Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 11:11 UK

Steady rise in mortgage approvals

For sale signs
The BBA reports figures for the major High Street banks

The number of mortgages approved for house purchases by the major High Street banks has risen to a 17-month high, figures show.

The British Bankers' Association (BBA) said approvals in July stood at 38,181, a rise of 7.4% compared with June and 77% higher than a year ago.

The data suggests the rise in activity and prices could stretch into autumn.

However, the BBA warned that new lending was below seasonal expectations despite greater demand from borrowers.

Changing picture

The number of loans approved for people buying a home in July was at its highest since February 2008.

It is a different marketplace to where we have been in the past
David Dooks, BBA

Banks had been more forthcoming in mortgages available to potential buyers, with the average amount borrowed at £139,700 in July.

However, the BBA's statistics director David Dooks said that banks were still being "more realistic" about how they should lend to compared with when the property boom was at its peak.

He said the ability of potential buyers to pay a deposit and long-term sustainability were key issues when banks decided whether to offer a mortgage. Property prices would also "stall" for some time.

"It is a different marketplace to where we have been in the past," he said.

Future building

The figures come after two of the UK's major housebuilders gave a guarded outlook regarding the property market.

House keys
Housebuilders say that the property market has stabilised

Bovis Homes, which on Monday reported a pre-tax loss of £8.6m in the six months to June, said it was worried about the potential impact of rising unemployment on house prices.

Although it said that the housing market had shown signs of stabilisation in the first half of 2009, it feared continued low levels of activity owing in part to the continued squeeze on mortgage availability.

This was echoed by the UK's largest housebuilder Persimmon which said that "mortgage availability continues to be a concern".

It said that selling prices had stabilised in most parts of mainland UK, most strongly in the south of England and more latterly in the north of England.

"Future volume increases and price movements will be dependent upon mortgage availability, job prospects and the health of the general economy," said Persimmon chairman John White.

Actual sales

The swelling numbers of people buying a property as the year has progressed was shown in the latest figures from the UK's tax authority.

Normal rules where lenders pass or decrease rates based on the cost of funding seem to have well and truly gone out of the window
Michelle Slade, Moneyfacts

Some 82,000 UK residential properties costing more than £40,000 were sold in July, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

This was up from 75,000 the previous month and was double the number of sales reported in January. The total was close to the 74,000 sold in July 2008, but was still well down on the same month in 2007 when 151,000 were sold.

The BBA said that slow housing market activity meant it was taking longer for mortgage approvals to work their way through to actual lending.

Gross mortgage lending by the major banks stood at £8.4bn in July, up from £8.1bn the previous month.

However, net lending, which strips out repayments and redemptions, remained "weak" at £1.6bn - showing that people were paying off mortgages not far from the rate at which new ones were being taken out.

Mortgage costs

The difference between the costs for mortgage lenders and the amount of interest they charge for fixed-rate home loans continues to grow, according to financial information service Moneyfacts.

It said that institutions were looking to repair their balance sheets after the banking crisis by failing to reduce mortgage costs despite the fall in swap rates, which are the guide prices used by lenders on long-term loans.

The margin between the rate for average two-year fixed-rate mortgage - 5.18% - and the two-year swap rate - 2.04% - stood at 3.14%, the highest on record, Moneyfacts said.

"Normal rules where lenders pass or decrease rates based on the cost of funding seem to have well and truly gone out of the window," said its spokeswoman Michelle Slade.

Figures from the BBA also show that credit card spending and savings put in banks have stabilised as households focus on managing their personal finances. The demand for personal loans has also dropped.

UK property sales

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