First-time buyer boom is sustainable post-Help To Buy – Phillips
On the back of various criticisms of the scheme – not least that it wasn’t helping the right people – the wind seems to have gone out of the sails politically speaking. It doesn’t help that it was very much George Osborne’s pet scheme and he’s not flavour of the month with the gang in charge at the moment.
Cue all sorts of doom and gloom that the market will somehow dry up without Help to Buy. But I don’t think so.
For one thing, Help to Buy was partly a response to a pretty unique economic situation after the financial crisis. If we look around now, for all the Brexit uncertainty, the economy is on a pretty even keel, with high levels of employment and no sign that interest rates are going to budge too much any time soon.
All that should make committing to a mortgage a lot easier for most people.
And if it’s true that a lot of those benefiting from Help to Buy did not need it, then that must mean the market is already less dependent on it than we might think.
I’m confident there’s still a lot of pent-up demand from potential first-time buyers; my worry would be whether the supply will be there to meet it.
Part of that is about building more of the right sort of homes, but it’s also about making better use of the existing housing stock.
The number of empty homes is a longstanding national disgrace. The housing ministry Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government reckons there are around 635,000 vacant properties just in England, with more than 215,000 vacant for more than six months.
And then there’s the elephant in the room – more of a dirty great woolly mammoth, in fact – stamp duty.
Most first-time buyers are exempt, but the punitive levels further up the scale make the deadweight cost of moving too high for a lot of people. So they stay where they are, in a house that is now too small for their growing family but – guess what – would be perfect for a couple just starting out.
The team around Boris Johnson has vowed to look again at stamp duty but the Treasury is bound to kick up a fuss so they’re going to need their feet held to the fire.
Closer relationships with brokers are vital to improve conveyancing – Blacks
Representatives from local and national firms were asked to share what they viewed and experienced as poor practice so that we could also identify what good looked like.
While the forum recognised there were some shining examples of good conveyancing which encompass a variety of commercial models, there were also some “shockers”.
It comes as no surprise that a poor “post offer” experience for both broker and client tended to centre around a lack of communication and an apparent lack of activity by the conveyancer.
This led to frustration, emotional stress, longer completion times and even aborted cases.
Good conveyancing is not rocket science. Getting the basics right by positively engaging with the broker and client from the outset is essential.
Brokers on their side
Given that such a high percentage of mortgage business is introduced, the forum was quick to point out that more conveyancing firms should recognise that brokers are on their side.
When considering what further improvements could be made, there was little doubt that technology can be part of the solution to faster completion times and a better post offer experience.
We all empathise with the confusion and frustration clients must feel having to provide identification multiple times in the transaction.
However, it was also recognised that a more collaborative approach between all parties in educating the client and realistically managing expectations could alleviate much of any pre-completion angst.
This can be achieved through clear and regular communication, taking a pro-active stance with each step of the journey, while personalising the experience for clients in a way that makes them feel valued and part of the process.
More than cost
Good conveyancing is more than just the cheapest price.
Getting the basics right like names, address, property and lender details, taking ownership and chasing matters even outside your own control determine and influence the quality of the service given.
With cases becoming increasingly complex and less straight forward the human touch does make a difference.
Perhaps a good reminder then that for our industry, relationships and people still matter.
The conveyancing world may have some way to go in delivering on these aims, but it should acknowledge that closer relationships with brokers are a vital step in the right direction.
IMLA analysis flawed to say regulation is hurting first-timers – Blackwell
I think it is flawed in its analysis and dangerous in its suggestion that a review of regulatory standards is required.
It is important not to forget that the Mortgage Market Review (MMR) was put in place, as former chairman of the Financial Services Authority Adair Turner said at the time, to ensure that ‘better practice endures in future when memories of the crisis recede and the dangers of poor practice return’.
Memories of the crisis seem to be fading fast and dangers of poor practice starting to emerge.
Only this week there have been stories in the trade press about bringing back 100 per cent mortgages and revamping the sub-prime and interest-only sectors.
This is a push in an otherwise challenging market to grow market share by bringing back the so called ‘good old days’ when practically anyone could get a mortgage.
