Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy...

Some niche lenders were founded to serve specific professions, but they still offer good value, says Stephen Pritchard

Most banks today will lend to anyone who meets their financial criteria, but this was not always the case. At the start of the building-societies movement, groups of would-be homeowners came together to raise the money to buy land, often based around a relatively small geographical area.

Most banks today will lend to anyone who meets their financial criteria, but this was not always the case. At the start of the building-societies movement, groups of would-be homeowners came together to raise the money to buy land, often based around a relatively small geographical area.

But location was not the only unifying factor: profession and religion also brought groups together to form societies. A handful of these building societies are still in business today, including the Teachers, Mercantile, Stafford Railway and Catholic building societies. Their lending remits are typically much wider than they were in Victorian times. But many smaller lenders still retain a particular niche.

"If you are looking for a good-value mortgage it is always worth contacting your local building society to see what they have on offer, as many smaller building societies often appear in the top half of best-buy tables," says Adrian Coles, director of the Building Societies' Association. "Many smaller societies lend nationally. Societies are also very innovative in bringing niche products to market, for example several societies will lend on unusual properties."

Societies such as the Mercantile and Stafford Railway, which started for particular professions, now lend nationally. Others are open to all borrowers, but still do the majority of their business with people in a particular walk of life.

And not all the smaller societies are products of the Victorian house-building boom: the Teachers Building Society was formed in 1966; the Catholic, in 1960. Today, the Teachers Building Society still lends mostly to home buyers who work in education. Although anyone can borrow from the society, it does have a number of deals that are open only to people working in education. These include loans for shared ownership and key worker properties, and a three-year, fixed-rate 100 per cent mortgage open to members of the National Union of Teachers.

The Catholic Building Society's remit is more social than religious, and would strike a chord with many hard-pressed home buyers in the current market. The society was formed specifically to help first-time buyers, especially those on low incomes, to get a foot on the property ladder. The society also set out to give single women and widows a chance to buy homes. Today, around a third of the society's borrowers are single women; it also helps buyers with disabilities or those who have had financial problems.

As well as lenders that focus their attentions on specific groups in society, there are some that concentrate on particular properties. Perhaps the best known is the Ecology Building Society, which specialises in loans to owners wanting to renovate old properties, or for self-build projects with a substantial eco-friendly element. The Ecology Building Society's remit is clear from its name, but other lenders also take on trickier properties. Among the banks, Abbey has a good reputation for some of the more complex urban properties, such as flats over shops.

Other lenders, too, have niches. Norwich & Peterborough Building Society lends nationally, and has built up a strong reputation funding self-builders; it has several mortgage options that include releasing funds in stages. This can be critical for a self-builder's cashflow. In Yorkshire, the Skipton BS lends on barn conversions, thatched properties, mill conversions and, more prosaically, high-rises. These are buildings that some lenders are less than keen to accept for mortgages.

But trawling the market for a lender that will take on an unusual property takes time, and may not produce the desired results. While local building societies may have branch lending officers who are able to take on more difficult properties, borrowers looking nationally might find that call-centre staff are unsure of what a lender will, and will not, consider. In these circumstances, a mortgage broker might be a better option, as he or she will know which lenders will accept unusual homes. A good broker will also know the mortgage lender's valuers, and should be able to establish early on whether a property will meet the lending criteria.

"Most of the building societies that started for a particular profession now aim at a wider public. But quite often, the bigger players can beat them on price," says David Hollingworth, a director at London & Country Mortgages. "When it comes to a niche property, doing the legwork yourself can be very time-consuming. A broker will know which lenders have dealt with that sort of property before, and they will have better links to the underwriters and valuers."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

    £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

    Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

    £50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?