Finance drought crippling B2L despite stabilising arrears

The buy-to-let market showed the first signs of stabilising in the second quarter as arrears improved significantly and the decline in new lending began to slow, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

There were 21,600 new buy-to-let loans advanced in the second quarter, only a 4% decline from 22,400 in the preceding three months. However, seven consecutive quarters of decline have left buy-to-let gross lending at very low levels.

The fall in advances in the second quarter was concentrated in remortgaging, down 15% on the preceding quarter, whereas the number of house purchase loans rose 5%. Lower reversion rates have reduced the incentive to remortgage when exiting fixed-rate deals, while diminished equity levels and tighter lending criteria have made it more difficult for those who may wish to remortgage.

By value, buy-to-let gross advances totalled £1.9 billion in the second quarter, which was 5.6% of total gross mortgage lending (compared with £8.9 billion in the second quarter of 2008, which was 11.9% of total gross mortgage lending). Buy-to-let now represents 11.5% of the total value of mortgages outstanding in the UK.

Buy-to-let arrears showed considerable improvement in all measures. There were 29,400 mortgages in arrears of three months or more (2.49% of all buy-to-let mortgages), down 17% from 35,600 (3.06%) in the previous quarter. And the number of mortgages in arrears of more than 1.5% of the balance outstanding fell 20% from 28,800 (2.47%) at the end of April to 22,900 (1.94%).

Lower interest rates are helping landlords to recover from arrears and as the majority of buy-to-let loans are on an interest-only basis, these loans will see a larger proportionate decline in monthly payments than repayment loans.

Lenders make extensive use of receivers to manage arrears in the buy-to-let sector rather than take possession, often because there are paying tenants in the property. This allows the tenants to remain in the property with the receiver collecting rent and passing it on to the lender to pay down any arrears. At the end of June there were 10,800 mortgages (0.91% of all buy-to-let mortgages) with a receiver in place, compared with 9,200 (0.79%) in the previous quarter and only 1,000 (0.09%) a year earlier.

The CML believes that the peak in buy-to-let arrears seems to have passed, with the number of loans more than three months in arrears including those with a receiver in place, falling 10% from the previous quarter to 40,200.

Around 1,400 buy-to-let mortgaged properties were taken into possession (0.12% of all buy-to-let mortgages) this was unchanged from the first quarter. And there were 2,500 receivers newly appointed in the quarter, down from 2,900 in the previous quarter.

CML senior policy adviser Rob Thomas said: “So long as properties have paying tenants