Equity release – what is it and how does it work?

Equity release is a way of unlocking some of the wealth tied up in your property without having to sell your home.

It has proved hugely popular in recent years with more than half of financial advisors predicting that the equity release market will exceed £5 billion in 2020 alone, according to research by insurer Canada Life.

Equity release could provide you with a lump sum, regular income payments or a combination of both and some products may allow you to continue to benefit from any increase in the value of your property. Any money released, plus the interest that builds up on it, then gets paid back either when you die, or move into long-term care

However, there are several downsides to consider, not least that you’ll reduce the value of any inheritance you might have planned to leave loved ones, and any means-tested benefits you claim could be affected.

This guide explains how equity release works to help you decide whether it could be an option worth considering.

How equity release works

Equity release is a term usually given to a very specific type of mortgage designed for people aged 55 and over, where you usually don’t make regular ongoing payments. Instead, any interest you owe builds up over time and, as previously mentioned, is only repaid, along with the initial amount of money you’ve released, when you die or go into long term care and your property is sold.

Releasing equity from your home in this way, can in the right circumstances be incredibly helpful. For example, the funds released can be used to pay off debts with much higher interest rates, to cover the cost of essential care for you or a close relative; or to simply boost your retirement income if you don’t have other pension arrangements.

Whatever your reasons for considering equity release, it’s important to remember that you are effectively taking money out of your home. While you can continue to live in it, you will still have obligations to others and you’ll need to check the small print to ensure that you are comfortable with the rights that any equity release firm will have over your property.

Who can access equity release?

Equity release schemes are usually only available to homeowners over the age of 55.

Your property must be in the UK and your main residence. If you’re not eligible for equity release, you may still be able to release equity from your home by simply taking out a bigger mortgage or remortgaging, but in this case you will need to keep maintaining regular mortgage payments once you have released the equity.

We have more information on eligibility criteria for equity release in our guide: Am I eligible for equity release?

Types of equity release

There are two main types of equity release scheme, lifetime mortgages, which are the most popular, and home reversion plans. They differ in their eligibility criteria and also in their pros and cons, but both enable you to access value from your home without having to leave it.

Here’s a simple explanation of lifetime mortgages and home reversion schemes. It’s worth remembering that taking out any form of equity release product is a very significant financial decision, and they are often highly complex products. It’s essential to seek independent financial advice to help you decide whether it is right for you and which type of plan might be best for you based on your own personal circumstances.

Lifetime Mortgage

Overview

A loan secured against your home but which you do not normally need to make any repayments on until you die or move into long-term care.

Who is it for

Typically available to people over 55.

Pros

You can access a lump sum or a small initial loan with the option to take more (“drawdown”) later.

Taking smaller loans as you need them will reduce the amount of overall interest you pay.

You can access up to 60% of the value of your home depending on your circumstances.

As long as you take out a product from an equity release provider which belongs to the Equity Release Council (the trade body for the equity release sector), it will come with a ‘no negative equity’ guarantee so that you or your family won’t have to pay back more than your house is worth when you move into long term care or die.

If your estate has enough value to pay off the mortgage when you die without selling your house then it can.

Cons

The longer you live, the higher the total interest owed will be, and therefore the lower your share of the remaining value of your house when it’s finally sold.

You can mitigate this somewhat with an interest payment plan, but then you still have to make regular ongoing payments.

If you choose a variable interest product bear in mind that over a long time this may go up significantly so you may want to look for a product with an interest rate cap or a fixed rate of interest.

Lenders will expect you to keep your home in good condition so you may need to set aside money to do this.

There may be early repayment fees.

More information on Lifetime Mortgages

Home Reversion

Overview

You sell all or part of your house but continue to live in it rent free until you die or move into long-term care.

Who is it for

Most companies require you to be over 65 to apply.

Pros

Allows you to access a lump sum or regular income or both.

You should be able to get between 30%-60% of the market value of your house (or part of your house) depending on your circumstances and needs.

As long as you take out a product from an equity release provider which belongs to the Equity Release Council (the trade body for the equity release sector), it will come with a ‘no negative equity’’ guarantee so that you or your family won’t have to pay back more than your house is worth when you move into long term care or die.

Cons

The home reversion company will own your home (or part of it) so you won’t be able to leave your property to any beneficiaries in your will.

Can often come with long term tax and financial planning implications.

You need to maintain your home in good condition so will need to budget for this.

As you will be living in your home rent free you will need to follow any conditions of the lease which might include paying fees like ground rent.

The schemes can be very complicated to unravel if you change your mind.

More information on Home Reversions

How much can you borrow and what might it cost?

You can get an idea of how much you might be able to access using this free online equity release calculator. You won’t have to commit to anything at this stage and you should always seek regulated financial advice as your next step to help you decide if you should go ahead. It’s also worth making sure you are aware of all the fees and charges and how much it might cost to release equity:

Both types of equity release schemes have arrangement fees and often other costs associated with them that can mount up. For example:

  • A fee (or commission) to the financial advisor who recommends the right equity release product for you
  • A valuation fee to determine the value of your property and how much equity you can release
  • Arrangement fee and possibly also a completion fee
  • Potential early repayment fees for a lifetime mortgage if you wanted to end the scheme
  • Legal fees for a home reversion as you must make sure that you understand the terms of your lease to continue living in your home
  • Buildings insurance for a Lifetime Mortgage

For more information, see Costs of equity release explained.

