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No alarms and no surprises

This week saw the demise of The Mortgage Business, HBoS’ packager lender, an unsurprising indication for many of how precarious the mortgage packager market has become.

The lender, under the guidance of the popular Nigel Payne, was heralded across the packager industry as a solid provider during happier times. And many would never have predicted that one of the arms of the mighty HBoS would fall this time last year, but after a less than rosy interim report, it’s not surprising to see TMB wound up.

In fact, not much of the news this week has been surprising – the Bank of England predicted flat growth, and possible rate hikes in the months to come in an attempt to battle inflation, which now sits at 4.4 per cent. It was a grim read for everyone, full of dire warnings and pointers towards a possible recession. But no one was shocked and it seems no one was particularly alarmed.

There was also no surprise at the news that the big six UK banks controlled a slightly overestimated 106 percent of net mortgage lending in the first half of 2008. With building societies and specialist lenders in negative growth only balance sheet lenders would have had the power and the backing to keep up, and grow, their mortgage books.

The only person who is surprised and alarmed by all these changes is myself.

Returning to the mortgage industry after a year I am astounded at the decimation that the credit crunch has left in its wake. One year ago the UK mortgage market has diversity and was full of vigour. Now people barely raise an eyebrow as one of the arms of the UK’s largest mortgage lender ceases to exist.

But while the professional mortgage market battles on unperturbed it seems like the national media has been working as hard as it can to make sure the British public are suitably surprised and alarmed. Every day the doom and gloom merchants tout their tales of woe – and it seems to be working.

The July edition of the housing market survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors revealed that many of its members believed the media to be at the heart of a loss of confidence shaky housing market. Surveyors noted that “media is fuelling the situation”, and “buyers confidence remains low and press reports aren’t helping”. In fact more than 200 surveyors were featured in the report, and at least a quarter cited consumer confidence and media reports as the main contributing factor to the housing market crisis.

It seems as though the alarm bells have already rung themselves out in the mortgage world which has seen so many unwanted surprises of late. We can only hope potential UK house buyers learn to ignore the alarms and adopt the same cool industry attitude in the tough months to come.

The only thing that would surprise or alarm the mortgage industry right now is some good news – a turn in the credit markets, a surge in house buyer confidence or even a decisive Government. So I think I can speak for the whole industry in saying: more alarms and more surprises, please.


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