Banks are ‘standing up ‘ for borrowers

Banks have an important role to play not only in getting people into houses, but also in keeping them there, which is why they have been prepared to make some “tough calls” lately that could quite possibly lose them a substantial amount of new business.

Such calls include the controversial decision to re-introduce the deposit requirement for home loan borrowers, says Luthando Vutula, the new head of home loans at Absa, SA’s biggest mortgage lender.

Following on the heels of 10 consecutive interest rate rises and the introduction of the National Credit Act, the deposit requirement is likely to further reduce the number of potential buyers able to qualify for a home loan, “but is still considered necessary now to ensure that our customers are not exposed to over-indebtedness”, he says.

Speaking at the Homenet real estate group’s national conference at the Wild Coast Sun earlier this week, Vutula said the bank believed that by doing this, it would assist customers to make better buying decisions because they would have to contribute financially themselves if they wished to go ahead with a purchase.

“And while we all breathed a sigh of relief earlier this month when the Reserve Bank confirmed a 50 basis points increase in the interest rate, we can’t afford to assume this is the last increase we’re going to see this year. As a responsible lender, we also need to ensure that customers buying homes today have enough room in their budgets to weather the storm of possible future interest rate hikes.”

Looking ahead, he told conference delegates the next two to three years would see all players in the real estate industry having to innovate new ways of making money “while protecting our customers from short-term impacts that could derail their long-term investments”.

Meanwhile, he said, now was the time for serious property investors to start shopping around. “The best time to buy will be in 2009,” he predicted. “Patient investors will then be spoiled for choice and will be able to build a portfolio that will yield good results in years to come.”

In addition, he said that buying a home remained the single most important purchase any individual could make. “While the dynamics of the real estate sector may have changed since the boom years, a home remains a good investment that sets the foundation for wealth generation. At the moment, buyers may just have to adjust their expectations and start with a smaller home to ensure future affordability. Then when the cycle turns they will be in a position to upgrade to something closer to their original aspirations.”
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