That’s not a smart move and I hope the regulator is paying close attention to those suggesting it.
‘Analysis is flawed’
It is disappointing to see IMLA supporting this view. IMLA claims that contrary to popular belief, it is not high house prices that is the main cause of the fall in first-time buyer (FTB) numbers.
It is, in fact, the tightening of lending criteria following the financial crisis and the MMR and its ‘enhanced affordability requirements’, the unavailability of interest-only loans and enhanced capital requirements that have caused the significant reduction in FTBs.
The accompanying analysis substantiating this claim starts in 2005. Taking a longer time horizon, however, would clearly show that FTB numbers started to fall in 2002, way before the financial crisis and any subsequent action by the regulators.
This claim that it is not high house prices is based on a piece of analysis using the Nationwide House Price to earnings ratio.
The Nationwide ratio assumes a single adult is the likely first-time buyer. Data from the English Housing survey shows that around 80 per cent of first-time buyers are in fact couples. The analysis is therefore flawed.
Very different picture
Using UK Finance data produces a very different picture that reflects all the stories we read about house prices simply being out of reach of the ordinary FTB.
It is also pretty ironic that in the same week that the IMLA report is issued bemoaning the reduction in FTB numbers, UK Finance is reporting that FTB numbers are now back at late 2007 levels.
In fact, a closer look at the data shows that FTB numbers are now back at the sort of levels seen from 2003 to the start of the crisis.
IMLA also complains about a sharply reduced availability of high LTVs and makes the assertion that ‘the regulatory changes that have been enacted since the financial crisis have deterred lenders from relaxing criteria as they would have in previous recoveries and that tightened affordability requirements make it harder for borrowers to qualify for higher LTV loans…’.
There is no analysis supporting these claims.
It is available: The Bank of England Credit Conditions Survey clearly shows that lenders’ attitudes toward high loan to value lending has recovered sharply from post-recession lows.
But, as we saw in the analysis underpinning the MMR, high LTV lending is higher risk.
Common sense agreement
Since the MMR, continued analysis on this by the Bank of England and the European Central Bank has confirmed that high LTV is an important risk factor when it comes to predicting arrears and potential repossessions.
The whole point about the enhanced regulatory standards is to reduce lending to those who risk facing arrears and losing their homes and to encourage stable home ownership rather than home ownership at any price.
The industry came together to back the MMR reforms on the basis that they were common sense principles serving the interests of both lenders and borrowers.
I hope common sense continues to prevail.
Lynda Blackwell is a consultant and ex-mortgage manager of the FCA
Stealth fees are unnecessary and risk damaging customer relationships – Cavere
Keeping on the issue of treating customers fairly (TCF), this month I want to highlight the equally unfair practice of charging customers fees for cancelling or making changes to policies.
However, this is not intended as criticism.
With trail commission being slashed by some providers, and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) driving down commission, I appreciate that brokers are under pressure, and so I also hope to offer a solution.
So called “stealth fees” for the set up and cancellation of insurance policies have long been criticised. It seems common practice for fees not to be refunded to the customer if they cancel their policy, as well as loading additional charges if they wish to make material changes.
A report in the summer by a leading price comparison site found a marked increase in stealth charges, such as adjustment fees, cancellation charges and other administrative fees, between 2012 and today.
While this report points a finger at motor insurance, the issues raised apply equally to general insurance sales.
Brokers must be upfront about such charges, and make them clear in their terms and conditions, however my big issue with this practice, aside from the obvious TCF issues, is that making such charges risks damaging the customer relationship.
This is something brokers cannot afford to do in such a competitive and customer driven market.
At a time when consumer trust in the insurance industry is low, and when customers have more access to a wider range of products, from a wider range of providers than ever before, one of the biggest issues facing brokers and intermediaries is improving customer engagement and retention.
Charging cancellation and adjustment fees is an unfair practice, but importantly it is unnecessary in an age where technology and specifically the harnessing of live customer data offers a solution.
Technology can offer brokers real time notifications of customer activity such as cancellations, failed direct debits, cancelled mandates, and so on.
