Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 10:30 UK

Mortgage lending 'rises slightly'

Browsing an estate agent's window

The number of mortgages handed out by lenders rose slightly in February but activity in the market remains weak, according to a lenders' group.

Loans for house purchases in February in the UK rose to 24,300, up by 4% compared with January, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said.

But the group warned that activity in the market remained at a "very low level historically".

And first-time buyers had to find a record typical deposit of 25%.

"We are not convinced that underlying trends have shifted sufficiently to change our forecasts for mortgage market activity in 2009, but there are some positive signs for later in the year," said CML director general Michael Coogan.

"Some large banks are making more funding available through enhanced lending commitments, which is helpful but will not satisfy consumer borrowing demand on its own."

Remortgaging down

The number of home loans completed for all house buyers rose slightly month-on-month, but the total value of these homes remained unchanged at £3.1bn.

Such [typical deposit] amounts remain out of reach for all but the most affluent buyers
Michael Coogan, CML

While the figures, which echoed earlier data on mortgage approvals, suggested some lift for the housing market, it remains in stark contrast with recent years.

The number of mortgages completed was running at about one-third of the average February total of 76,000 loans for house purchase between 2002 and 2007.

The CML also reported a 20% decline in the number of remortgaging deals, down from 44,000 in January to 35,000 in February.

Lenders' standard variable rate (SVR) deals are tending to be more attractive than new fixed-rate deals for owners, with interest rates having plunged in recent months.

Falling house prices also mean householders have less equity, excluding these people from the best deals, which require a large deposit.

But with the Bank rate unlikely or unable to fall further, new home loan demand is shifting back to fixed-rate deals, rather than mortgages which track the Bank rate.

In February, 56% of new loans were at a fixed rate, up from 49% in January, while 31% were tracker products, down from 38% in January.

First-time buyers

The situation remained tough for first-time buyers. They typically had to find a deposit of 25% - a record amount - and so only 9,400 home loans were completed.

25%: Typical first-time buyers' deposit
4%: Rise in mortgages completed in February compared with January
47%: Fall in completed mortgages for house purchases compared with a year earlier
Source: CML

"Such amounts remain out of reach for all but the most affluent buyers, for example people returning to home ownership after a period of renting, divorcees, or those who get financial assistance from their family," said Mr Coogan.

This total of completed loans to first-time buyers was up 7% compared with January, but 46% lower than the same month a year earlier.

These figures are not seasonally adjusted. A pick-up in mortgages would be expected after a lull at the start of the year. The completion figures tend to lag behind other mortgage data.

Previously, the CML reported that gross mortgage lending in February was at its lowest level for any month since February 2001.

The CML said its members' ability to lend was drying up, because too many savers were choosing to put their money in National Savings policies.

National Savings & Investments (NS&I) has raised much more than its original forecast as savers searched for a completely safe home for their money.

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