Mortgage enquiries on the rise, but banking lobby group launches mortgage stress website

Property investors and pundits may be forgiven for thinking new AFG data showing an increase in the number of new home loan inquiries is a good sign for the sector, but a new site designed to help home owners in financial trouble has put the brakes on any celebration.

The site,, was developed and now operated by the Australian Bankers' Association, and allows home owners who are experiencing financial difficulty to contact their banks and figure out ways of obtaining some financial assistance.

But despite the connotations of releasing such a site in the current economic environment, ABA chief Steve Munchenberg says the site isn't a commentary on whether the European crisis could impact home lending, as some economist have predicted.

Instead, he says the website is a response to home owners who feel they don't have the ability to continue paying their mortgage when they actually have numerous options available.

"Back at the beginning of the year, with the floods, and then cyclone Yasi, we were able to go public then and highlight the fact that people could talk to their bank and get a quick release for a period of time to get them through some difficulties."

"We've seen other parts of the economy doing it a bit tough. And there is a reluctance on the part of some people to tell their bank they are going through hard times."

"I think people have given us a lot more credit for foresight than we should take."

The website itself offers tests for financial strength, along with information on what you can do when struggling through financial difficulty, and how you can apply for hardship provisions.

Munchenberg says the website isn't a commentary on arrears or defaults, which he points out is quite low. Instead, he says it's about dealing with people who don't feel they have any other option.

"When we have people in financial difficulty, they don't instinctively think to contact the bank. But the reality is the bank has a bunch of programs in place to help people in those situations."

"We would rather find out if you're under pressure early to make sure we can all work through that, rather than have people hide that fact and then get into a state where it's much harder to pay it all back."

However, despite the insistence that the site is not a warning, data shows Australians are spending more of their income on mortgage payments, even as prices have slowed. Real estate groups such as the Real Estate Institute of Australia believe this to be a serious problem.

But new figures from AFG paint a different picture for the market. The country's biggest mortgage broker recorded an 18.4% increase in mortgages processed in November, altogether worth $2.9 billion.

Investors took up 40% of mortgages, with the company saying it was most likely spurred on by the Cup Day interest rate cut.

The figure was the highest since March 2009, on a monthly basis. Fixed rate loans fell to just 17.2%, with stand variable loans taking a 63.1% share. The average size of all mortgages rose to $396,000 from $395,000.

But while the figures may suggest the market is on the verge of booming, auction clearance rates present another story. In both Sydney and Melbourne, sales have remained in line with results from the past three months.

In Melbourne, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria recorded a 55% rate, slightly up on last week but down from the 60% recorded this time last year. Chief executive Enzo Raimondo said for the fifth week in a row "there has been no substantive change in the level of demand".

It expects that trend to continue through the end of the year, even during next week when 900 auctions are expected.

Sydney recorded a 52% clearance rate, while Brisbane and Adelaide recorded rates of 20% and 36.8% respectively.

This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.




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