12 Months of challenge and change

X-rated would be one way of summing up my thoughts on what has been an extraordinary year in this, the final edition of Mortgage Strategy for 2008.

But if I had to characterise the past 12 months in a polite word, it would be ‘challenging’.

In fact, if someone had told me last December how radically my working life would change during 2008 I’d have accused them of having a laugh.

My decision to become self-employed early in the year proves that many of us have no idea what’s going to happen, even if they have more than 25 years’ experience in the industry.

Over the years, many colleagues have urged me to set up my own practice but joining Moneywatch has given me the best of both also in a position to benefit from the support of experienced brokers around me.

I’d hate to work on my own but in hindsight my timing in joining the firm could have been better.

Nevertheless, I am confident that business will improve in the new year, especially since our network, Pink Home Loans, has finally launched the equity release proposition I have been waiting many months to see.

So not only has my personal working environment changed beyond recognition but the working world around me has undergone a tectonic shift.

Lenders have closed or been taken over and historic high street banks have disappeared all over the shop.

Criteria have never been so tight nor cases so difficult to place. Meanwhile, the trading goalposts have been moved all over the pitch and beyond. What with redundancies, redeployments and early retirements, it’s hard to keep track of where one’s peers are these days.

More recently we’ve seen base rate cuts on a scale most of us could only have dreamed about previously. We now have the lowest base rate since Prime Minister Gordon Brown was born.

And we have seen the government come up with increasingly frantic plans to stimulate the economy, the property market and industries related to the home buying process.

Schemes to help first-time buyers and borrowers having difficulties meeting repayments? Check.

Pressure brought to bear on lenders and huge amounts of public cash being pumped into the system to supposedly make lenders start lending again? Oh yes.

But what will be the result of all this activity? Even with the measures floating about, nobody seems to know where they will lead. Personally, I feel almost helpless and completely frustrated.

Clients who have applications in progress are ringing to say they’ve decided to hold back and see what happens to rates in the next few weeks.

In my 25 years in financial services I have never seen so much change so quickly.

I know it has been the same story for many readers and to those of you still hanging in there, I hope the knowledge that you are not alone will hearten you in what promises to be another challenging year.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger, so let’s raise a glass to survival. Have a great festive period and many thanks for reading my columns this year.