Government urged to tackle lack of affordable housing

Cost-of-living pressures have changed the market, broker says

Government urged to tackle lack of affordable housing

With many people struggling to get on to the property ladder, the government is being urged to tackle a scarcity of affordable housing.

Charley O’Neill (pictured), senior mortgage and protection broker at The Mortgage Mum, sees first-hand how difficult it is for prospective homeowners.

“Brokers are on the front line talking to customers, we know the challenges people face,” O’Neill told Mortgage Introducer. “The cost of getting on - or back on - the housing ladder is so steep that people are struggling to do so.

“Lenders have come up with schemes and options for people who are stuck renting and desperate to get on the ladder but unable to save up the deposit / funds needed to purchase, but for most, the figures don’t stack up to enable clients to purchase a suitable size property in their area. The government needs to step in and address the lack of affordable housing to address this.”

She continued: “I believe and hope that there will be more stability in 12 months’ time. I am picturing a market with new schemes backed by government / private companies, helping people with lower deposits or affordability, with a real focus on sustainable and affordable housing.”

How has the mortgage market changed?

O’Neill believes the economic difficulties faced by many have changed the mortgage market.

“The conversations I’m having with clients are very different than before,” she explained. “Helping clients budget and look at the impact the higher rates are having, rather than always giving good news about how much money they will save when their mortgage renews or compared to the rent they’re currently paying.

“Brokers have become absolutely invaluable as client’s realise that they need advice now more than ever. Looking after our clients when the cost of living is rising and making sure we are doing the best thing for them is always top priority. Once a mortgage has been submitted and offer issued, it doesn’t end there. Monitoring the market and amending applications and changing rates is the new normal, which adds additional work onto our desks.”

She added: “I believe that education on how to manage finances, from savings and investments, to mortgages and debts / general money management should be part of the curriculum. I’d like to be a part of this change and work closely with schools to introduce this.”

O’Neill, who hails from Thatcham in West Berkshire, has been with The Mortgage Mum, which prides itself on a being a female brokerage in a traditionally male-dominated industry, for just over a year. Her life could have gone down a very different path, though.

“When I finished my A-levels, I was debating whether to study law or criminology at university,” she recalled. “I couldn’t decide exactly which path to go down, so I decided to take a year off, get a job and work out what I wanted to study.”

O’Neill found employment with a high street bank and loved it so much that it made her rethink her university plans.

“I realised that there were jobs I could work up to without having a degree,” she said. “I had the opportunity to take my exams to become a mortgage adviser, through the bank, which felt so right to me. Both my mum and auntie were in the mortgage industry, so it almost felt like a family business.”

She worked at the bank for eight years – three of which were as a mortgage adviser - before deciding to make a change.

“I wanted more for my clients,” O’Neill explained. “I didn’t like getting to know customers and then having to send them away to find a mortgage elsewhere because I couldn’t help at that particular lender. This is when I decided I needed to explore being a broker, and I’ve never looked back.

“The opportunities I have had working with The Mortgage Mum so far have been phenomenal. Building relationships with lenders who are genuinely listening to our feedback on what our clients are actually looking for is so fundamentally important for both us and our clients. The feedback session we’re invited to, and the feedback we give, is helping to shape new products and innovation in the market. It feels amazing to be in a position to have a voice in this industry.”

She continued: “Moving home is such a huge part of a client’s life, a huge accomplishment, be that your first home, next home or forever home. Being involved in that process, sometimes from the very start, when even a client might not think it is possible, is just such a great feeling. There’s not many jobs out there where you get to support someone through such an exciting, but stressful time, to get their new property. You almost feel like it’s your journey too.”

Read more: The Mortgage Mun forms specialist finance division

What is the true value of a mortgage broker?

O’Neill believes she has changed during her time in the industry.

“When you first become a broker, it’s very easy to fall into a role of an order taker,” she reasoned. “A client tells you what they need and you source it. I have learned over the years that the true value of a mortgage broker is the knowledge of the mortgage market - options which a client might not necessarily know about, which might be the perfect mortgage for their needs.

“Gaining an understanding of a client’s current situation and their goals and aspirations for the future is far more important that just asking what they think they want from their mortgage. If I could go back to when I first became a broker I would tell myself that my knowledge, not my access to products, is what my clients are paying for and to have the confidence to do this from day one.”

Compassion and empathy are key to the role, in O’Neill’s view.

“It can make it harder to switch off when you are invested in each of your clients’ journeys, but I believe this is what truly makes you a good broker,” she said. “Empowering your clients by educating them about the process and gifting them with the knowledge of what happens next greatly reduces the stress and anxiety that comes with the process of purchasing or remortgaging a property too.

“I am currently learning British Sign Language (BSL) as I have found this a barrier for the deaf or hard of hearing community who rely on BSL in their day-to-day lives.”

What, then, would be the business advice that O’Neill would most want to pass on?

“Take chances, go with your gut and speak your mind,” she urged. “Surround yourself by people who build you up and inspire you.”

O’Neill is clearly dedicated to her work, but she values her time off too.

“There is nothing quite like the sea,” she shared. “Even just packing up the car with my husband, children and the dogs to head down to the beach is my ultimate way to de-stress and empty my mind.”