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Seven ways banks are making it easier for first-time buyers to get a mortgage

Low mortgage rates, cashback deals and criteria changes offer boost for buyers

First-time buyers looking to get on the property ladder this year can benefit from cheaper mortgage rates, relaxed lending rules and cashback deals.

In a competitive market, banks are offering a host of incentives as they look to secure first-time mortgage borrowers.

Here, we explain seven reasons you might find it easier to get a mortgage in 2020.


1) Longer mortgage terms

Lenders are improving affordability for first-time buyers by extending their maximum mortgage terms.

As the graph below shows, there’s been a big growth in the number of mortgages theoretically available with maximum terms of 40 years.

Although 40-year terms have become commonplace on paper, the biggest lenders have so far been reluctant to confirm how many mortgages they’ve actually granted with terms of more than 35 years.

A longer term can allow you to pass affordability checks more easily and cut down your monthly repayments, but it’s important to remember you’ll be stretching your borrowing for longer and paying more interest overall.

2) Cashback incentives

Just under a quarter of first-time buyer mortgages come with some form of cashback.

This might sound tempting, but these incentives aren’t always as significant as they seem.

Only one in seven cashback deals pays £1,000 or more, and the vast majority offer incentives of just £250 or £500.

With this in mind, it’s best to think of cashback as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a deal-breaker when comparing mortgages.

It’s also important to note that lenders will generally pay cashback 14-28 days after the mortgage begins, so you won’t be able to use it towards the cost of buying the home.

3) No upfront fees

Mortgage fees can be expensive, with some of the best-rate deals coming with upfront charges of £1,000 or more, but it can pay to shop around. 

That’s because a third of fixed-rate deals for first-time buyers now come without any upfront fees. 

One word of caution, however: banks will often give with one hand and take with the other.

Often, a very cheap rate means a very high fee (and vice versa), so always consider the full cost of the deal before rushing in. 

4) Lower rates

Mortgage rates for first-time buyers have fallen at almost all loan-to-value levels in the last 12 months.

This has especially been the case on five-year deals, where the number of products on offer increased by more than 100 in 2019, resulting in lower rates for borrowers. 

As the graph below shows, the best rate on a 95% five-year fix has fallen by 0.44% in the space of a year, compared to a drop of 0.08% on the equivalent two-year fix.

5) Higher-income multiples

Banks will generally lend you a maximum of four-and-a-half times your annual income when you apply for a mortgage.

Some lenders, however, have introduced criteria allowing people to borrow at higher multiples, depending on their earnings or profession.

For example, Barclays announced last June that it would allow first-time buyers who earn at least £30,000 a year to borrow five times their annual income.

This came after Darlington Building Society offered higher income multiples to the likes of accountants, doctors and barristers in late 2018.

The Which? Money Podcast

6) Guarantor deals

You might have heard talk about the return of the 100% mortgage in the past couple of years, but in truth, there’s no such thing.

Any deals that allow borrowers to get onto the ladder without a deposit rely on a family member acting as a guarantor.

Guarantor deals generally come in three forms: those that require the family member to use savings as collateral, those that require property as collateral, and so-called ‘joint borrower, sole proprietor’ mortgages, which involve the parent and child taking out the loan together, but only the child being named on the property’s deeds.

7) Self-employed lending changes

Getting a mortgage as a self-employed worker can seem daunting, but banks are moving to make the process a little easier.

On Monday, Yorkshire Building Society became the latest lender to reduce the number of years of evidence required from self-employed borrowers from three years to two.

It says that by only requiring two years of accounts can it offer deals to a broader range of customers.

It has also encouraged workers with a ‘side hustle’ to ask whether their additional income could be used towards their mortgage application.

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