In addition, it’s important to budget for ongoing maintenance costs, as you will be responsible for keeping it in good repair in order to retain its value:

Equity release schemes can be quite expensive ways of accessing money. When you take out a lifetime mortgage you must pay interest on the amount you borrow. This can be paid off while you are still alive but most people opt to repay what they owe when their property is sold, either when they die or move into long-term care.

Due to a process known as compounding (which Einstein famously declared the 8th wonder of the world), the interest you owe rolls up over time and you start owing interest on previous interest owed, which can build up significantly over 10, 20 or even 30 years. When you take out a home reversion scheme you will only get 30-60% of the market value of your home (or the part of it you are selling) so you will be losing out on 40-70% of the value of your home that you could have left in your will or potentially have achieved if you were to downsize instead.

Equity release calculator

Enter a few basic details and we’ll quickly show how much you could release from your home. These 2 bits of info are the main things needed to work out how much you could release.

Get expert advice

To release equity from your home, it’s an FCA requirement you get specialist advice. A lot of places charge for this advice, but we’ve partnered with Key Equity Release who offer this completely free of charge across their range of Key Equity Release branded products.

  • Regulated, expert advice for free
  • Award-winning service
  • No obligation so you can find out if it’s right for you without it costing you a penny

Key Equity Release will contact you to discuss your needs and where appropriate arrange an appointment with an adviser. Key Equity Release would like to keep you up to date with the latest information about planning your retirement, product updates and special offers. Key Equity Release takes your data and privacy very seriously. For more information about how your data will be used please see the privacy policy at keyadvice.co.uk. If you do not wish to be contacted please tick here:

Thank you for your enquiry

One of our team will be in touch to answer any of your questions and help you decide if equity release is right for you.

Equity release pitfalls to be aware of

Growing numbers of homeowners are releasing equity from their homes with over 20,000 people releasing an average of £76,064 in the first half of 2019 alone, according to the Key Group UK Equity Release Market Monitor. If you are running into funding shortfalls it can certainly feel attractive to release some of the value of your home, but you need to be fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages of equity release. These can be complex and there may be alternatives you should consider first before making any decisions. For something as complicated as Equity Release, the first step is almost always to find a regulated Financial Advisor who can help guide you through the complexities to offer advice on your own personal situation.

Here are some of the main pitfalls you should be aware of:

  • Equity release can be an expensive way to access cash compared to remortgaging or downsizing and rates are typically much higher than standard mortgage rates.
  • Releasing equity from your home may significantly reduce the value of any inheritance you planned to leave, and may mean you won’t be able to rely on your property later in your retirement, for example, to pay for long term care.
  • It can affect any current or future Government benefits you would receive as you’re turning money that was locked up in your home into capital or income. Lots of benefits are means-tested, so this might affect your entitlement to them. You can read more about how lump sum payments can affect your benefits here.
  • Equity release schemes can be difficult, highly expensive, or even impossible to unravel if you change your mind.
  • You’ll need to consider what would happen if you want to move house in the future. Some, but not all, schemes will allow this but there may be hefty charges involved so be sure to understand how this works.
  • Equity release may not be suitable for you, or you may not be eligible if you still have dependents living with you as they may not have the right to continue living in the property if you die or move into care.

Read more in our guide: What are the risks of equity release?

Possible alternatives to equity release

If you need extra funds, equity release isn’t your only option. There are several alternative solutions which may help you achieve what you need. These include: 

  • An unsecured loan – if the amount you need is small and you can make regular payments this may be a good option
  • Remortgage – if you are still paying off a mortgage, you may be able to extend the term or borrow more. You may also be able to take out a retirement mortgage and only pay the interest on the mortgage. 
  • Downsizing – if you need a large amount it may make sense to sell your property and move to a smaller house. Costs can still be high with estate agents fees and stamp duty but you’ll receive the market value for your property and have a clear view of where you stand.

For more information, take a look at our article: Alternatives to equity release.

Getting advice on equity release

If you’re considering equity release, your first step should be to seek advice from a qualified financial advisor.

They can help you understand the best option for you and recommend a suitable product from a member of the Equity Release Council (ERC). The council has a number of product standards which help safeguard borrowers so it is important that any provider you choose is a member. Advisors can also be members of the ERC. You can search for an equity release provider that belongs to the ERC here.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, Key Group is one of the more established providers who offer advice on equity release. They are a member of the Equity Release Council and has an excellent customer service rating on Trustpilot. If you are interested in a free, no obligation conversation with one of their equity release specialists, you can call 0800 188 4813 now or request a free callback.

Have you recently released equity from your home or are you considering doing so? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversations on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.

Links with an * by them are affiliate links which help Rest Less stay free to use as they can result in a payment or benefit to us. You can read more on how we make money here.

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