Affordability refuses to be knocked off the top of the mortgage agenda. At the Mortgage Summit in Jerez, Spain last week, economist John Wriglesworth called on lenders to increase the income multiples they offer borrowers, saying traditional 3x multiples could be raised to 6x with minimal risk to lenders.He says the time has come for lenders to stop being so prudent and relax their criteria on fixed rates. While some lenders are happy to offer higher income multiples on variable rates, many seem reluctant to do the same with fixed rates. But Michael Bolton, managing director of HBOS specialist lending, also spoke about affordability in Jerez, warning that prime lenders are fuelling tomorrow’s sub-prime market by relaxing affordability models, allowing borrowers to overstretch themselves. Further concerns for first-time buyers were raised in Jerez by Hometrack, which says house prices have risen by 100% over the past five years. This week’s cover story also addresses the topic of affordability, but for first-time buyers in the cooler climate of Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland many fear rampant, English-style property inflation could bring with it English-style affordability problems and even a crash. Brokers in the province are regularly having to turn away first-time buyers who have no way of funding a purchase. Traditional jobs in industries such as factories and shipyards have been ousted by low-wage work in call centres and burger bars where there is no career progression. Under such circumstances, people can end up working like battery hens and getting burnt out in a couple of years, leaving them no closer to buying a property. The reality is that there’s no easy solution for lenders or borrowers. House prices throughout the UK are still out of step with average wages. Product providers are caught between the rock of being accused of barring first-time buyers and the hard place of being branded cowboy lenders.