Building a big deposit, paying off current debts and tidying up your credit record will get you closer to securing a deal

Unless you are very lucky, buying a property will involve taking out a mortgage – and that's not as easy as it once was. Before the housing market took a tumble, home loans were readily available to all kinds of borrowers, from the recently self-employed, to those without a penny to put down as a deposit. That's all changed now and lenders have tightened up their criteria.

However, things might not be as bad as you fear. Banks and building societies have said they expect to make more mortgages available in 2013. Here are some things you can do to enhance your chances of getting one:

Build a big deposit

"The bigger your deposit, the better your chance of getting a mortgage and the lower the rates on offer," says David Hollingworth of mortgage broker London & Country. Although there have been some signs of life in the market for 95% mortgages, most of the competition is at lower loan to values (LTV), typically around 60%.

Hollingworth says at the lower LTVs lenders may not be quite as cautious about lending to someone with a slight blip on their credit record.

If you are not saving each month, see if you can do so – draw up a budget and work out if there are any expenses you can do away with. The money you spend on these could be channelled towards a savings account. Some lenders are offering accounts joined to mortgages, and will give you a larger loan if they have seen you save for a while – however, rates on the loans do not tend to be great, so weigh that up against saving for a bit longer and having more choice.

Be nice to your parents

They may be willing to help by giving you some cash to put down. Lenders have no problem with this, as long as the money is given as a gift, not a loan. Your parents will be asked to provide a written statement that this is the case.

If they can't afford to stump up a deposit, they may be willing to act as guarantors for your loan or to take out a joint mortgage. They will need to have enough income to cover your mortgage as well as their own, though. Or you could go for a mortgage that allows them to offset their savings against your loan. A few banks and building societies offer these.

Pay off your credit card

"Reduce any debt you have to maximise the amount you can borrow," says Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients. "Lenders use an affordability calculator when deciding how much you can borrow rather than multiplying your income by three or four times. So if you have a lot of debt or financial commitments, this will affect the amount you can borrow."

Close down credit cards you don't use, reduce your overdraft and, if you can afford to and it doesn't have early repayment charges, clear any personal loan in your name.

Tidy up your credit record

If you have had serious debt problems in the recent past then you are going to struggle to find a lender willing to take you on, but if your transgressions are more minor you might be able to do something about it.

Take a look at your record yourself to ensure you do not get penalised as a result of someone's mistake. The major credit reference agencies all offer access to your records, some on a free trial basis. "If you've any doubts about what they show why wouldn't you check them when you can do it at little or no cost?" says Hollingworth. If there are errors, you can contact the organisations involved to correct them. If there are problems that you think might cause a problem, flag them up at the earliest possible opportunity.

It might be worth applying to a lender for an agreement in principle. This is a statement from a lender saying that it is willing, in theory, to give you a mortgage subject to you providing more information about your circumstances and it approving your chosen property. "It is no guarantee that you will get a mortgage, but if you get turned down, you could save the disappointment and any costs in finding a place you like but not being able to get a mortgage," Holllingworth says.

Your credit record may also ring alarm bells for a lender if it is blank. "It is tempting to think that having no debt is a good thing but you really need a credit history so that lenders can see that you are good with debt and repay it on time," says Adrian Anderson, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris. "If you haven't got a credit card, take one out and pay off the balance in full each month."

Sort out your paperwork

This is particularly important if you are self-employed, as lenders are keen to see accounts that prove you earn what you claim to. The more evidence you can provide to show you are a good bet, the better. If, for example, you have just returned from maternity leave and your payslips don't reflect your current income, ask your employer to provide a letter.

"The fuller the mortgage application, the better," says Anderson. "For example, include your work number, home number and mobile number on the application form."

Buy something 'normal' …

Lenders do not like properties they think will be hard to sell – if the worst happens and they do need to repossess, they don't want to be stuck with a home they cannot get rid of. As a result, they are often unhappy with unusual properties. In recent years they have also reduced lending on newbuild flats, where they think there may be a glut of supply and properties have been overvalued in the past, so you might need a large deposit if you have your heart set on a shiny new apartment.

Restricting your search to a property built to a standard type, from run-of-the-mill materials is likely to improve your chance of getting a loan.

… Or find a lender who understands the property

If you have fallen for something a little unusual, there could be a lender who is willing to help. If it's a type of property native to a particular area, the local building society may look on it more sympathetically than a larger lender.

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