The survey mirrors the slowdown now hitting many Canadian housing markets, with the exception of Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary where price growth remains exceptionally strong: Mortgage credit growth has averaged about 8.4 per cent per year over the past decade, rising to a peak of about 10 per cent just before the recession, said Dunning, largely based on mortgages being taken out for the first time on new homes and condos across the country.

As of February, the growth rate had slowed to just 5 per cent, year over year, and is expected to slip to 4.5 per cent by the end of 2015, reflecting in part the slowdown in new construction.

Toronto Star