First Mortgage eyes £1bn target amid English expansion

Scotland's largest independent mortgage provider is expanding south of the Border as it looks to push its total arranged home loans over the £1 billion threshold.

First Mortgage is expanding into the English market. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
First Mortgage is expanding into the English market. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Edinburgh-based First Mortgage, which has ten branches across Scotland, said it is opening up in Manchester with a view to expanding into Leeds and beyond if the move proves a success.

It comes as the firm in the last financial year provided mortgages totalling £999 million, to about 7,100 clients and equivalent to nearly 20 loans a day.

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Director Ian McGrail, formerly of Standard Life, believes the firm can exceed the £1bn mark this year, and said: “Manchester has been chosen as it fits well with our existing successful model in Scotland, which has proved to be so successful and where business has doubled in recent years through enormous growth in the mortgage market.”

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He said the city will be the site of its first branch presence in England, already securing business down south through its call-centre activities and having a franchise operation in Newcastle, but is “keen to retain full control of the business as we expand”.

In Manchester it will pursue its focus on first- and second-time buyers and providing free advice to house-buyers, and McGrail said it expects to be very well-received as this type of offering is “not widely available” there.

Sales and operations director Antony Stackhouse, formerly of Legal & General, said: “While our services are free, we do secure income through commission on the placement of a mortgage, life cover and also on buildings and contents insurance should a client wish to place the business with us, which around 70 per cent do, although there is no obligation.”

The firm was set up in the 1990s and said it has experienced “rapid expansion and growth” north of the Border, growing to more than 100 staff, including 55 specialist advisors servicing its Scottish branches, which include two in Aberdeen, a 5,000 square-foot site in Glasgow, and a presence in Dundee, Kirkcaldy and Falkirk.

It also operates in the new-build sector, and serves as a preferred mortgage-provider for customers buying new homes from housebuilders Barratt, Persimmon, Cala and Miller Homes.

First Mortgage new build director Mobeen Akram said: “In 2011 we had just one specialist new build advisor, but because of the success of the company and the reputation which we have developed that has now grown massively, and there are now 18 full-time employees working specifically on new-build projects.

“This amounts to around one third of the company’s overall business and it is growing all the time as the market improves.”

The firm also said it has drafted a list of other cities in the north of England where branches are likely to be established, but will be “cautious and careful” with its growth.