By facilitating real time customer management these live customer dynamics ensure brokers are never caught on the back foot – for example, only finding out a customer has cancelled a policy when their commission statement comes in.
And it can foster proactive engagement, prompting brokers to pick up the phone, speak to the customer and address their concerns.
In doing so, not only can a broker save the sale but they also have an opportunity to deepen the relationship, by gaining a clearer understanding of the customer, their lifestyle, concerns and needs.
Rather than simply allowing the customer to cancel for a quick buck, brokers should be striving to exceed expectations.
Brokers must begin to realise that in the age of the customer the old ways of working will no longer bear fruit and evolve based on experience.
They must embrace technology as an enabler and harness the solid reasons it delivers to have a conversation.
In doing so, they’ll differentiate their proposition, build credibility and trust, build loyalty, and ultimately earn more than they ever could from small cancellation and adjustment fees.
Lenders at risk of serious exposure with incoming legal change – Shoosmiths
In September 2020 the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) will cease to exist.
Currently, the fund acts as an invaluable source of supplementary run-off professional indemnity cover for solicitors who worked at firms that have closed down and thus anyone who may have claims against them.
What is run-off cover?
Run-off cover is a regulatory requirement imposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to make sure consumers can still recover compensation for professional negligence claims that are brought after a firm has shut up shop.
Solicitors are obliged to have six years of run-off cover in place when a firm closes and, once that six-year period ends, the SIF covers any claims that subsequently transpire.
But all of that will change next year when solicitors will no longer be able to rely on the SIF for extended run-off protection which may impact on any potential recovery made should the insurance cover no longer be there.
How might it affect mortgage lenders?
This has obvious risk implications for lender legal panels.
If your panel is not insured against any historic negligence claims that arise once the six-year run-off period expires, there could be serious financial consequences.
Six years may seem like plenty of time to account for potential claims, but the risk can remain long after this period lapses.
By law, claimants have six years from the date of loss or wrongdoing to bring a professional negligence claim, but in certain cases if the negligence is not discovered until a later point, claimants may have three years from the date of discovery to bring a claim, up to a 15 year ‘long stop’ or final cut-off date.
In the mortgage lending sector, it is not unusual for claims to take a long time to materialise – with negligent legal advice given at the point of purchase, for instance, often not being discovered until the property owner comes to sell their home.
In this case, without the SIF safety net and its insurance backing for any professional indemnity claim to fall back on, lenders could be at significant risk of exposure.
What can be done about it?
For all of these reasons, lenders would be well advised to seek legal advice and ensure that the solicitors currently on their legal panels have adequate run-off cover in place and to consider whether they have any potential claims in negligence against historical (from the past 14 years) panel member firms who no longer exist.
Given that the SIF will disappear in less than 12 months’ time, the sooner investigations and precautions are taken, the better.
‘Women should not have to be thick-skinned to thrive in financial services’ – Boxshall
“Where are all the women?” you might ask and “Why are the vast majority of financial advisers still male in 2019?”
They are fair questions and unfortunately it isn’t something that has just been set up for Hollywood films or ad campaigns – it is often the reality.
A concerning amount of male bias exists in the financial industry and, as a result, women are deterred from entering the financial sector.
This just isn’t good enough. Women should not have to be “thick-skinned” or “tough” to thrive in the financial sector any more than men – they should just be good at their job.
And while there may still be a few lingering concerns about obtaining top jobs and fighting the proverbial “glass ceiling”, there are some companies that recognise that talent and hard work are more important to their business than sticking to the tired models of male bias.
Some women may feel cautious about joining the financial sector due to previous stereotypes and clichés.
However, these are fast dissipating and there are many women who have long, successful careers.
That’s something I’ve found particularly true since joining Equity Release Supermarket (ERS) two years ago.
Recruit on advice quality
The company has 46 advisers based across the country and believes in recruiting on the quality of advice and team fit, rather than whether they are male or female.
As a result, it has seen an upward trend with more females entering the industry and everybody is encouraged to succeed, irrespective of gender.
I feel empowered working here as it’s given me more confidence than I’ve ever had before.
