Money: Lenders lure the women who go it alone

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The Independent Culture
Women increasingly lead independent lives, many buying a home. Yet until recently their mortgage needs were often ignored by lenders. Nic Cicutti asks whether "the times, they are a'changing".

Last year, 16 per cent of all mortgages were made to women on their own, compared to 8 per cent in 1983. Within the next 10 years, the proportion of women aged between 25 and 35 in work is expected to increase to 81 per cent, up 10 percentage points on the situation today.

Although equal pay is still far away, women's average wages have risen gradually in the past decade or so from about 65 per cent of men's to 72 per cent. The increased importance of women within the mortgage market also comes from changes in living patterns.

A research paper earlier this year by Fionnuala Earley, a senior economist at the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), points out: "Higher levels of further education provide greater opportunity for financial independence and the ability to set up home alone at an earlier age."

This, coupled with a growing tendency for women to get married and to have children later in life, means they are more likely to be seeking a mortgage, at least initially. Divorce trends have added to the number of women seeking a home on their own.

Women's needs are increasingly important in assessing joint mortgage applications. In the past two years, many lenders have launched "flexible" mortgages, based on the premise that borrowers should be allowed payment "holidays" for periods of up to nine months. In other cases, payments can be scaled down or increased at will, depending on circumstances. That can be particularly important in cases where women are likely to take career breaks to look after young families or elderly relatives.

Part of the problem women sometimes face is that the mortgage advisers they meet for face-to-face discussions on a loan may not be fully sympathetic to their needs.

At Barclays Mortgages, Marketing Director Jim Chadwick adds: "We believe the best way to meet the needs of women customers is to provide the individual services that we offer to anyone inquiring about a mortgage. We train our mortgage specialists to listen to customers and to listen their needs, to find out their needs and [offer] the best mortgage to suit their individual circumstances."

Despite the trend towards greater lending equality, lending experts warn that there is still a need for women to take several additional factors into account when borrowing a mortgage

John Charcol, the UK's largest mortgage broker, advises:

l Women should consider carefully the type of loan they take. For the cautious, repayment mortgages may be best.

l Many women tend to be less fascinated by the prospect of endless DIY than men. They should be prepared to get a far more detailed valuation or survey of the property to ensure there are no hidden problems.

l In the event of a relationship breakdown, one potentially frightening experience for many women is that of meeting the full cost of a mortgage. In a dispute with a co-borrower women should immediately tell the lender. The more information they have the more sympathetic they will be.

Nic Cicutti, personal finance editor of `The Independent', has written a free 27-page `Guide to Mortgages', with a mass of detail on how to find the right home loan and how to pay for it. The guide, sponsored by Barclays Mortgages, is available by calling 0800 585691. Or fill in the coupon below.