18 Jan 2022

Would-be homeowners face banks pulling pre-approvals

9:46 am on 18 January 2022

Potential home buyers are being warned they could face their pre-approvals being declined or withdrawn for months to come.

An auction sign outside a house for sale in Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The warnings come as an investigation begins today into whether banks and lenders are abiding by a law change to protect borrowers as intended.

Home loan pre-approvals are an acknowledgement from the bank on how much hopeful buyers can spend.

But as Loan Market mortgage advisor Bruce Patten explains it's far from a guarantee - particularly for those now with less than a 20 percent deposit.

"There were a couple of banks prior to Christmas that withdrew some existing pre-approvals, we're hearing stories that some other banks may withdraw their pre-approvals.

"That will be based on how many of their clients that are pre-approved are purchasing at the moment, so if they are close to their cap they are going to have to withdraw their pre-approval if the person hasn't purchased," he said.

Late last year the Reserve Bank changed loan to valuation restrictions so that only 10 percent of bank lending could go to those with low deposits - under 20 percent.

Patten said things will eventually improve, but it could take a while.

"The Reserve Bank will move back to 15 percent and then 20 percent of their lending, but that may take us another six months before we see another move, or 12 months if the market continues to run really hot."

The next few months will be telling on when those restrictions will start to free up, he said.

Kiwibank said it was encouraging customers to save as much as possible for a deposit.

Westpac has not withdrawn any existing mortgage pre-approvals, but any due to expire will be reassessed and may not be renewed.

Both noted the exemptions to the rules for those who qualify for the government's First Home Grant and new builds.

But this isn't the only change moving the goal post for first home buyers.

Changes to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act (CCCFA), intended to protect borrowers from loan sharks, have resulted in banks being overzealous in scrutinising would-be buyers' finances, with reports of people being turned away due to Christmas shopping bills and too many takeaways.

Financial Advice New Zealand chief executive Katrina Shanks said all these changes were creating the perfect storm.

And she warned it was particularly hard for those already in the process of building a home.

"Part way through the new build now and under new criteria that pre-approval will be declined or reduced significantly, so for those clients they could be under intense stress going forward," she said.

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Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark says a number of factors have affected the market at the same time, including CCCFA changes, increase to house prices and increases to the OCR and LVR. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said there had been an increase in complaints about bank delays and failing to act as promised.

Complaints about declined home loan applications were also a common theme.

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark said the banks appeared to be managing their lending more conservatively, and this was likely due to global economic conditions.

"It may also be that in the initial weeks of implementing the new CCCFA requirements there has been a decision to unduly err on the side of caution.

"It must be said, a number of factors affecting the market have occurred at the same time as the CCCFA changes, including increases to the OCR, LVR changes and an increase in house prices and local government rates," he said.

He has asked the Council of Financial Regulators to bring forward an investigation into whether lenders are implementing the laws as intended.

They'll be convening today, triggering engagement with the banks.

Clark expected to be briefed by the council in the coming weeks.

Market slowly moving in favour of first-home buyers 'if they can get mortgage' - economist

But economist Tony Alexander told Morning Report the government's goal of wanting to help first-home buyers was being directly blocked by its own efforts to try and reduce the overall risk of lending.

"Unfortunately ... it is first-home buyers which are being most aggressively hit by the Credit Contracts Act changes in particular."

He said the legislation introduced to reduce high-risk lending to people at the low socioeconomic end of the spectrum was laudable.

"But the government wants to get young people into housing, and this is the group which is most affected by not quite having enough income to meet our bank lending requirements, and also maybe not yet having great experience on how to cut back on expenses, which clearly is something a lot are going to have to do radically in the next few weeks and months."

He said eventually, banks' lending volume would ease and they would start to loosen some criteria.

Alexander did not believe the global economic scenario was influencing banks here to cut back on lending.

"It's definitely that combination of the LVR changes from the Reserve Bank and the CCCFA legislation changes."

He said the government must look into the CCCFA legislation and keep consumer credit lending by high-risk lenders separate from mortgage lending because the criteria being applied did not necessarily need to be the same for both.

Looking to the future, Alexander had some advice for first-home buyers:

  • "Adjust your spending behaviour right now, three months before you actually go in with a home loan application."
  • Listings will improve over the year. At the end of December, listings were 30 percent higher than a year ago nationwide, so the situation is slowly moving in the favour of first-home buyers, "if they can get a mortgage".
  • Interest rates are going up at the same time, "so have a look at fixing your rate maybe in the two-to-three-year area".
  • "Overall remember that housing markets move in cycles and we've seen the mother of all booms over the past two years. It's pretty much ended, so maybe take things a bit more calmly for 2022."

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