A perfect storm of lower interest rates, widespread layoffs and economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak has sent the mortgage finance market into overdrive.

“There’s mass requests for refinancing. Two weeks ago, the story was lower rates and when you combine that with economic uncertainty, people want to refinance and grab those lower rates,” Ron Butler, founder of Butler Mortgage, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.

Canadians have several options when it comes to refinancing their mortgage amid the outbreak. In addition to taking advantage of drastically lower interest rates following two emergency cuts from the Bank of Canada, they now have the choice of deferring their payments if they can prove financial hardship due to the virus.

Samantha Brookes, chief executive officer of Mortgages of Canada, told BNN Bloomberg that she's getting more calls from clients wondering what their best options are based on the industries that they work in. Some options may include a deferral, getting an extra line of credit or just refinancing to "keep the roof over their head."  

“I’ve had four clients in one day ask me ‘Am I going to lose my home?’” she said. 

As many homeowners evaluate their payment options, some buyers are just flat-out walking away from deals because their situation has suddenly changed.

“We’ve had some people coming up to their condition day and decided they don’t want to proceed because they’re afraid they might be laid off or they don’t want to proceed because they have been laid off,” Calgary-based mortgage broker Croft Axsen said.

But the mortgage market is also showing signs of a significant divide happening – those looking to refinance or defer payments and those viewing the economic downturn as a real estate buying opportunity with home prices likely declining in the coming months.

However, Butler thinks some people should hold off looking to buy a house in the near term as prices could continue to move lower. 

“If it’s going to be a situation where if you’re closing on a property today, you’re probably going to be able to buy it for 10 per cent less down the line,” he said. “There are a lot of headwinds here. Oil’s not going to spring back to life, employers have done massive layoffs. This chronic unemployment is going to remain for months. The one thing that hurts real estate more than anything else is unemployment.”

Butler added that it's unlikely for financial conditions to return to normal once COVID-19 is resolved and people can return back to work.  

"The depth of this is unsettling to anyone who’s not a public sector or large corporation employee,” he said.