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Home straight

Is it up, up and away for the housing market at last? It may be a tad early to get carried away right now but there are certainly reasons to be cheerful. House prices rose 2.6 per cent in May, according to the Halifax, and there is mounting evidence of improving sentiment on the economy and an increasing expectation that growth will return at some point this year.

The European Central Bank and Bank of England have confirmed their commitment to quantitative easing.

There is, however, continuing concern that many potential first-time buyers are being frozen out of the housing market by the lack of available mortgages.

I would like to see the Government, Treasury and Bank of England encourage a controlled return of greater funding, allowing lenders to return to the market with competitively priced products at higher loan to values. The increased competition would ensure consumers get decent deals. As the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries recently pointed out, most mortgages are being funded by just six lenders at present and this is not conducive to good consumer choice in the longer term.

Brokers expect slightly more business for FTBs buyers and homemovers over the next two months, according to the latest research from the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association. This is the first time intermediaries have forecast positive growth since the question was first posed 18 months ago by Imla. While growth levels remain very modest, this may reflect a turning point as intermediaries start to see a return of confidence.

Actual numbers of mortgages handled by intermediary respondents have fallen by around 50 per cent since late 2006. Since summer 2008 the fall has been precipitous, in line with the contraction of the mortgage funding market. Now that has stabilised, intermediaries are signalling a little more optimism.

I am not suggesting the housing market has finally taken off again but I do believe we have hit the bottom. The million-dollar question is now how long it will take for the market to lick its wounds and bounce back with a bang.

Sally Laker is managing director of Mortgage Intelligence

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