Mortgage advisors as well as mortgages need to be carefully researched. Here are a few pointers:

Independent financial advisers. "Independence" is the holy grail in financial advice, but IFAs are not necessarily as independent as their title boasts. IFAs usually get commission based on the insurance you buy - the insurance they sell you. Interests often conflict. Alan Brison, a central London chartered accountant, agrees that IFAs "can look around and get you the best rate, but you don't necessarily have to work on a commission basis with them. Ask if the IFA is tied to any companies, and if he will agree an hourly rate".

Independent mortgage brokers. In the 1980s, high-risk, self-employed and other non-standard borrowers could often obtain mortgages only from specialised mortgage brokers, whose clientele consisted primarily of odd or hard cases. "Nowadays," says Ian Darby of John Charcol, "we are not overniche, and we handle mortgages from pounds 2m down to pounds 30,000." Generally, mortgage brokers offer a free initial consultation, by telephone or in person, and they will work either on a fee or commission basis. They can sometimes be cheaper than local building societies and banks. Simon Tyler of Chase de Vere Mortgage Management notes "you pay us only at the end, and only if we have been successful".

Accountants. "Accountants can quickly master the relevant details of competing mortgages, are usually independent, and claim to be cheaper than IFAs", says Mr Brison the accountant. "If you already have an accountant, he will be familiar with your financial situation - and will know if your proposed mortgage will be more than you can chew". Accountants are also well placed to consider your mortgage options in a context of other financial matters, such as the new Individual Savings Account. Mr Brison advises selecting an accountant who is fully qualified and a member of a major accounting body.

A Council of Mortgage Lenders code of practice, subscribed to by advisors as well as lenders, has been designed to increase the flow of accurate information to borrowers.

In the end, the right advisor might be a matter of personal chemistry. But a fee paid to an advisor who delivers sound professional unbiased advice, can be recouped many times over.

useful numbers

Alan Brison, Alan Brison & Co, 46 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4LR; 0171- 430 0305 John Charcol, 10-12 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5DD; 0171- 611 7000 London & Country Mortgages, 2 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HD; 0800 373300 Chase de Vere Mortgage Management, Ryder Court, Rider Street, London SW1Y 6QB ; 0171-930 7242 IFA Promotions, 17-19 Emery Road, Brislington, Bristol BS4 5PF; 0117-971 1177 Council of Mortgage Lenders, 3 Savile Row, London W1X 1AF; 0171-437 0075