The approach to work-life balance is in sharp contrast with the rigid working conditions I’ve faced in previous roles and has helped with my personal and financial demands of having an energetic four-year-old.
It can sometimes be tricky when you have a young family but the flexibility I have has helped me to succeed.
Working 9-5 is very structured so I think more women should be attracted to this industry because of the benefits it offers to family life.
Women should drive change
It was this opportunity to work with customers and transform lives that first attracted me to the financial industry after returning to the UK following several years living in France.
I really enjoy seeing the clients and helping them through the process. It is wonderful to know that I have made a difference to someone’s life.
It’s also been encouraging to see more women joining these ranks and it’s something I hope will continue. I would tell women looking to break into the financial industry to just go for it.
There have been many changes to the culture of financial services over the past few years and there is no doubt that women should form part of this ongoing change and help drive the industry forward.
Know Your BDM: Michael Mann, Interbay
What locations and how many advisers and broker firms do you cover in your role?
I cover the South East region including the M25 corridor and I look after 190 key accounts which include clubs, networks and direct agencies.
How do you establish and maintain a good relationship with brokers?
Relationship management for me is all about listening and really getting to know the broker and understanding their business. This background work is really useful when it comes to an application as this helps me to shape the right deal for the broker and ensure a positive customer outcome. It also means that I am better prepared to negotiate on behalf of the broker if any complications arise. I can only work effectively, if I have all the information upfront, so please don’t hold anything back.
What personal skill is most valuable in doing your job?
Good communication skills without doubt are an absolute must, alongside strong interpersonal skills. Keeping calm under pressure is also high up on the list.
What personal skill would you most like to improve on?
Sometimes my enthusiasm may need to be turned down a notch – my colleagues are the best in their fields and at times I need to stand back and let them get on with the task in hand.
What’s the best bit of career-related advice you’ve ever been given?
Anything is achievable if you put your mind to it.
What is the most memorable property deal you’ve been involved in?
I helped one of InterBay’s broker partners on a £4m deal where the client was struggling to obtain finance and getting very close to his deadlines. I quickly arranged to meet up with the broker and the client to gather as much information as possible which included detailed explanations of some blemishes. It was quite an adrenaline rush to get all the pieces in place but we got the case over the line within the deadline.
If you were head of the FCA for the day, what would you change about regulation in the mortgage industry?
I would revise the definition of a portfolio landlord as in today’s buy-to-let sector, four mortgaged properties seems low. The rules were designed to look at the wider portfolio when underwriting a new buy-to-let mortgage and larger portfolios, say ten properties or more, is where you’d need to do a greater degree of due diligence. I’d make this a top priority as it would certainly help ensure underwriting is more risk based.
What was your motivation for choosing business development as a career?
I fell into banking by accident to be honest but I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years and enjoy meeting new people, building positive relationships and bringing a solution to the table. Luckily this job involves all those elements and I really enjoy the daily variety so I would call it a happy accident.
If you could do any other job in the property sector, what would it be and why?
I would probably become a developer or investor as I’ve picked up lots of knowledge along the way.
What did you want to be growing up?
A policeman or a member of the armed forces.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To predict the future.
What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked?
“Daddy, do you shampoo your eyebrows?”
Mariella Frostrup: Women in the mortgage industry must ‘be unafraid, unapologetic and angry’ – WEFF Annual Lunch
She is an advocate of the 5/2 anger diet: five days spent being angry and two days keeping a lid on things. Frostrup admits that the two off days are a struggle, but she’s far from apologetic. In her view, women apologise far too much.
Mariella Frostrup has written for national newspapers, fronted Panorama and made a cameo appearance on Absolutely Fabulous, but she is perhaps best known for her gravel-voiced presenting on BBC radio.
Fittingly, as guest speaker at October’s Women’s Executive Finance Forum annual lunch on 10 October, she urged more women in the mortgage industry to find their own voices and speak up. Being shouted down, she said, is far more familiar to women than speaking up, and that needs to change.
Frostrup observed that women are too quick to understate their achievements or apologise for their opinions and the way they are expressed, playfully illustrating the point with her own introduction: “I’m not even entirely convinced that 30 years of low-level broadcasting gigs qualifies me as a high-profile woman of the media”.
