The start of 2013 has been the best indication to date that the fortunes of the UK housing market are finally starting to change, with more mortgage applications being approved in January than in any other month during the last 5 years. First-time homeowners have been influential in this revival and industry experts consider this to be a sign that the much hyped Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) is starting to have an effect.
Since the economic recession began in 2008, market conditions have been extremely unfavourable to people wishing to make their first steps onto the property ladder, but January was the third month in succession that this group received close to half of all mortgages that were issued (42 percent).
The last time statistics (which are gathered and released periodically by the Council of Mortgage Lenders) for mortgage approvals were so positive was in January 2008, when just under 40,000 mortgage applications were approved. Current approval rates are a drastic improvement on the rates reported for January 2011, which were just over 10 percent lower.
Upon analysing trends in these statistics, CML have identified individuals falling into the “first-time homeowner” category as the main reason for this improvement. A spokesperson said “In terms of the total number of mortgages that were issued by mortgage lenders, a far greater proportion were issued to applicants purchasing their first property, as opposed to those people looking to move from one property to another.”
The actual number of mortgages that were issued to first-time homeowners was a little under 16,000 and amounted to £2 billion, which is close to a quarter increase when compared to the previous year’s figures.
But what has helped to improve market conditions for people seeking to purchase their first property? Many mortgage experts believe that the Funding for Lending Scheme, which is backed by the Bank of England, has played a major role. The initiative was only set-up in 2012 and has made it cheaper for banks to provide mortgages, by funding them using taxpayers’ money.
“Admittedly, when the initiative was first announced, many people were sceptical, but now that banks can offer better deals on mortgages, buying a house is now a realistic option again — especially for those looking to buy their first property” a senior representative at one mortgage broker said. “First-time buyers are vital to the market and things cannot improve without them. If this scheme didn’t exist, mortgage providers would once again ask for deposits that are simply out of the question for these people, and we will be right back where we started.”
Mark Harris of SPF Private Clients believes that the figures reported by the CML are an indication that the housing market is heading in the right direction. “The Funding for Lending Scheme is making it possible for mortgage lenders to offer 90 percent loan-to-value deals, which should increase the number of property sales made to first-timers during the remainder of 2013″ he said.
From the time the scheme was launched until the end of December 2012, almost £14 billion of funding was given to banks and financial lenders throughout the country. During the same period the amount of personal and business credit issued fell by £2 billion.
Despite receiving praise for the positive effect it has had to date, very few lenders actually joined the initiative in its first 5 months of operation — just 13. The UK’s Business secretary, Vince Cable, would like to see certain aspects of the initiative altered, recently stating “to be truly successful, parts of it have to be changed” during a radio interview.
Three of the biggest lenders that have been part of the scheme since it was launched, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and Lloyds Banking Group, had a huge impact on lending activity. The other participating banks and building societies actually increased lending, but with the “big three” experiencing a significant decline, loan activity was down by almost £2 billion.
Compared to the previous month, lending in the first month of 2013 decreased by close to 17 percent. However, as respected economist Howard Archer stated, January does traditionally experience a dip in lending.
“The housing market is definitely looking more stable at the start of 2013, and I expect it to move forward slightly over the course of the year, largely owing to the greater number of mortgages being issued” he added.
“Having said that, I think the economic trouble the UK is experiencing right now will prevent any major breakthrough from happening and it is still possible that property prices will fluctuate.”
In addition to the statistics released by the CML, information reported by other organisations such as the National Association of Estate Agents seems to support the notion that 2013 will see a rising number of sales. The NAEA recently said the start of the year has seen an influx of new property seekers; the highest figures since 2008.