Large and small companies alike furloughed brokers at the end of March, as lenders pulled products and people were advised not to move home.
However, there has been a jump in activity since the government lifted some restrictions on the market, with some brokers now reporting enquiries back at pre-lockdown levels.
Lee Trett, director at Yorkshire-based Echo Finance, has brought back around a third of the staff who were furloughed at the beginning of April. And he hopes to have all brokers back at their desks within the next two months.
He said: “New enquiries via the Echo Finance website are increasing and we are seeing our existing client base wishing to remortgage and release capital for home improvements.
“As solicitors are returning to near pre-lockdown levels, we are seeing completion dates set and purchases complete.
“As more 90 and 95 per cent loan to value (LTV) products come back into the market, as we started to see last week, we fully expect even more purchase enquiries to come through.”
Kelly McCabe, managing director at TMP The Mortgage People, has also unfurloughed employees.
She has brought back 90 per cent of staff, including all advisers, after furloughing around 60 per cent a few days into lockdown.
TMP firm specialises in shared ownership but deals with a range of business.
She told Mortgage Solutions enquiry numbers plunged down to single figures a couple of days after lockdown was imposed in March.
But there has since been a gradual increase and the number of leads are back at pre-lockdown levels.
She said: “Even people who are furloughed are committed to buying properties.
“People are enquiring who wouldn’t have done before, there’s definite confidence in the homebuying process.”
Chris Sykes, mortgage consultant at Private Finance, noted a strong surge in activity since restrictions were lifted.
He said: “In the last week, we have noted a sharp rise in the number of enquiries and mortgage applications since the government announced the reopening of England’s housing market.
“Interestingly, this surge in enquiries was not limited to purchases – remortgage activity also saw a sudden uptick. We believe the uncertainty and fear that was paralysing the housing and mortgage markets is beginning to subside and people are considering their options again.”
However, it’s not quite business as usual yet in the mortgage market.
Trett said: “We have had a handful of clients wishing to re-negotiate on their agreed purchase price. Only time will tell how this pans out.”
Sykes said the increase in enquiries should not be met with “unbridled optimism”.
He added: “The market is not out of the woods as yet.
“Ultimately, many of the adult working population are utilising government schemes to bridge the sudden decline in their regular income, so the potential pool of buyers has dramatically reduced.
“We expect peaks and troughs in market activity over the coming year rather than a gradual recovery.”
Responsibility on brokers
McCabe said more people are likely enquiring because they were sat at home with extra time on their hands, and some of these leads will not convert into business.
It would also be good to see more lenders coming back into the shared ownership space, she added – at present there are only around five who are active, compared to 27 pre-lockdown.
She said they “can function” at present, but it would give a more level playing field if three or four more were to come back.
However, McCabe said brokers, as much as anyone, have a role to play into getting the market back up on its feet.
She said: “Every day I speak to lenders and they’re asking about our staff numbers. There’s a responsibility on brokers to get back in it, that will help put confidence into the lenders – they’re feeding from us as much as we’re feeding from them.”