Wednesday 24th July 2024

Rising rates have reacquainted us with some hard mortgage truths

Mortgage expert Roger Morris reflects on the painful spike in interest rates and why we’ll likely never return to the era of low rates

In homes across the UK, a quiet revolution has been unfolding for nearly two years. It is one that could redefine how families view their future financial stability.

In September 2022, the Monetary Policy Committee started the process of increasing the Bank of England base rate from 0.25% all the way up to the current peak of 5.25% to combat what had become a rampant inflation rate.

This rapid rise came without much warning and is a stark reminder of the precariousness of our assumed financial certainties. For too long, homeowners have been allowed to settle into the comfort of low interest rates, treating them as the status quo rather than the historical exception they really are.

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The reality is that the low Bank of England base rate was never meant to be a permanent fiscal fixture. That low rate was a temporary measure, and part of a necessary response to the 2008 global financial crisis and again to the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

History shows us how certainty is not a luxury we can count on when it comes to our finances. And here we are, facing another unexpected turning point that leaves us all to consider what the new normal may be for mortgage borrowers in the next few years.

All indications are that interest rates are set to stay a lot higher than we have become accustomed to and that may signal a potentially painful adjustment period for many. But this new normal isn’t just a statistical adjustment on a central bank’s balance sheet; it’s a reality that could strain household budgets significantly.

The Bank of England is aware of that. In its most recent Financial Stability Report it estimated that mortgage payments would go up by 50% or more for 400,000 UK households by 2026 creating more pressure and uncertainty for those people as a result.

The Bank of England must be transparent about the logic behind its decisions and the likelihood and rationale of rate increases or decreases in the future. It is not enough to react to crises; we must prepare for them.

Even for industry experts, predicting where the base rate will be over the next two to three years is a challenge. While the expectation is they will tick down a little from where they are today the fact is that rates in and around 4% is the least we should expect in the near-term at least.

With that in mind, fixed-rate mortgages, may also be considered the first line of defence for borrowers seeking stability in an unstable economic environment. Many homeowners have purchased properties based on unusually low interest rates, with rates close to one percent being the norm.

But when those families look to refinance and they are finding mortgages prices in and around the 5% mark instead. In that context, locking in rates you can afford now, may be sensible for many.

The fact is that the ‘certainty’ of low interest rates was never a reality. This new normal of mortgage lending in 2024 proves that. It is a new normal that will require adaptability, foresight, and resilience from borrowers and I am certain of one thing. That the people of the UK possess those qualities in abundance.

Roger Morris is a mortgage market expert with over 30 years’ experience in the sector

Headline photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

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