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    What will happen to Ireland’s mortgage holders in 2023? Five experts on fixed and tracker mortgage outlook

    Homeowners will have to absorb interest rises amid the cost of living squeeze, according to five experts

    Five of Ireland’s leading mortgage experts told The Sunday Times what they think will happen in the market next year. Homeowners are facing another financial blow as the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to increase interest rates again this month. The ECB has already raised interest rates by 2 per cent since July and a further rate increase would mark the fourth since the summer.

    Gabriel Makhlouf, the Central Bank of Ireland governor, said last week that the ECB was likely to raise its key interest rate by 0.5 per cent on Thursday. This would add about €600 a year to repayments on a €200,000 mortgage over 25 years.

     

    Michael Dowling

    Michael Dowling, managing director of Dowling Financial, believes the ECB base rate will rise as high as 3.25 per cent next year and will not start to come down again for about two years. He said most borrowers should be able to weather the increases. “Most people have a cushion to absorb the interest rate increases and other price increases in utilities, food and transport. But I would be more concerned about those who are already struggling to meet their repayments.

    “I think we are going to see evidence over the next 12 months of those customers struggling to meet mortgage repayments, because they were already struggling to meet them prior to the rate increases in June. They can’t switch to another lender because they’re already on an alternative repayment arrangement. Those customers are definitely very vulnerable and some won’t be able to meet the new, higher repayments.”

     

    Conall Mac Coille

    Conall Mac Coille, chief economist at Davy, suspects that the pace of increases will slow next year. “The worst may be behind us but it depends on the outlook for inflation and what’s happening with wage growth,” he said. “I think it might peak slightly below 3 per cent, but 3 per cent is certainly possible.”

    He added: “So far we haven’t seen the banks fully pass through the increases in the ECB rates, and I think that will probably remain the case. The average interest rates across all outstanding mortgages in Ireland increased from 2.5 to 2.7 per cent between June and September, according to the Central Bank.”

    The vast majority of loans issued since 2020 have been on fixed rates, which Mac Coille said would buy most new homeowners some time before paying higher interest rates. He said that low levels of household debt would also help buffer homeowners from “getting into trouble” if rates continued to rise. “With the conservative levels of mortgage lending that we’ve seen over recent years — in terms of low loan-to-value ratios and low debt service ratios — even if rates increased towards 4 per cent and people are forced to refinance, they’re not going to be pushing debt service ratios, which are at historically low levels, to levels that you would ordinarily think are dangerous.”

     

    Martina Hennessy

    Martina Hennessy, managing director of the mortgage switching platform doddl.ie, said that while the pillar banks had absorbed some of the costs of the ECB rate rises and had not yet increased variable rates, non-bank lenders had reacted with “skyrocketing” rate rises.

    “This is the first time for a whole generation [of borrowers] that rates have started to increase and people are concerned as to where they could go,” she said. “If we start to see the rates ratcheting up and the cost of mortgages increasing on a monthly basis, it will certainly negatively impact households’ available income. There’s a perfect storm of mortgage rate increases and the general cost of living increases, and that’s why it’s so important to get your largest financial commitment under control.”

    She said many tracker mortgage customers had inquired about moving to a fixed rate in recent months. Hennessy, who is in the process of fixing part of her own tracker mortgage, said seven and ten-year fixed rates were becoming more attractive to those customers who know they are forsaking their tracker by fixing but want security for the last portion of their mortgage. “Those customers have never come to us before. That’s a huge cohort of overall mortgage customers that are looking now at fixing, which is something that would not have even been considered 12 months ago.”

    Hennessy said it was becoming increasingly challenging for borrowers to find mortgage value and that higher rates would stymie some first-time buyers looking to take advantage of the Central Bank’s revised lending rules next year. “People on modest incomes are going to be impacted by the rate increases when lenders apply stress-tests,” she said.

     

    Kieran McQuinn

    Kieran McQuinn, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, said Irish banks had taken “some of the hit themselves” since rates began to rise this year but variable interest rates would inevitably increase just as fixed rates have done. “It’s inevitable that the banks will start to pass it on,” he said. “If we see further policy rate increases in the euro area in the new year they will begin to peter down into the domestic market and you will see higher mortgage rates.”

    McQuinn said rising interest rates would put further pressure on the affordability of housing — which has been growing at double-digit rates — and could lead to more people defaulting on their mortgages next year. “I think on balance the average mortgage repayment will increase over the next six to nine months and you will inevitably see some increase in mortgage arrears as a result,” he said.

    “But we also obviously look at the overall economy and our outlook for the Irish economy generally is still reasonably positive for 2023; we don’t see a huge surge in unemployment, for instance, and that really is where you would begin to see a huge spike in mortgage arrears.”

    McQuinn said locking in a fixed rate could be appealing to people who have high mortgages relative to their income and who are facing employment uncertainty, but that other homeowners might be better off waiting to see what happens with inflation in the first half of next year.

    “If we begin to see a real fall-off of inflation then clearly I think the pressure will mount on the ECB not to go ahead with further policy rate increases, but as long as inflation is fairly elevated they will feel the need to increase the policy rate.”

     

    Trevor Grant

    Trevor Grant, director of Affinity Advisors and chairman of the Association of Irish Mortgage Advisors, doesn’t expect to see a surge in the number of mortgage defaults as interest rates continue to rise alongside the cost of living squeeze. “In theory borrowers should be reasonably protected because lenders have stress-tested the majority of mortgages by plus 2 per cent so it’s unlikely that we’ll see any significant increase in defaults, provided there hasn’t been a change in circumstances in the intervening period,” he said. “But a number of borrowers are absolutely going to feel the hit.”

    Homeowners who are coming to the end of their fixed-rate agreements are also looking to switch to a new fixed rate with better terms, Grant said, to “get on a more solid footing” over the next three to five years. He added that many customers might be better off switching before the end of their fixed term — often without financial penalty — rather than “playing roulette” months down the road.

    “People who are on fixed rates of maybe 2.25 to 2.75 per cent and now find themselves rolling off to 3.75 or even higher could be exposed,” he said. “Over the last few months . . . people who are on fixed-rate agreements which are maturing have looked to switch out now to avail of the rate they will get today, rather than perhaps a much higher rate later.”
    The increase in fixed-rate mortgages is also affecting new customers, Grant said, who might have applied at a lower rate than what is available by the time they’re ready to draw down. He added that while ECB rates could start to decline towards the end of next year, he would be surprised if this had an impact on Irish mortgage rates. “The banks will point to the fact that ECB rates have gone up by 2 per cent since June but some have only put up rates by 0.25 per cent. Their argument will be, ‘We didn’t apply the increases at the front end and therefore we’re not applying the decreases at the back end’.
    “It’s a harsh lesson of the crash but it’s an obvious lesson: banks are there to make money from their customers.”

    News by independent.ie, (Beau Donelly).

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