Malcolm Cannon: Lenders can help the housing market

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ARE WE seeing the green shoots of recovery in the Scottish housing market? Figures released recently by the Council of Mortgage Lenders Scotland point to some encouraging developments.

According to its report, the number of first-time buyers stepping on to the housing ladder is at a three-year high and lenders appear more willing to extend finance to them, findings that are in line with our own statistics.

However, the same report pointed out that overall lending still lags behind the rest of the UK and, crucially, the number of mortgages offered to other homeowners looking to move into a new property has gone down. This blockage continues to limit the prospects of a speedy recovery. While some households are simply waiting for more favourable market conditions, increasingly onerous amounts of additional borrowing required to move up the ladder are also playing a big part in dampening demand.

The Scottish Government rightly wants to encourage the development of a healthy housing market, but so far its attempts, such as the MI New Home Scheme, have been mostly limited to getting people into new builds. While these interventions are welcome, their impact is inherently limited given the small portion of the total housing market constituted by new builds.

It is of course important to acknowledge that there is no magic bullet the government can use instantaneously to fix the housing market. However, what policymakers should ensure is that their investment in the sector is targeted so that maximum impact is achieved.

Given that general lending conditions are still constrictive, to keep the cogs of the housing market moving the government needs carefully to consider programmes designed to assist all households wishing to buy new-build or existing homes. A healthy housing market is needed for a healthy Scottish economy and we should be doing all we can to get the sector moving again.

The right investment, targeted properly, will work to support the housing market and create the economic spin-offs that result from someone moving house.

• Malcolm Cannon is chief executive of ESPC.