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The lessons to take from lockdown

Anniversaries are normally a happy time, a cause for celebration. Yet the fact that we are now a year on from the first lockdown spurs a different range of emotions, not least bewilderment that it has only been 12 months. There have been times when the last year has felt like an entire lifetime.

Yet there is also hope, and not just because vaccines leave us tantalisingly close to something resembling normal life.

The housing market has enjoyed a surprisingly successful year, and not just because of the Stamp Duty holiday. As an industry we have adapted to new ways of working, to ensure that home purchases and remortgages can still take place, and learning all sorts of lessons along the way.

 

The greater use of technology

One of the biggest in my view is that technology has to play a more central role in the way we all operate.

Face-to-face interactions will always be vitally important for everyone throughout the industry, but we have seen how we can still get deals over the line remotely over the past year. By introducing technology in more areas, we can actually get those deals completed more quickly, and in a more satisfying fashion for our clients.

That was at the heart of our thinking when we launched DigitalMove, our client-facing digital conveyancing solution, back in 2019. It’s the perfect example of how technology can improve transparency, keep clients fully informed on what’s happening with their case, and prevent those backlogs and delays which make the whole process take longer than it needs to.

Innovations like this can only be the beginning though – there is far more that we can use technology for across the whole homebuying process.

Technology will never replace human interaction. A mortgage is the biggest loan most of us will ever take out, so it makes sense that borrowers may want the assurance that comes from talking through their situation with an actual person.

But offering borrowers a choice, and using technology to automate some of those manual, time-consuming processes is clearly where we are headed as an industry.

 

The strength of the housing market

The sheer resilience of the housing market, and the strength of demand from homebuyers has been striking too.

Being told to stay at home hasn’t dampened the hopes of those looking to move up or down the housing ladder, with property portal Rightmove reporting it enjoyed its busiest ever January. Mortgage intermediaries have seen this swelling interest too, from first-time buyers to those looking to make their last move.

Part of this is down to the Stamp Duty holiday of course, but equally this period of being forced to stay at home has made a lot of people question whether their current property really meets their needs, and what they may be able to get for the same money elsewhere. After all, if you can work from home, do you really need to pay that premium to live so close to your office?

Intermediaries will have seen increasing numbers of clients focus their home buying searches on properties that provide rooms where they can work, gardens, and access to green areas. Even as city centres start to open up again, and more people resume commuting at least part of the week, the desire for these sorts of properties is unlikely to dissipate too much.

 

Intermediaries have never been more important

Mortgage intermediaries have always played a vital role in the property market, guiding borrowers towards the best lenders and products for their circumstances.

This service is only going to become more crucial in the months and years ahead, given that so many borrowers are going to have some element of complication within their credit records as a result of the pandemic. This could range from missed payments to periods on furlough. How many borrowers will truly be ‘vanilla’ in the future?

The expertise of intermediaries can make all the difference here, through their understanding of how different lenders view these factors and which will consider clients who may have been through a particularly tough time.

This is an opportunity for intermediaries to secure a long-term relationship with those clients, demonstrating that they can help with all of that client’s financial needs in the future and not just help them identify the right fixed rate mortgage in a couple of years.

The last year has shown that, for all of the strengths of the housing market, relying on a resilient purchase market isn’t going to cut it. Focusing greater efforts on maintaining those client relationships will ensure they come back for remortgage and protection help too, and provide your business with a surer foundation for the future, no matter what economic shocks may be down the road.

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