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My mortgage life

I was born in 1959 in Hackney, London. Not that I remember anything about Hackney, as we moved to Hounslow by the time I was a year old.

When I was eleven, Dad's job took him to Essex, and it was there that my journey into mortgages began.

In 1979, I started working at the Halifax Building Society in Rayleigh, Essex. Halifax was a building society in those days, the largest in the world as it liked to say.

At the time, I knew nothing about mortgages, but after six months, they decided it was time for me to broaden my horizons. I started processing mortgages; working out how much customers could borrow, checking property valuations and references, sending applications and supporting documents to head office so that offers could be issued.

And I enjoyed it.

The next step was to interview prospective borrowers myself. These interviews usually took place on a Saturday morning, which was more convenient for customers.

I've always enjoyed talking with people, and when they are about to borrow the largest amount they ever will, it's good to have someone on your side. That still applies.

Now, you have to try to imagine what life was like in the late 1970's/early 1980's. There was no internet and no email, we didn't even have a fax machine. We had one computer terminal between fifteen of us, and it was always a fight to use it. Our customers would either phone us, or send a letter, or call in.    

Customers attitudes were different too. No one expected a mortgage as if it were a right. You had to save money with the building society. Once you'd established the saving relationship, after a decent interval, you could apply for a mortgage.

Also, when customers called in for their interview, they would dress smartly, as if to convince the society they were serious people that could be trusted with a mortgage. For example, a mechanic would put his suit on at the weekend to create the right impression. Nowadays you can apply over the internet or the phone, no one cares what you're wearing!

A few points about the mortgage market itself.

Mortgages were harder to come by. Building societies had to attract savers in order to be able to lend. It wasn't until the late 1980's that building societies could demutualise in order to provide other services, and raise money on the capital markets.

Amazingly, building societies all charged the same mortgage rate. They belonged to a cartel. The only slight difference was that you might be charged a higher rate of interest if you took out a larger loan i.e. above £15,000! All mortgages were variable rate; no fixed rates, trackers, discounts etc. Oh, and in 1979, the cartel mortgage rate hit 15%!

Anyway, back to me.

A few years later, I moved to the Southend on Sea branch, as head of the mortgage department, looking after new applications, existing accounts, further advances, arrears... everything mortgage related.

Southend was a bigger branch...it had two computers between 40 staff! And a typing pool!

Mortgage arrears was interesting. I can remember one situation when I called round to a local borrower who was three months behind. She eventually let me in, and told me very firmly that I was mistaken, and that her husband paid the cash in to the branch every month. At that point the husband came home, the wife explained who I was, and why I was there - you should've seen the look on his face, if the earth could've opened up and swallowed him, he would've happily taken that option! I made my excuses and left. I don't know what he'd been doing with the money, but that account was up to date within two days!

By 1986, the mortgage market was opening up, and new lenders were appearing that didn't have branches, but raised their funds on the money markets, so there was more money available to lend. They were called "centralised" lenders, and the most well known was The Mortgage Corporation (TMC), whose television adverts featured the film presenter Barry Norman. These lenders simply provided mortgages, there were no savers.

And by this time, I was getting a bit disillusioned with life at the Halifax. I was being moved out of mortgages to run the investors department. I wasn't really that interested in the move, but at Halifax you had to be an all-rounder. TMC intrigued me, so I applied for a job and got it. It was fast-moving, with people from all sorts of backgrounds, some of whom I'm still in touch with to this day.

After I while, I moved on, and went in to mortgage sales. Again, I was after a new challenge. These mortgage sales people visited mortgage brokers and life insurance inspectors, selling their products, and sorting out any issues. I can do that I thought! Plus, you got a company car! I was lucky, a vacancy occurred, and I got the job. I had targets to reach, but with my experience, I was able to attract the right sort of business, and sort out any issues that occurred on individual applications. I had a great time, and met some great people, and with modern social media, I can stay in touch with so many of them.

Eventually, the good times came to an end. I'd become MD of a mortgage broking and packaging company, but it was unable to survive the credit crunch of 2007/8. At the age of 49 I was out of work. I didn't really want to work for anyone else, and there weren't any jobs going anyway. It was time to start again. So myself and an ex-colleague set up the company in 2008, and I look sole control in 2010.

After a couple of false starts, and a few changes in the business model, we started trading as Mortgage Search Go in 2011, arranging mortgages locally and across the UK. With my experience, there a very few things I haven't seen in the mortgage market, but life never loses that capacity to surprise you. At the time of writing, COVID-19 is uppermost in our thoughts, and we hope everyone stays safe and comes through it OK.

At Mortgage Search go, we're still arranging mortgages, and still supporting our customers. Long may that continue.

 

John Pearson

Director

June 2020