Although it seems like equity release plans have been around forever, this sector of finance has only been regulated since 2004. However, this has not dented their popularity among over 55s wishing to free up a sum of money rather than leaving it tied up in their property.
Many have used the money to fund home DIY projects, help a child onto the housing ladder, or simply for a blowout holiday or new car. Increasingly though many are seeing equity release as a good way to pay for care in their own home in old age. Equity is the value of your home minus any loans or mortgages secured against it which haven’t been fully paid off.
If you’re wondering whether this would be right for you read our advice on the advantages and pitfalls of equity release and how the equity in your home could pay for a comfortable old age.
What is Equity Release and How Does it Work?
This is a method for releasing some of the untapped wealth tied up in your home. Being able to unlock the value of your home and turn this into cash is a way to remain in a much-loved family home. There are two main types of equity release – a lifetime mortgage or a home reversion plan, which is the sale of part or all of the property.
A lifetime mortgage is a loan against the value of your home which is not repaid until either the homeowner dies or goes into long-term care, or the property is sold. If you decide to go down this route you must choose carefully between the two types of lifetime mortgage which are:
- The interest roll-up mortgage, which is the most popular option. With this, you receive either a lump sum or regular amounts, and interest is added to the loan at a fixed or capped rate.
- An interest-paying mortgage is similar to a standard mortgage in that you pay monthly or ad-hoc payments, and some plans allow you to pay off the capital, to reduce the sum owed at the end.
The home reversion plan is only available to those aged at least 65. With this, you can sell all or a percentage of your home to a provider at below the market value and you become a rent-free tenant in your home. You can even sell percentages of the home at off-set intervals.
Another, less well known and potentially more risky option is the sale and rent back scheme where you sell your home, at a discount and become a rent-paying tenant in your home.
Points to Consider
Home care services are increasingly seen as preferable to standard nursing home care for many reasons, not least among them being able to carry on living in your own home being looked after by a trusted live-in carer who becomes your friend.
Lifetime mortgages are considered the most popular option for equity release because it allows you to retain full ownership of your property and some come with an option of paying back some of the loans over time in order to reduce the build-up of interest and retain as much of the value of your property to benefit your estate when you die.
You can only apply for equity release once you are over 55 and the amount you receive is dependent upon the value of your home (minimum value £70,000) as well as your age. Your property must be in the UK.
Benefits of Equity Release
For today’s older homeowners who have seen the value of their homes rise significantly over recent years and with the added benefit of current low-interest rates, equity release gives you an amount of cash to spend now or to put towards a live-in care plan.
Risks and Pitfalls of Equity Release
The biggest problem with equity release is that you do not receive the full market value for your home, indeed the amount you can access would be much less than you would get by selling your home on the open market in the traditional way. Another disadvantage is that any inheritance your beneficiaries expect to receive would be reduced.
The upfront costs and fees involved in setting up an equity release plan could be as much as £3000.
If you opt for a lifetime mortgage there is a real risk that when the time comes for your home to be sold the amount owed may be more than you borrowed because of the compound interest charged on the mortgage, unless you can pay off some of the debt as you go along. So, if you want to leave a decent inheritance for your family you need to act with caution.
Be aware that if you have a substantial amount of cash in the bank this could affect any means-tested benefits you may be entitled to. The upper threshold is currently £16,000 so above this you are ineligible for means-tested benefits. Your tax situation could be impacted.
If you choose to pay off the whole of the lifetime mortgage early you could incur penalties.
Risks of Home Reversion Scheme
You may only receive between 30-60% of the market value of your home and there may be a clause in your contract which forbids you from moving home. Distressingly, once you die the property usually has to be vacated within one month which causes unnecessary upset to the family at a distressing time.
Protections from the Equity Release Council
You should look for an equity release provider who is a member of the Equity Release Council to ensure that any lifetime mortgage you take out will never exceed the total value of your property. You are also assured that:
- You can remain in your home until the end of the mortgage term
- You are provided with an independent solicitor who explains everything clearly to you
- Interest rates must be fixed or capped and the product must have a ‘no negative equity guarantee’.
Always get the best independent adviser who is regulated by the FCA and discuss things with your family before signing on the dotted line.