According to trade body the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), mortgage lending has been slow through the first quarter of the year. The CML described the sector as suffering from a “sluggish start” to 2015, but says that things have picked up over the last few weeks.
Gross figures for mortgage lending in Q1 2015 were down 12% compared to the previous quarter. Lending in the first quarter of this year was also down compared to the same three months in 2014, showing a 3% decrease year-on-year. Overall, the first three months of the year saw a total of £44.9 billion lent to home buyers, according to the CML’s figures.
This could be partly down to the introduction of stricter affordability checks, to which would-be borrowers are subject before qualifying for a mortgage. These rules have now been in force for a year and more recently have also been applied to buy-to-let mortgage. They require mortgage lenders to make a close, highly-detailed study of the income and outgoings of potential borrowers before granting credit, and according to the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), this is slowing down the process of buying a home significantly.
Mark Hayward, NAEA managing director, said: “A drop in the number of buyers is the direct result of a slow-down in acceptance of mortgages, with it now taking an average of 50 days to receive a mortgage offer.” The new rules also, Hayward said, increases the risk of sales failing to go through.
However, the CML’s figures show that things have been picking up after the “sluggish start” at the beginning of the year – even within the space of the first quarter. Lending was significantly higher in March than in February, and indeed March was a fairly strong month for the mortgage lending sector. With a total of £16.5 billion lent in the form of home loans across the month, March saw fully 21% more lending for mortgages than February. While the quarter as a whole may have seen lending fall compared to the same period last year, March this year saw an increase of 7% compared to March 2014.
According to the CML’s chief economist Bob Pannell, “the underlying lending picture is stabilising.”
“Sentiment and activity,” he continued, “are showing early signs of improvement, and should be further supported by the effects of stamp duty reform. We expect to see lending strengthen over the next few months.”
Over the past few weeks, mortgage lenders have been reducing their rates, and the resulting cheaper mortgages may have helped stimulate the recent upturn in activity.