Housing market shows signs of picking up

The number of mortgages approved increased in January but analysts say the sector is still weak.
Housing market shows signs of picking up
People looking in estate agent windowGetty Images

Signs of life were seen in the UK housing market in the new year with a rise in the number of mortgages being approved.

Activity remains weak overall, with potential buyers still nervous about high interest rates.

But the latest Bank of England data shows approvals for house purchases rose to 55,200 in January from 51,500 in December.

Borrowing on credit cards also picked up last month.

People took on £1.9bn more in credit on cards, car finance and other loans in January than they repaid.

All eyes on rates

Mortgage lenders have been shifting the interest rates charged on home loans at a rapid rate since the start of the year. This started with some significant cuts to the cost of new fixed-rate deals.

However, in recent weeks, these rates have started to creep back up.

Many potential buyers have put plans on hold in the hope that the Bank of England will cut the benchmark interest rate later in the year, which would influence lenders’ decisions.

The upheaval over the past year is shown in the Bank’s figures, which show homeowners actually repaid more money on mortgages than they took out in new lending in the year to January – the first time this has happened since comparable records began 30 years ago.

This was mainly due to people being reluctant to borrow when mortgage rates were so high during mid-to-late 2023. Mortgage repayments still outstripped new lending by £1.1bn in January.

Separately, property sales at the start of the year were slightly up compared with December, but 12% lower than January last year.

Karim Haji, head of financial Services at KPMG, said: “While the rise in mortgage approvals offers some green shoots of hope for recovery, the housing market remains weak. With interest rates still relatively high, affordability will remain stretched.”

He said the increase in borrowing on loans and credit cards was a sign of people using their income to pay for Christmas, and then borrowing money to get them through January.

“Households will be looking to the Bank of England and the Budget for a cost-of-living lifeline. And with credit defaults expected to rise further, lenders must ensure customers have the right support to weather the months ahead,” he said.

The housing market is a major factor in the performance of the UK economy as a whole.

Cost of living: Tackling it together

What happens if I miss a mortgage payment?

  • If you miss two or more months’ repayments you are officially in arrears
  • Your lender must then treat you fairly by considering any requests about changing how you pay, such as lower repayments for a short time
  • They might also allow you to extend the term of the mortgage or let you pay just the interest for a certain period
  • However, any arrangement will be reflected on your credit file, which could affect your ability to borrow money in the future

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Source: bbc.co.uk

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