A shortage of experts as mortgages rebound
In these days of journalists tied to their desk for much of their working week, I think more of us rely on our personal experiences for story inspiration.
This week, for instance, I have been in touch with my mortgage provider after a remortgage application had been delayed for an inordinate amount of time.
Obviously, I was concerned that my personal details might have been misplaced, so I gave my lender a call. I was told that they were snowed under and that had been the reason for the delay.
This set my news antennae twitching as I recalled that during the property boom of the first half of the last decade, the likes of Santander (then Abbey) had endured tremendous problems fulfilling mortgage applications.
So could my own mortgage provider's problems be a sign that we were in a similar place – that demand was too great, that they didn't have enough staff to cope?
It turned out in my provider's case that it was simply a question of the wrong batch of pre-paid envelopes being sent out and they were on the case. In fact they said they were coping with demand.
I then called Andrew Montlake at the financial adviser Coreco, who has forgotten more about mortgages than I have ever known, and I asked him if he had heard of any problems at other lenders in terms of delays to mortgage applications. "Funny you should say that," was his response.
In short, although it is nowhere near as bad as it became on occasions during the last boom, it does seem some lenders are struggling.
What has happened is that when new mortgages dropped like a stone from around 130,000 a month to just 42,000 at the depth of the financial crisis, lenders shed staff in droves.
That's understandable when you think about it. If you were in a business where two thirds of the custom vanished almost overnight then you'd expect job losses to follow.
But with the advent of Funding for Lending and Help to Buy, the mortgage market has returned to vigorous health and some lenders simply can't recruit qualified people fast enough. As a result, there do seem to be delays.
There is a very serious side to all this. Whether or not I am delayed by a week in switching from one deal to another is not that important. But if I were trying to buy the house of my dreams, and against stiff competition from other buyers, then a delay of even a couple of days arranging a mortgage could mean the vendor losing confidence in me and the sale falling through. In fact, during the last boom I faced that exact situation due to administration error.
I do hope the Financial Conduct Authority is being proactive and ensuring that lenders are putting the support structures in place so they can fulfil the business that comes to them.