Give Scots families better mortgage deals than the English, says SNP

BANKS should treat Scottish customers more favourably than their English counterparts because the housing market in Scotland is more resilient, the SNP housing minister has said.

Stewart Maxwell said he would "encourage" any moves by mortgage lenders to take into account the fact Scotland's housing market has not been hit as hard by the credit crunch as England.

This could mean a relaxation of the strict loan criteria for buyers in Scotland.

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Improved products for the Scottish market could include mortgages with a higher loan-to-value ratio than is currently on offer, or a larger loan based on a higher salary multiple.

But leading industry body, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), rejected the idea, saying that a lack of liquidity in the banking sector was the main reason that mortgage criteria have been tightened up.

And opposition politicians claimed the concept of separate products for Scotland was "a nonsense" and accused Mr Maxwell of touting the idea for political ends. Mr Maxwell and enterprise minister Jim Mather yesterday met with more than 100 of the property sector's key players – including developers, industry bodies and mortgage lenders – to formulate an action plan to tackle problems caused by the credit crunch.

The idea was one of a range of possible solutions touted by Mr Maxwell at yesterday's discussion forum in Edinburgh to bring liquidity back into the housing market.

He added that he would continue to lobby the UK government to scrap stamp duty for properties sold at under 250,000 and also work to increase consumer confidence in the Scottish market.

He said: "People hear stories about what is happening south of the Border and don't necessarily realise that things are not as bad here. We need to make sure they are aware of that as consumer confidence is very important to keep the market afloat."

The latest quarterly figures from Nationwide, covering the six months to the end of June, last month revealed that Scotland's average house price was still rising – at an annual rate of 0.6 per cent – while the UK figure had fallen by 4 per cent.

However, the idea that the Scottish housing market is insulated from the worst of the downturn is not universally accepted.

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Michael Luck, the managing director of Scotland's largest estate agents, Slater Hogg & Howison, said recently: "Scotland has followed exactly the same trend as England. It is no better up here than anywhere else."

A spokeswoman for CML told The Scotsman that the housing downturn was not the only reason for the tight mortgage market UK-wide.

She said: "There are many reasons why lenders chose to tighten up their mortgage criteria and the fall in house prices is just one of them. There is a shortage of funding in the lending markets, which constrains lending across the UK. We just don't think this idea would work."

Mr Maxwell said: "The housing market in Scotland is still buoyant. Prices are still rising, as opposed to the rest of the UK, where they are falling.

"I would encourage banks to offer separate products for Scotland, relaxing lending criteria to take into account the fact that we have not got the same level of problem here as, for example, in the south-east of England."

David McLetchie, the Tories' chief whip, said: "This is a nonsense. This is clearly the SNP saying, 'It's Scotland, therefore there must be a different approach'. The idea that house prices are still rising here is questionable. I would say the market is fairly flat. The concept that we can immunise Scotland from the credit crunch is a nonsense.

"It is a commercial decision for the banks to make what products they offer and how they decide to offer them."

However, Michael Levack, chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation, backed Mr Maxwell's call.

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He said: "The housing market in Scotland is not markedly different to that in the rest of the UK. But the fact we have a number of successful banks does suggest they should perhaps look at tailoring products specifically to the Scottish market.

"We are often used as guinea pigs for new ideas – this should maybe be a situation where we could be the guinea pig for doing something different to give our housing market a boost."

A spokesman for Lloyds TSB Scotland said it already offered separate products for Scottish housebuyers.

Scottish house prices 'to fall' – but not by as much as down south

ANALYSTS have warned homeowners in Scotland to brace themselves for further price drops in the housing market.

Nationwide Building Society said yesterday that UK house prices fell 1.9 per cent in August, to record their biggest annual drop since monthly records began in 1991.

The tenth consecutive monthly decline, which was bigger than most analysts were expecting, pushed the average price of a property to 164,654, the lowest since May 2006, wiping nearly 5,000 off the value of the average British home.

Fionnuala Earley, Nationwide's chief economist, predicted the Scottish housing market would see a marked softening on the back of the UK-wide downturn, which has seen prices plummet by 10.5 per cent.

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"I don't think we can ever say anywhere in the UK is completely immune and Scotland is already seeing some price falls, such as the 1.8 per cent quarterly drop on last June," she said.

"We would expect Scotland to be seeing further house-price drops, perhaps not as much as other places in the UK, because we know affordability is much more resilient than elsewhere. But we have seen transactions drop to their lowest levels."

She added: "There's lots of uncertainty because of the weak economy, but there's no doubt prices are going to fall across the rest of the UK for the rest of the year."

The latest Lloyds TSB Scotland house-price monitor showed the number of homes being bought and sold dropped by 27 per cent in the three months to 31 July. It also said that, across Scotland, the average price of flats was down 1.7 per cent to 134,050, with detached homes down 1.2 per cent to 260,684.

According to the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency, house prices have dipped over the past quarter in Stirling, the Borders, South Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Dundee and Shetland, while over the past year, prices have fallen in South Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute, Glasgow, Clackmannanshire and Orkney.