By Francesca Carlesi, co-founder and CEO, Molo
It’s safe to say that the past year has changed everything. With restrictions in place that limited almost every aspect of our lives, from work to socialising, it’s no surprise that some industries were decimated and others were left severely shaken. The mortgage sector was no exception, as it also underwent a vast transformation which may have changed the course of mortgages forever.
The industry saw a paradigm shift, which was driven by consumers being forced online. This was the case for everything from mortgage applications to online house viewings and property valuations. As expected, this resulted in an increased demand for digital mortgage solutions with more flexibility.
While the industry was already slowly shifting, the pandemic has accelerated this and now the traditional process of getting a mortgage is increasingly coming under threat. We’ve seen a number of somewhat surprising trends over the last year that support this argument and suggest that consumers are embracing the change. For example, compared to March last year, we’ve seen the number of people aged over 45 applying for a mortgage loan increase by 70%. This indicates that consumers who may have previously resisted applying for a digital mortgage saw no alternative option in lockdown.
It seems that this paid off, as our data suggests that overall consumers were more satisfied with the simpler and quicker process.
A shift in behaviour
It’s clear that the pandemic did nothing to discourage those seeking a mortgage from doing so and the industry continued to grow. For example, in October last year, the UK mortgage industry saw a 13-year high, where over 97,500 loans were approved – the highest figure since September 2007, the month at the start of the financial crisis. But what led to this and why?
In a post-pandemic world of financial uncertainty and instability, the idea of purchasing property is now being perceived by many as a safer bet than investing in the stock market or other investment options.
As a result, buy-to-let properties are becoming an increasingly appealing option and Google has now coined it as ‘breaking out’. Not only did Google trends observe a 5000% increase in the search term ‘how to get a buy-to-let mortgage’ last year, but at Molo, our own data also supported this and found a significant rise in the number of first-time buyers who were mortgage hunting.
Despite being introduced twenty years prior to buy-to-let mortgages, let-to-buy mortgages also saw huge growth in 2020. The pandemic has led to increased numbers of remote workers and commuting has become a thing of the past. UK cities are seeing somewhat of a mass exodus as the priorities of city dwellers are changing and many are going in search of more space. Let-to-buy mortgages offer the flexibility to facilitate this. Investing in this kind of mortgage means that families, for example, can afford to rent out their property in the city and move to locations that are more rural.
We’ve also seen the industry pivot slightly in terms of regional demands. While there is continued demand from London and the South East, for example, we’ve also seen growth in areas such as the North West and we predict this won’t slow any time soon. One of the cities with especially high demand was Blackpool, where growth in demand was twice the national average.
Future gazing: 2021 and beyond
We’re expecting that the changes seen across the industry over the past will stick. After all, if even the sceptical customers were happy with the ease and simplicity of the online mortgage application and approval process, why on earth would they go back?
It’s important that we learn from these observations and use them to draw insight into the future of the mortgage sector. For instance, while Coronavirus has certainly caused disruption for lenders and consumers alike, it’s also highlighted the need for a more advanced, digital offering. It’s shown that digital mortgages really have become the best option for customers. The pandemic has been a test run for businesses and has proved that, even after restrictions are lifted, there is no good reason for mortgage providers to return to the traditional but slower business-as-usual.
At least in the property world, 2020 could well be remembered as the year that mortgages went digital. While it’s true that the pandemic was the catalyst for this shift, it’s now gone beyond the virus. The changes we’ve seen over the past year are likely to shape the mortgage industry for years to come.