They are running scared from the triple threat of tougher lending criteria, higher interest rates and the need for bigger deposits.
Apart from the negative sentiment hanging around the market like a bad smell, the disappearance of 125% LTV mortgages and the introduction of stricter pricing tiers by Nationwide and Halifax mean it has never seemed more difficult to get on the housing ladder.
We know what the metaphorical death of first-timers means for the housing market. It is a chain at risk of falling apart should such a vital link go missing.
Just what the government is doing about the decline of new buyers is unclear. Chancellor Alistair Darling has championed long-term mortgages as a possible although unpopular solution and the Open Market HomeBuy scheme plods on. But the fact remains that competitively priced high LTV mortgages still provide the best answer to tackling the problem.
Lenders are in no position to bring fresh blood to the market but perhaps Northern Rock’s nationalisation presents an opportunity for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to throw a lifeline to first-time buyers. But sadly the government won’t go down this route – it can’t when high LTV loans are being branded as the root of all evil and the right wing press is up in arms about taxpayers’ money being used to rescue NR.
Instead, what was once the UK’s fifth biggest lender is to be turned into a small but sustainable savings bank with a mortgage book of just £50m. This means that 60% of NR’s borrowers will be given their marching orders.
Frankly, in light of the publication of MPs’ expenses, I’d rather my taxes were spent on stabilising the housing market than paying Tony Blair’s TV licence or Brown’s Sky subscription.
Unless a first-time buyer rescue fund is started soon, the reverberations will be felt throughout the economy.
In other news, a Californian broker has taken to writing haiku to fill the void once dedicated to arranging mortgages.
One example reads: “Lenders imploding. Mailers and cold calls now fail. Must adapt my plan.”
Haiku is a Japanese poem that when written in English should consist of three lines of five, seven and five syllables.
Here’s one of my efforts: “High LTV loans. Vanish quicker than hot cakes. Must save deposit.”
Traditionally, haiku are displayed on Japanese prints but I’m sure the pages of Mortgage Strategy will prove more than suitable for the industry’s efforts. Send yours in now – only joking.