‘It could be years of limbo’: how UK interest rate rises have hit mortgages

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UK house prices stalled last month after more than two years of growth, amid sharp rises in mortgage rates triggered by the Liz Truss government’s disastrous mini-budget.

Recently installed chancellor Jeremy Hunt will set out his plans to mend the damage in an autumn statement on Thursday. Here, three people share how the continuing fallout is affecting their mortgage plans.

‘I might have to opt out of my pension’

View image in fullscreenRoss Bryant, a London firefighter, says his monthly mortgage payments will be cripplingly high when he has to refix soon, and may force his family to move out of the capital. Photograph: Ross Bryant/Guardian Community

Ross Bryant, 33, a London firefighter living in New Cross and father of an 11-month-old, feels grateful for the fact that he and his wife managed to get on the property ladder five years ago, but is now finding himself “between a rock and a hard place”.

“Our fixed-rate mortgage of 1.7% is coming to an end and we have been looking at what options we have,” he says.

“Our broker – who happens to be a trusted friend – recently outlined the best deals for us, which included 5.34% fixed for 5 years, 5.59% fixed for two years, or a tracker mortgage, which comes with obvious market-related risks. We were looking at about £650 extra in mortgage payments a month.

“Then, the next day, the base rate increased again. Combined with childcare costs of about £550, we will have to find a huge amount of extra money each month. You just wonder: where can I turn? What can I do to make it work?”

Like many other homeowners, the couple is slowly coming to terms with the realisation that they might have taken on too much mortgage debt in the first place, while borrowing costs were extremely low.

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“We still have about £330,000 outstanding,” Bryant says. “We understood, of course, when we bought, that the base rate was at historic lows and was always going to come up.

“Our combined household income is between £78,000 and £83,000 each year. My wife, who works in TV, will be returning to work full time in January. We were never on the breadline, we were in a really healthy position financially. Now, we don’t turn the heating on, and if we’d have to pay a mortgage rate of above 6.2%, we would be in the red every month.

“I may have to get a second job – a lot of firefighters have them out of necessity now. My pension contributions are huge, like for all my colleagues: £420 a month, because cancer rates among firefighters are very high. I could opt out to free up monthly money, but at the sacrifice of our future standard of living. The fact that many firefighters can’t afford to live in London any more – it’s a bit of a mess really. It’s very probable we’ll have to sell up and leave.

“We’re playing for time now, to wait and see what happens on Thursday [in theautumn statement]. A lot hinges on that.”

‘We may never be able to buy a home now’

Rosina, a prospective first-time buyer from London, had to put the purchase of her first family home on hold last month.

“I’m nine months pregnant, and the plan was to be out of rented accommodation by the time the baby comes,” says the 33-year-old, who works in the tech industry.

“We graduated during the first recession and only 14 years later have we been able to save enough for a decent mortgage, £60,000.

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“We’d pretty much found the house we wanted, about 35 miles from London in Maidstone, Kent. But then the budget threw a spanner in the works. Mortgage deals were being pulled and we hadn’t locked in an offer for this particular property.

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“They went from slightly more expensive to completely out of reach. A 6% mortgage rate, on the £600,000 house we were looking to buy, would have meant monthly repayments of about £3,000. We could never afford that, so we had to stop the search for the time being.”

The couple’s budget for a house purchase has now shrunk to £515,000, which would mean “still very expensive” monthly payments of £2,619 at a rate of 5.99%.

Like many other properties in the area, Rosina says, the house she and her partner had been interested in has been pulled from the market since the mini-budget on 23 September, but she has not seen any reductions in property prices in the areas they have been looking in.

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“We are back to square one and the good rates may not come back until the recession ends. Rents are already expensive, and we’re super worried about them rising further, which would mean we can save less. We’ll probably consider moving farther south, but I fear that if we don’t buy now, we may never be able to.”

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‘Our chain collapsed, and our plans were abandoned’

Richard Price, 85, feels similarly stuck. The pensioner was in the process of downsizing and selling his home for £650,000 in the New Forest in Hampshire when the mini-budget derailed his plan.

“My wife and I had found a smaller property we liked,” Price says. “We had found a buyer for our house, and the preparation of legal documents proceeded without a hitch, until our buyer’s short chain collapsed. His buyer took flight, and he took his house off the market in view of the general situation.

“Since the mini-budget, the uncertainty has brought the local housing market to an abrupt stop. We’ve had one inquiry for our house. Everybody is having second thoughts, it seems.

“Normally, it’s quite a hotspot. Our agent called and suggested we reduce our price by £60,000, but that would make our move economically unfeasible as the house we like needs some work. Our plans were abandoned.”

Price worries the situation will not stabilise any time soon. “It could be years of limbo for people hoping to buy or sell property in the UK. Many people will suffer considerable hardship. We’ll be unable to move forward.”

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