Mortgages Direct is the dedicated mortgage specialist of Europe's largest independent estate agent, TMXspicerhaart, offering financial advice to homebuyers within its network across the UK. The parent company originated in East Anglia with three branches back in 1989. It now has 250 branches nationwide including brand names such as Haart, Spicer McColl, Darlows, and Felicity J Lord and aims to provide the 'total moving experience'. The firm employs over 2,000 people and its headquarters (pictured above) is in Colchester, Essex.
Q: What is the structure of Mortgages Direct?
A: We have over 150 qualified mortgage consultants, managed by a team of 18 regional sales managers. The company is divided into three subsidiaries which are the responsibility of our financial services directors. The company has also launched its own conveyancing service, TMXlegal. The driving force behind Mortgages Direct is Mark Graves, who has been in the financial services industry since the mid-1980s, starting his career as a financial adviser and advancing to managing director within a corporate chain. He joined the spicerhaart group during the embryonic stages of Mortgages Direct in 1994, and has worked to develop the company to what it is today.
Q: What services does Mortgages Direct provide?
A: We provide a full range of mortgages and related products, including life protection, buildings and contents insurance and accident, sickness and redundancy cover.
Q: How do you provide this service?
A: The majority of cases written by Mortgages Direct are arranged in-branch, for people who are either buying or selling through TMXspicerhaart. Each branch is able to book appointments with one of our qualified consultants. The process normally starts with a meeting where we establish our client's needs, enabling us to recommend and provide the correct products.
Q: How do you work with your conveyancing service?
A: We believe that getting the right conveyancer is key for many reasons. You need to have as much control as possible to make sure that new business turns into banked income, and whether we like it or not the conveyancer plays a vital role in making this happen. We are in a position to offer our customers a full moving service when it comes to finding a new home, including arranging a mortgage and instructing a conveyancer. Once a consultant has signed up a client it makes perfect sense to be able to confirm the conveyancer and get the process underway immediately. In some branches our consultants are able to pass customers over to our 'move managers' who complete and fully package the conveyancing case, including the collection of search monies and identification.
Q: How have the move managers worked with your consultants ?
A: The most important skill involved in the move process is communication. Failure to communicate causes frustration, mistakes, wastes time and can be the reason a sale falls through. Having all three parties involved in the move process under the same roof makes this less likely. The feedback from this service has been very good, in particular because the consultants are able to get up-to-date information on the conveyancing process without picking up the phone .
Q: How do you select the lenders on your mortgage panel?
A: The selection of members is based on product and service. We are constantly reviewing the market to see who is offering the best mortgage products and delivering the most efficient service. We have 14 lenders on our panel, enabling us to offer every type of mortgage for our clients' needs. We believe this selection is sufficiently large to give a fair reflection of what is going on in the market.
Our lenders are fully aware of the high standards we demand to stay on our panel. With the amount of business Mortgages Direct generates many lenders have specialised mortgage desks set up for us alone and allow us to offer exclusive rates.
Q: How much business do you generate per year?
A: We are currently arranging mortgages in excess of £1.6bn a year. This equates to over 1,000 mortgages a month.
Q: What effect will regulation have on the mortgage market?
A: Mortgages Direct has a management structure that ensures we are ahead of the game when it comes to changes in regulation. We continually review changes and develop strategies to make sure that our operation is not affected. The key for any successful business is to ensure that regulation does not interfere with the control of day-to-day business. Therefore we are preparing ourselves to ensure the move to FSA regulation will be as smooth as possible, with little impact on customers.
Q: What is your company's view on technology?
A: TMXspicerhaart prides itself on being progressive when it comes to new technology. We have invested over £2m in computer systems and software. For the past year we have been developing a new point-of-sale system with our life insurance partner, Britannic, which complements our mortgage calculator system and enables us to speed up administration. The electronic transfer of information is the way forward, speeding up the process considerably.
Our technology strategy is ad-vanced and we are waiting for lenders to develop sufficiently to be able to accept business in this way. The biggest challenge is sending forms to lenders down the wire without signatures. The process cannot be totally automated until this is solved. We want our people to spend more time talking to clients than filling in forms.
Q: What do you think of the alliance between AIFA and NAMBA?
A: On the face of it, this proposal seems to make sense, but there appears to be a lack of communication regarding the strategy. We have found it difficult to obtain information and are reluctant to become involved until we have a better understanding of how this alliance is going to be structured. We would like to have seen IMLA take more of a leading role.
Q: What is your view of the market in 2003?
A: In 2002 the housing market exceeded most peoples' expectations regarding price, and this was encouraged by amateur property investors. In 2003 we expect to see house prices influenced more by increased house price affordability for first-time buyers.
Lenders will continue to play a key role in designing products that are compatible with first-time buyers, which we hope will enable them to get a foothold on the housing ladder without leaving them overstretched and vulnerable to future trends.
The market makes a habit of correcting itself whenever house prices get out of hand. But we believe supply and demand will continue to underpin the value of properties.
Property will continue to be a sound investment particularly with the instability in the stock market. All in all, 2003 is projected to be a good year for the group and we are looking to lead the way forward.