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Equity release mortgages

Equity release mortgages can unlock some of the value in your home, but you need to think carefully about fees and the long-term implications. Find out more…

Key points

  • Equity release can give you a regular income or lump sum for retirement, but isn’t to be entered into lightly
  • It’s possible to end up owing more than your home is worth
  • If you take out equity release and want to move later in life, perhaps to downsize, your options may be restricted
  • You could opt for a lifetime mortgage or a reversion scheme instead
  • It’s a good idea to seek independent financial advice, consider the alternatives and use a lender that’s a member of the Equity Release Council if you do go ahead

Equity release mortgages are marketed as a way of releasing some of the value from your home after you’ve paid off your residential mortgage and own it outright.

They’re aimed at older homeowners and retired people who probably wouldn’t be eligible for a regular mortgage and have little or no income to make repayments.

It’s a form of lending that’s becoming increasingly popular. Figres from the Equity Release Council show the market has grown nearly four-fold in the past decade, increasing from £945.97 million in 2009 to £3.92 billion in 2019.

Many homeowners rely on property prices rising to pay off an equity release deal, while making sure there's value left in the property for their children to inherit.

Yet equity release products aren’t without their drawbacks and shouldn’t be taken on without serious consideration and sound financial advice.

Lifetime mortgages

A lifetime mortgage refers to an amount of money you borrow to buy a house, but unlike most mortgages you don’t make any repayments.

Instead, you’ll only have to pay off the interest on a lifetime mortgage when you next sell your house. Some lenders may allow you to pay off the interest monthly.

This means that although you still own the house with a lifetime mortgage, it’s repaid from the house sale proceeds after your death or when you go into long-term care.

Be aware that interest rates tend to be higher than with a normal mortgage. 

With a lifetime mortgage, you’ll own your home, but you’ll have to pay off the amount you owe the lender from the proceeds of your house sale. This may not leave enough money for you to purchase a new home, or leave to relatives as part of an inheritance.

Reversion schemes

Reversion schemes make up only a tiny fraction of the equity release market.

They involve selling all, or part of, your home to a company while retaining the right to live there.

Often you stay in your home rent-free under a lease, but some schemes charge a lower-than-market-value rent.

You receive a lump sum or regular income in return, or a combination of the two.

For example, you might agree to sell 70% of your home in a home reversion scheme and receive 20% of the value.

When the property is sold, you or your estate only receive the value of the percentage of the property still owned, regardless of whether it’s gone up or down in value.

So if you put 50% of your home in a reversion scheme when it was worth £100,000 but then it sold for £150,000 after your death, your estate would receive £75,000. The rest would go to the reversion scheme.

The minimum age for home reversion schemes is typically 65.

However, the older you are when you join a home reversion scheme, the higher the percentage you’ll get of the share of your home you sell.

Reasons for equity release

There are lots of reasons you might decide to release some of the equity in your home, such as:

  • To give an early inheritance to offspring while you’re still alive
  • To supplement your pension
  • Home improvements
  • A big trip or holiday
  • To settle a residential mortgage, clear an interest-only mortgage or settle a secured loan

Fees for equity release schemes

Equity release schemes aren’t cheap to arrange - set-up and arrangement fees can run to thousands of pounds.

Most equity release schemes are based on interest building up over the full term, so early repayment charges can be very steep.

You should be given information when taking out a product about the maximum early repayment charges you could be expected to pay.

Also, due to the complex and high-risk nature of equity release, it’s wise to seek guidance from an independent financial adviser, who'll charge for their services.

How much can you borrow?

How much you can borrow with equity release products usually varies depending on the value of the property and how old you are.

If two people take out an equity release product, the age of the younger partner will be used.

On a lifetime mortgage the maximum loan is usually around 50% of property value, but younger borrowers are likely to be capped well below that.

On a reversion plan you can sell up to 100% of your property in some cases, but of course you won’t get the full market value of the share sold.

You’ll typically only receive 20-60% of the market value of the share sold because the buyer can’t resell the property until you die or move out. The older you are, the more you’ll be offered.

How risky is equity release?

Equity release products are considered risky due to the uncertainty over how much you could end up owing.

They can also have implications for benefits, tax and inheritance, which is why it’s wise to use a financial adviser and to consider all your alternatives.

However, if an equity release provider is an Equity Release Council member, there'll be a no negative equity guarantee. This mean you'll never end up owing more than the final sale value of the property.

Also, if you comply with the terms of the contract, there should be no risk of losing your home.

The Equity Release Council points out that equity release is one of the most regulated financial products in the UK and the industry is regulated by the FCA.

Moving house after equity release

Thatched cottageEquity release products should allow you to move to a different property, so long as it’s still acceptable collateral to the lender.

There may be restrictions on the type of home, though. For instance exclusions on certain types of construction or flats in retirement complexes, because they can’t be sold on the open market.

However, if you decide to downsize, perhaps in an attempt to repay the equity release product, you might find things are far from straightforward.

You may find there’s simply not enough equity left in your house to even allow you to buy a smaller, cheaper home.

Alternatives to equity release products

Due to the potentially high cost of equity release, your financial adviser might suggest you consider alternatives such as:

Downsizing - Moving to a smaller property or a cheaper area could unlock a lump sum from your property.

Borrowing - Even if you’re retired you might be able to borrow against the value of your home with a secured loan, although regular repayments may be required.

Pension - You could take a regular income or a lump sum from your pension savings.

Use other assets - If you’ve got savings stashed away, they could provide an alternative to equity release. The interest on your savings is likely to be at a much lower rate than the interest you pay on an equity release product.

Take a tenant - You could rent out a room in your home to bring in a regular income.

By Derri Dunn