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Chasing arrears


THE official arrears figures make pretty grim reading. Of the current mortgages, a massive 62,970 were in arrears of more than 90 days at the end of September last year.

And the numbers in long-term arrears have been growing fast. There were some 3,000 new cases of mortgage holders who are six months or more behind on their repayments at the end of 2010.

At the start of last year there were 4,000 new cases of long-term arrears. By the second quarter of last year the rise in the long-term arrears was 4,700.

But by the July to August period the number of new long-term arrears cases had risen by 6,000.

Based on the number of people falling into arrears, Trevor Grant, who is managing director of MortgageNegotiators.ie, believes the number of mortgages to be restructured will need to reach 10,000 each quarter if the growth in mortgage arrears is too slow.

He added that these numbers exclude those that misguidedly bought a second property during the boom.

Some of the banks are claiming that mortgage borrowers are starting to strategically default on their mortgages.

Mr Grant, whose company helps troubled mortgage borrowers, does not agree that this is the case.

"The real reason of course is that people's savings have become depleted and they are under a constant barrage of calls and letters to repay their short-term debt."

Each lender is pressuring indebted homeowners -- and it is often a case of he who shouts loudest is getting paid first, he said.

New consumer protections are being introduced by the Central Bank from this month to prevent this level of harassment from all lenders. However, they can ignore the legalisation for a further six months as they are given this time to "adjust their systems" to it.

Most financial advisers say that when consumers are struggling with repayments of any kind, talking with the lender is key. However, even experienced property investors can be intimidated by the prospect of negotiating directly with their lenders.

But Mr Grant cautions: "It is of strategic benefit to those in trouble to understand their obligations and options before interacting with the lender."

He said that the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) assists those in financial crisis, but there does not appear to be a dedicated State service for those who still have some income but feel swamped by their property debt.

Those who invested in a second property are under more pressure, Mr Grant said.

"A consequence of the Celtic Tiger has meant that the vast majority of buy-to-let owners in Ireland are inexperienced, easily pressurised investors who mistakenly listened to government policy and signed loan agreements, without considering the long-term consequences.

"Many are now out of their depth which is causing significant personal distress to them and their families," Mr Grant added.

Restricted from really applying pressure on homeowners with just one mortgage, the banks have turned their attention to the 200,000 people who bought a property in addition to their home during the boom, he said.

"While one in five are already in arrears, a significant proportion of those who are paying are doing so on an interest-only basis, as most owners are struggling financially on reduced incomes," Mr Grant added.

Almost 100pc of the borrowers advised by MortgageNegotiators.ie have multiple borrowings. Some have other investment properties, while all have personal loans, credit cards and credit union loans.

"The banks who lent on these buy-to-let properties are conscious (and upset) that other creditors such as credit unions, credit card companies and even other mortgage lenders may be receiving capital repayments ahead of them," Mr Grant said. They also realise that these borrowers won't, for the foreseeable future, have the capacity to repay all of their loans, hence this aggressive strategy to get in first, he said.

The banks have learnt that those who apply the most pressure invariably get a larger slice of the borrower's repayment capacity.

However, this may not be in the borrower's best interest, he added.

Irish Independent Supplement