Mortgage lending falls again

The number of mortgages advanced to people buying a property dropped for the fifth consecutive month during December as activity in the housing market remained subdued.

Just 39,900 loans were advanced for house purchase during the month, 4% fewer than in November and the lowest level since February last year, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

The figure was also 37% lower than it was in December 2009, when lending levels were boosted by people rushing through purchases to beat the end of the Government's stamp duty holiday.

The subdued figure reflects the fall in demand among potential buyers during the final part of last year, as uncertainty about the future direction of both the housing market and the wider economy caused people to sit on their hands.

Data for the year as a whole showed that mortgage lending stabilised during 2010, following sharp falls in each of the previous two years.

A total of 529,300 mortgages worth £77.1 billion were advanced for house purchase during the year, 3% more by number and 11% more by value than during 2009.

But the number of people remortgaging fell to a 13-year low of just 313,200, as record low interest rates and tight lending criteria meant many people were best off staying on their lenders' standard variable rate when their existing deal came to an end.

Remortgage numbers were 23% lower than in 2009, and accounted for just 29% of all advances during 2010.

Michael Coogan, director general of the CML, said: "2010 was about the mortgage market continuing to adapt to the post-credit crunch environment, and the full-year data shows that the lending industry is now on a more stable footing but at historically low levels of activity.

"House purchase lending held up, and shows the market is open for business. However, it is still not serving all customer groups that may want to borrow, in particular those without a significant deposit.

"Access to funding for lenders is expected to stay under pressure this year, but it will now be matched by lower consumer demand due to the economic backdrop and a range of uncertainties which will impact the timing of borrowing decisions."

The group is expecting gross lending levels to remain flat this year, but it has pencilled in a further fall in net lending, which strips out redemptions and repayments, to just £6 billion, down from a record low of £8.15 billion in 2010.

There was a fall in lending to first-time buyers in December, with 14,500 mortgages advanced to people buying their first home, 3% fewer than in November and 42% down on the level seen in December 2009.

There was also a further increase in the average deposit people had to put down, with this rising from 21% to 23%, but the proportion of their income that people spent on mortgage interest dropped to 12.9%, the lowest level since February 2004.

Only 6% of first-time buyer mortgages were taken out on an interest-only basis, well down on the 30% of loans that were interest-only pre-2007.

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