The mortgage market is “absolutely flying” according to Leeds Building Society CEO Richard Fearon as the lender recorded £1bn lending and reported a £32.6m pre-tax profit in the first six months of the year.
Both figures were down significantly compared to £1.9bn lending and £49.4bn profits in the same period last year, as the coronavirus and housing market closure hit.
But Fearon (pictured) said he was pleased with the performance and praised colleagues for adapting to the situation.
The mutual included a £9.3m write down fair value charge against its legacy equity release portfolio and other mortgage assets and a further £9.6m increase in impairment provision charges, to help prepare for a potential economic downturn.
However, Fearon told Mortgage Solutions he is hopeful the situation will be more positive than this and believes house prices may only be lightly affected.
The lender is officially forecasting a dip of 2.5 per cent in house prices this year, but Fearon believes the data coming through since the market’s re-opening shows any hit could be less than that.
This is backed up by the lender’s latest business data on mortgage and housing activity.
“Demand is very strong, the mortgage market is absolutely flying,” Fearon said.
“If we compare June to April, we were about 90 per cent up which was higher than June 2019, and July is about 30 per cent up on June so far, so its very strong.”
“We do have some constraints on service volumes with home working, but not as much as some lenders,” he added.
This aim of managing service levels has been addressed with increases in rates and limiting product availability – moves which appear to be being matched across the markets, especially at higher loan to values at present.
“Looking at what we’ve done, its very much about demand is too strong for what we can service at the service levels we want to offer, so we’re altering range and market prices so we can offer service levels,” Fearon added.
This demand has been driven not just by the stamp duty cut announced earlier this month, but also as a result of the coronavirus.
Some of it is from pent-up demand and cases that were held up, but research by the lender also found lockdown had prompted some first-time buyers to take the leap into home ownership.
Buy-to-let has also seen a pick-up in demand since the stamp duty holiday was announced, with this applying to landlords and second home purchases in England and Northern Ireland.
And the mutual’s re-entry to holiday lets shows it believes this will be a strong market for the next year or two.
However, it’s launch into limited company, which was announced just before the coronavirus arrived, has been put on hold during the pandemic, although it is still in the plans.
Other options such as products for houses of multiple occupation (HMO) have also bee paused during the pandemic as the complexities prove difficult to navigate and the lender addresses its risk appetitive.
Broker hub launch in August
A new mortgage broker hub remains on course and the lender is expecting to be in the staged roll out of that in August as it eases the platform into the market.
“We are only weeks away from rolling out broker hub, and that will make it much easier for brokers to work with us, submit cases, and will improve our capacity,” Fearon continued.
“It’s progressed to plan which I have been incredibly impressed by. It’s one of many examples where colleagues have impressed.
“There will be a phased roll out starting in August over several weeks and I think it will help us support the market and our intermediary partners,” he added.
Owain Thomas is features and contributing editor of Mortgage Solutions and editor of Specialist Lending Solutions.
He also has experience in the protection, pensions, workplace benefits and HR areas.
Owain has won two Headline Money Awards and the Protection Review’s Journalist of the Year award.