Addressing the room of WEFF members, female and male, Frostrup’s passionate speech beseeched women to develop the confidence to speak up and tell the world that you deserve your success.
Finding her voice
Frostrup found her own voice through reading. She had a challenging upbringing, moving from Sweden to Ireland as a child, where she was isolated as the only non-Catholic girl in the class. Her parents’ relationship was acrimonious and ended in divorce. Her journalist father drank himself to death by the age of 44. Her mother’s subsequent boyfriend mainly engaged with a teenage Mariella by teaching her to shoot guns in the Wicklow hills.
Reading novels was Frostrup’s escape – she says the characters she found in books helped her to grow emotionally and taught her how to connect with other people.
Just before her 16th birthday she ran off to London and began her life in the capital, living in a squat off the King’s Road. She got a job in PR, before moving into TV presenting and working as a film critic and journalist. Her love of books remained undiminished.
In 2000, Frostrup was asked to be a judge of the Man Booker prize for fiction. Among her accomplishments, she has curated two books: Desire, a collection of erotic fiction and Wild Women, a celebration of female explorers.
She was inspired to write Wild Women, by the “conspiracy of silence around women explorers”.
“Their stories are incredible testaments to women’s courage, curiosity and pioneering spirits,” she said. Frostrup questioned why it should be that we have all heard of Ernest Shackleton, who failed to get the South Pole, and Christopher Columbus, who had no idea where he was and swore his crew to silence over his ignorance.
And yet Isabella Bird and Dervla Murphy, among the most famous female explorers, are not household names. “Look them up,” she added.
Her career has involved taking paths in many directions, but her commitment to women’s rights has not waivered.
She first came across feminism in the seventies, at a time when many feminist women aped the characteristics and sexuality of men in order to be heard in a masculine world. Seventies bra-burning was followed by eighties power dressing in shoulder pads.
“But that’s not what equality means,” said Frostrup. It is not the world she wants her own daughter to grow up in.
“We want a brand new world. One that has the yin and yang of male and female influence,” she said.
In 2011, she set up the GREAT initiative (Gender Rights Equality Action Trust) with her husband Jason McCue and friend, human rights lawyer Karen Ruimy. The initiative aims to be a voice for change and a catalyst for real equality, something Frostrup says this country has yet to achieve, despite our laws.
Until the UK has real equality Frostrup will continue to publicly campaign for women’s rights, and tackle men in parliament and men in the media with her “volcanic rage”.
‘If she can see it she can be it’
Megan Rapinoe is the co-captain of the US football team. She helped to lead the squad to its fourth World Cup title this summer.
Despite her success, Rapinoe has earned herself another title. Unapologetic. A label rarely applied to men.
“She is unapologetically gay, unapologetically political, unapologetically angry,” said Frostrup, and she was criticised for daring to think she was worthy of her success when she yelled, “I deserve this” holding up her World Cup trophy.
Frostrup applauded young activist Greta Thunberg’s anger and the rage she showed when she shouted at her elders for not acting on climate change. Thunberg, said Frostrup, is unafraid to show her anger, unlike many girls or women who are scared to speak up for fear of being called hysterical or emotional. More labels reserved for females only.
These are the role models women need, said Frostrup.
A quote from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, “if she can see it she can be it”, sums up the responsibility that men and women have to be a positive influence on young women, said Frostrup.
Women need more role models, she said, and they also need to be role models.
But the responsibility does not just lie with women. Men must be role models to their daughters, and young men, just starting out in their careers, can be powerful allies in the fight against gender inequality in the workplace.
Frostrup applauded WEFF members, men and women, for being change makers, against whom she did not have to rail, admitting that being angry is rather tiring.
She left the room with some parting advice. “On a bad day remember there is someone worse off than you. On a good day, speak out loud and proud – I deserve this.”
Keeping on top of affordability reports will make brokers’ lives easier – Phillips
Many are expecting or at least hoping to borrow much more than many lenders are willing to offer.
