REVIVED home-buying activity bolstered the growth of mortgage lending in January and turned the traditionally quiet pre-Lunar New Year period into a hectic month for Hong Kong bankers. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority says the value of gross new mortgage lending in January was $9.31 billion, 92 per cent higher than the $4.85 billion for the same month in 1995. Analysts expect mortgage lending to increase further in the next couple of months as sentiment in the property market improves. However, the gross value volume of new loans made in January by the territory's 33 mortgage lenders fell a slight 0.5 per cent, compared with the $9.35 billion in December. The growing belief among buyers that the housing sector had bottomed out and the fact that they were more willing borrow boosted lending. Because of the typical lag time of a few weeks between people buying a property and then actually triggering their housing loan, the monetary authority's mortgage lending figures for January reflect the housing market in the period between late November and December. Estate agents said business had increased steadily during October and December. They pointed to the encouraging responses to primary releases, including Cheung Kong's Lynwood Court apartments - the fifth phase of its Kingswood Villas development - and Henderson Land Development's Flora Plaza apartments in Fanling. Agents expected a further increase in residential loans next month. 'There was a sharp rise in both activity and prices in January and February,' said Jeff Law Kwok-on, assistant sales manager at Midland Realty in Kowloon district. Centaline Property Agency managing director Shih Wing-ching said the number of secondary market transactions the company closed had increased some 20 per cent in January compared to December, indicating an overall increase in secondary market activity. Sentiments also were boosted by the strong demand for Sun Hung Kai Properties' Royal Palms in Yuen Long and New World Development's Scholastic Garden in the Mid-Levels. A long queue of people lined up in early February, days before the flats at Scholastic Garden went on sale. The amount of new loans approved but not yet drawn increased by 9.3 per cent, or $500 million, to $580 million in January. This figure is generally seen as the best indicator of the expected new mortgage drawdowns in the following month. Hong Kong Monetary Authority deputy chief executive (banking) David Carse said: 'These figures, coupled with the increased trading activity in both the primary and secondary property market in January, suggest that the growth rate of outstanding loans will be higher in February.' With Hong Kong banks offering a string of special mortgage rates and incentives to preferred customers, agents expect sentiment to get a further boost.