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Rob Clifford: Lenders have regained their appetite for mortgages

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For those involved in the lending market, 2013 was a thoroughly absorbing year and one marked by a number of developments that will continue into this year and beyond.

Clearly, Government intervention in the form of Help to Buy is likely to have a notable impact over the next 12 to 18 months, as will the decision by the Bank of England to stop lenders drawing down the Funding for Lending Scheme money to fund their mortgages.

These far-reaching, macro developments are not the only influences: there have been a number of underlying changes which are also pointing to a far more prosperous environment for mortgage finance. One of the under-the-radar changes emanated from lenders themselves as they began to be less stringent with their lending criteria over the past year than at any other time since the start of the Credit Crunch. Lender appetite truly returned.

This is not to say that lenders have suddenly raced up the risk curve fuelled by a desire to seize undue market share. In many instances, it has been a number of marginal changes which in total result in a far more accommodating stance for certain categories of borrower.

I hesitate to even talk about borrowers with adverse credit and their ability to get access to mortgage finance, given that it is still a contentious topic in many minds. However, it has been noticeable and welcome that a number of lenders, particularly smaller ones, are willing to be much more accommodating to those borrowers who would be classified as sub-prime or near-prime.

These lenders are not immediately throwing out a case simply because a borrower has had some small amounts of adverse credit in the past. Instead they are willing to look at individual cases and underwrite them personally.

Given that credit availability is rightly and helpfully increasing, I was bemused by the media furore around the launch of Magellan Homeloans last year. The fact is a number of more traditional lenders have been willing to look at the very same borrowers Magellan is targeting for some time but that they have not been making a huge song and dance about it.

The next issue is whether more lenders will follow and adapt their lending policy and underwriting criteria to look at such borrowers and whether those doing this (and new entrant lenders) will feel able to consider individuals who have an even greater negative credit history. While there may be a real market demand for such, it is clearly a highly contentious aspect of the mortgage market which naturally attracts regulatory attention.

We must not confuse an abhorrence of deep sub-prime lending with the reasonable moves by many lenders to look closely at complex prime cases.

By adopting a shift in lending criteria to provide a home for borrowers with slightly unusual circumstances or out of the ordinary property types, lenders are helping enormously to correct the market downturn. 

The mortgage sector has a recent history of getting carried away with itself and it is in all our best interests that, while creativity and product innovation should not be stifled, responsible lending remains the bedrock of all they do.

Rob Clifford is chief executive of If I Were You 

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