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If wishes were houses

I have made ade the usual New Year’s resolutions of daily visits to the gym and no alcohol in January and February. However, when it comes to the mortgage industry, I have a much longer wish list of things I would like to see happen in 2006.

The most obvious is a further reduction in the base rate. Many commentators are predicting another slow year for house price growth so a reduction in interest rates should act as a vital stimulant to the market.

It would be good to see more done to help first-time buyers. The Government’s plans to extend its shared-equity scheme are encouraging in as far as they go but it is vital that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet as a public/private partnership is really the only viable option in bringing home ownership to a wider number of people.

SPF Sherwins, our affordable housing arm, will be working closely with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, lenders and housing associations in an effort to make this a reality.

We have long favoured the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers. I do not think this Government will get round to it this year but it might be one for David Cameron to bear in mind.

There is still vital work to be done on home information packs, even though they will not be introduced until June 2007. The industry must lobby for a warning on the front of the packs to prevent first-time buyers being fooled into thinking they have to take what is recommended in the pack, whether it be a mortgage, legal advice or survey.

Many lenders increased their fees last year, resulting in plenty of negative press coverage. Lenders have to make a profit but it is vital to ensure that these costs are fair and transparent. A particular bugbear is the exit fees charged when borrowers want to switch to another deal. It is only fair that the borrower pays the admin costs but they vary so much between lenders and are not fixed from the outset. These fees should be set out up-front so that the borrower is fully aware of the total cost of the mortgage they are embarking on.

I predict that this year will be good for consumers. With several new lenders entering the market, there should be increased choice, leading to falling prices. Intermediaries will have an even more important role to fulfil as consumers become spoiled for choice.

With this in mind, lenders should appreciate our role to a greater extent than they do. Not only do we give advice, we have to process an inordinate amount of paperwork. It would be good to see lenders recognise this in the form of extra remuneration.

There are practical steps that intermediaries can take to move their business forward. Keeping clients happy and ensuring they move on to the most competitive rate available once their current deal comes to an end is key to what we do. Cross-selling is only possible if we keep in touch with customers. With a multi-faceted package, intermediaries can ride out difficulties in one market by offering services in another.

Demand for overseas mortgages will grow, despite the Government’s disgraceful U-turn on placing overseas property in a self-invested personal pension. Increasing numbers of people are looking overseas for a second property. This simply means they may have to rein in their ambitions and opt for something more modest than they had envisaged.

It just leaves me to muse on the one thing I really would like to see happen this year – Crystal Palace return to the Premiership. Things aren’t going too badly and, come the autumn, I hope the Eagles will be soaring back up where they belong.

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