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CML: Election jitters dampen mortgage lending

Written by: Emma Lunn
Mortgage lending fell in February as buyers and homeowners held fire ahead of the general election.

House purchase lending to first-time buyers, homemovers and remortgaging were all down in February both from January and the same period last year, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

The slowdown in lending has led industry commentators to speculate the general election is causing housing market jitters. Buy to let was the only area of mortgage lending to see growth compared to last February, driven almost entirely by landlords remortgaging.

CML figures showed that the number of loans advanced for homeowner house purchase lending declined in February, down 1 per cent from January and 16 per cent compared to the same month in 2014. These loans totalled £6.8bn, which was down 3 per cent on January and 13 per cent on February last year.

There were 18,700 loans advanced to first-time buyers – down 1 per cent on January and down 16 per cent compared to February 2014. These loans by value were £2.7bn, which were down 4 per cent on January and 13 per cent down on February last year. Despite the fall, first-time buyer lending was at its second highest level in the month of February since 2007, behind only last year’s February level.

First-time buyer affordability was slightly improved in February, with first-time buyers typically borrowing 3.37 times their gross income, compared to 3.38 in January. Buyers purchasing their first home in February this year borrowed an average of £124,000.

Home movers were advanced 21,900 loans, a decline of 2 per cent compared to January and 16 per cent down compared to February 2014. These loans totalled in value £4.1bn – 2 per cent down on January and 13 per cent down compared to February 2014. Remortgaging decreased both month-on-month and year-on-year. Some 21,500 loans were advanced in February, down 16 per cent on January and 14 per cent on February 2014.

Loans to landlords decreased in February with 15,900 buy-to-let loans completed, 13 per cent less than in January. However, the figure was up 11% on February 2014. These loans came to £2.2bn in value, down 12 per cent compared to January but up 16 per cent on February 2014.

Paul Smee (pictured), director general of the CML, said: “As with January, seasonal factors have played their part in dampening house purchase lending activity in February. This typical seasonal trend may also be exacerbated by uncertainty ahead of the general election, but we still expect to see an upturn in the spring and summer months. Buy to let, in contrast, has shown year-on-year lending increases, due almost completely to remortgaging which is typically strong in the buy-to-let market.”

Karen Bennett, sales and marketing director of commercial mortgages at Shawbrook Bank, said: “A contributing factor to the fall in February’s overall mortgage lending is likely to be the general feeling of uncertainty that is always in the market when we approach an election, combined with the continued impact of tighter lending criteria on owner-occupiers.”

Mark Harris, chief executive of SPF Private Clients, said that despite the dip in February, lending started to pick up in March. “Buy-to-let lending is up year-on-year, proving its enduring popularity. Investors like the tangible nature of property compared with stocks and shares, and the rising demand for rental property from those unable to buy means there is a ready supply of tenants,” he said, “The relaxation of pension rules this month is likely to provide a further boost for the sector. A combination of cheap mortgage rates, easing criteria and poor savings rates are convincing many that investment property is a sensible home for their money.”

Gross mortgage lending reached £13.6bn in February. This represented an 8 per cent decrease from January’s gross lending total and 8 per cent lower than lending in February 2014.

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