This poses a number of challenges for brokers. We don’t want to build up clients’ hopes too much, but equally we shouldn’t put them off making an offer on their dream home when there are lenders who could make that dream come true.
At BrokerSense, we are active brokers, so we understand the frustrations and we are all about making brokers’ lives easier.
The affordability calculators we have developed use criteria from 50 mainstream lenders and 75 buy-to-let lenders to generate instant affordability reports. We’ve looked at the data we’ve collected from broker searches to give a clearer idea of where the market is at the moment.
Using this broker search data, the overall mean income multiple is just 3.4. On that basis, a household bringing in £28,400 a year – the UK median household income in 2018 – would expect to be able to borrow a little over £85,000. In today’s housing market, that doesn’t go very far.
However, the picture is not quite that simple, as some very high multiples are available lower down the income range: up to a whopping 9.25 times income in some cases.
So lower incomes need not be a barrier to climbing the property ladder. The vast majority of lenders, however, reduce their multiple as the total income increases.
While many lenders are prepared to offer more than four times income to households earning up to £26,500, the multiple falls to less than three for those in the highest income bracket of £96,500-£101,500.
Furthermore, almost all lenders gave slightly higher income multiples to first-time buyers than to those moving home or remortgaging an existing property.
Perhaps more importantly, this masked a wide variation in the highest and lowest multiples within each of these categories, with one lender offering 4.3 times income on average for first-time buyers, compared with an average of just 2.85 times for the lowest lender in this category.
A number of lenders also showed significantly lower multiples for those with very low loan-to-value ratios of below 30 per cent.
This may be explained by the sort of households making applications of this sort: typically, those moving home or remortgaging later in life when incomes and established equity are higher, and loan amounts lower, rather than cash-strapped first-time buyers.
A broad brush analysis of this sort can’t give the full picture, but affordability reports give exact answers in just minutes.
By highlighting some of these findings, we hope to help brokers manage their clients’ expectations by giving them a better idea of what sort of offers might be available.
Is it time to get off the hamster wheel? – Howells
The problem for advisers is that with margins under pressure, they could end up running at twice the speed just to stay in the same place.
However, is there an alternative solution? Successful consumer businesses are very aware of market forces such as this and are experts at figuring out how to increase their yield from each customer, rather than just trying to gain new ones. We see this everywhere we shop – from Amazon to IKEA.
As for advisers, most know that expanding their proposition is what they should be doing, but are they really clear on why?
For me, the fundamental ‘why’ for selling protection is trust. Whilst consumers might question the motives of some financial institutions, this is not the case for the trusted relationship that exists between an adviser and their customer.
Furthermore, this is backed-up by contract law, which states that the adviser is acting on the customer’s behalf. So as someone who has the financial interests of their customers at heart, why wouldn’t advisers want to ensure that their customers’ homes and lifestyles are safeguarded?
This is a fantastic baseline for an adviser to start to take steps left and right to broaden their proposition. The reality is that putting protection policies in place is no fun for customers. They want someone to walk them through the risks and demonstrate the cover they should have.
Of course, customers don’t always take out a policy immediately, but the subject is far better broached by a trusted and trained adviser.
‘Take the plunge’
Clearly, there is also commercial opportunity in brokering protection: profits increase as the adviser is often generating twice the revenue per consultation.
Customer loyalty and potential additional business is also increased and, by taking on another part of the customer’s life admin tasks, advisers can ringfence themselves from some serious competitive threats. Plus, the adviser will now have more opportunities for frequent touch points with the customer during those long, fixed rate terms.
And don’t forget that there’s lots of training support available from networks and providers to help enhance advisers’ skills, so there’s no excuse not to take the plunge.
As a final thought – and possibly another why – there is a growing debate around exposure to future risks for advisers who don’t explain to customers their financial vulnerabilities when taking on a mortgage – and how these risks can be mitigated. In the post-PPI litigation environment, many people are wondering where the claims management companies will look next.
Could protection – or the lack of it – be one such area in the future?
In business it’s rare for habits to change unless there’s a driving force behind it. This is understandable as it’s uncomfortable and sometimes draining having to adjust.
However, history often shows that such changes can turn out for the best in the long run.