How to get a mortgage as a freelancer

Even if you successfully save for a deposit, navigating mortgages as a freelancer can still be difficult.

That’s why we asked CMME, a specialist mortgage brokerage, for their help to demystify the mortgage market. Simon Butler, Head of Mortgages & Protection at CMME, shares his top tips and answers freelancers’ questions about securing a mortgage here.

First-time buyers

1. Check your credit profile/report to ensure you have a healthy score

A top tip is to close credit and store cards that you no longer use to help boost your credit score. I recommend a comprehensive and free report with Credit Karma. Do not undertake credit searches before you look at mortgages. Pay off as much debt as possible.

2. Get a deposit

Either save, get a gift from direct family, or look at a Springboard deposit (where parents place money in a savings account connected to the mortgage). The bigger the deposit, the lower the interest rate.

3. Ensure your bank statements are in order for the past three months

Make sure there are no missed or late direct debits on your account, as these will be marked against you.

4. Review the marketplace, know what house prices are doing and investigate all costs associated with the property

For example, a leasehold flat will incur monthly and annual charges in England and Wales. You will also need to consider costs like council tax, insurance, and utility bills. Consider using a government buying scheme.

5. Get your paperwork ready

You will need three months’ personal and business bank statements from you and your family, an in-date passport and/or a driving licence, proof of your earnings (contracts, and maybe trading accounts if you don’t work via contracts), and proof of deposit.

Questions answered

What are the best tips to avoiding any unnecessary pitfalls in the mortgage application process?

There are a few easy ways you can avoid delays in the application process:

  • Ask the estate agent in writing if there are any known defects with the property.
  • Don’t take out credit until you have completed the mortgage.
  • Be open and honest with your information, and do not try to hide the school fees/maintenance/debts — tell the broker the full details.
  • Finally, when asked for documents, get them over as soon as possible!

What can a freelancer to do to improve a negative credit rating?

A quick way to boost your credit score is to make sure you are on the electoral roll.

Longer term ways to boost your credit score include:

  • Pay off debt
  • Make more frequent payments towards your credit/store cards
  • Close unused cards
  • Try not to apply for new credit
  • Avoid insurance companies who credit score

Speak to debt charity Step Change if you are having financial problems.

Be realistic: if you have a low credit score and want to avoid high lender fees and rates, then think about waiting before applying and improving your score.

What sorts of costs and fees should first-time buyers prepare for?

  • Stamp duty if buying over £300,000
  • Solicitors fees
  • Valuation/Survey fees
  • Lender fees – although these can be added to the mortgage in most cases. Always have around £500 on top in case you are asked for additional reports by the valuer (such as a damp report)
Meeting broker

What should I do if my mortgage application gets declined first time round?

The broker should be able to identify the reason and apply to another lender where possible. Do not tell the seller or estate agents until you know for sure that there are no other options!

Do freelancers get less advantageous mortgage rates than employees?

The short answer is no. However, because freelancers don’t always fit the traditional mould when it comes to borrowing, some lenders may take a more risk-averse approach. This can result in a higher interest rate or a loan value that doesn’t fit your true borrowing potential. A broker will be able to help you present your case in the best way in order to maximise your borrowing potential.

Does how I work impact my ability to secure a mortgage?

Again, the short answer to this is no. But it is the case that with the upcoming regulatory changes to IR35, alongside the economic impact of the pandemic, many self-employed professionals may be considering their options in terms of how they work. 

Whether that involves moving to an umbrella company or taking a temporary fixed term PAYE role, your mortgage options should not change, although how you position your financial status may change. In this instance it would be advisable to consult a broker who can you navigate your options and work with you to get the best possible outcome for your needs.

Getting on the property ladder

Has the impact of coronavirus made it harder to get on the property ladder?

Mortgage lenders have reacted in different ways to the issue, but the approach has been broadly similar in terms of what has changed.

Loan to value restrictions are the biggest consideration, with many lenders now capping borrowing at 85-90% of the value. This means a larger deposit will be required to proceed. Warnings from various providers and industry bodies of value decreases between 7-15% (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Nationwide, Bank of England) will affect the chances of 95% or even 90% being offered as widely as these options were available at the beginning of the year. It is likely to remain a limitation for some time yet.

Also, it is essential to note that lenders add further restrictions by tweaking their internal credit score cards. Any loan at higher loan to values will be far more scrutinised than one at 80% or below, so reviewing your credit file is essential.

The relaxation of the lockdown measures has helped considerably, as physical valuations can now be completed. Much of the backlog for existing applications has been dealt with and we are able to secure valuation bookings for new applications at this time. This appears to be improving overall confidence in the market for lenders, surveyors, and ultimately new borrowers.

Will taking a mortgage payment holiday make it harder to remortgage as a freelancer?

While it is too soon to tell what every lenders approach will be to mortgage holidays, a couple of initial indications are likely to provide a guide. We have seen that lenders have committed to ignoring these holidays if present on a credit report, but that does not mean they will accept an application while the applicant is effectively “on holiday” with their payments.

Coventry Building Society are looking for at least three months of mortgage repayments to be made (with evidence provided at application) before they will accept a new mortgage application.

Nationwide are currently requiring one month and will not accept an application until this has been made.

What we are interested to see is whether the additional 12 months holiday that has recently been agreed by the Bank of England and government is going to be a concern for lenders. The Financial Conduct Authority is looking to push mortgage lenders to not penalise borrowers, but Nationwide have been very vocal with their concerns in the press. They have highlighted the risk that underwriting a mortgage to prove affordability for an applicant that has taken a holiday anywhere between 12-15 months is a considerable problem for an underwriter. It may be a while before we understand the impact of this point.

Mortgage application

Will being furloughed impact my ability to get a mortgage?

Mortgage lenders have moved with haste to implement criteria changes for an applicant on furlough. For an applicant currently on furlough the general principle has been for the application to be assessed on the 80% figure, rather than the full level of income that would normally be received.

What we have not seen yet is how lenders will deal with a client returning to full time hours after taking furlough. If we consider the way that the remortgage holidays are being dealt with it is highly likely that lenders will take a similar approach (think 1-3 months at full pay before they will accept using that level of income).

Does it pay to use a mortgage broker vs going direct to a bank or high street lender?

Getting the right mortgage or remortgage deal can save you £100s each month. But, with over 6,000 products on the market, it can be a daunting prospect to find the right one for you. 

Moreover, the economic fall out of the coronavirus pandemic has meant many banks and mortgage lenders have restricted their lending criteria, tightened their credit scoring, and capped borrowing, making it even harder to secure the right deal.

A mortgage broker can help you navigate the landscape and position your finances in the best possible light to get the most advantageous outcome for you.  So, against this current backdrop its arguably more important than ever to use the help of a qualified mortgage broker when you are looking to either remortgage, take out a first-time mortgage or invest in a Buy to Let.