What is Equity Release?

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What is Equity Release?

Is your house more valuable than you thought?

Equity Release is a mechanism to release capital from the value of your property. In simple terms, it is a mortgage, but one that you don’t have to repay during your lifetime.

Whilst many different terms are used to describe Equity Release products, they all fall into one of the following categories:

  • A lifetime mortgage; and
  • A home reversion.

Lifetime Mortgage

Lifetime mortgages work very much like standard mortgages most people will already have experienced. The homeowner continues to own the property, but a mortgage (called a charge) is put over the property and this is registered on the property deeds at the Land Registry.

These details are public records although only the name of the lender is registered, not the amount owed. This prevents the property being sold without the mortgage being repaid because the purchaser’s solicitor will be aware of the charge and will need proof that it has been cleared before the property transfers to the new owner.

Lifetime mortgages can be separated into either interest-only mortgages and roll-up mortgages.

Interest-Only Mortgages

Are mortgages for life where the borrower pays the monthly interest on the debt. These can be fixed rate or variable rate similar to standard mortgages. The benefit of an interest-only mortgage is that the size of the debt never grows. The main issue is that the borrower will have less disposable income after the mortgage is in place and will have to undergo affordability tests to ensure they can maintain payment of the monthly interest. Most interest-only mortgages can be switched to a roll-up mortgage after the borrower reaches a certain age; normally 80.

Roll-Up Mortgages

Roll up mortgages require no repayments whatsoever. The interest that accrues on the debt is added to the debt each month and the size of the debt therefore increases over time. The benefit of a roll-up mortgage is that there are no repayments and, therefore, no affordability tests are carried out. The main negative is that the size of the debt can grow substantially over the lifetime of the mortgage and could completely wipe out the value of the property meaning nothing can be left to a beneficiary on death.

This is a lifetime mortgage. To understand the features and risks, ask for a personalised illustration.

Home Reversion

A home reversion is not a mortgage because the ‘funder’ purchases a fixed percentage of the property for an agreed price. The price is highly likely to be below current market value because the funder anticipates having to wait a long time before they can realise their investment. When the purchase is finalised, the funder will be listed on Land Registry as a part owner of the property – referred to as a ‘Tenant in Common’.

With Home Reversions, there are no regular payments to make but the funder owns a fixed percentage of the property and, when it is eventually sold, will receive that proportion of the proceeds of the sale. It should be noted that the funder will have control of the sale and will have control over the final selling price. This prevents the owner’s estate from selling cheap to a relative or beneficiary, for example.

Home Reversion is particularly suitable when the homeowner is not particularly concerned about leaving the actual property to a beneficiary and doesn’t want regular payments to make during their lifetime but does what some certainty about the value of estate they will be leaving.

Who Can Do Equity Release?

Theoretically, anyone age 55+, but the younger the applicant, the lower the amount that can be raised. The sweet spot age is 75+ when many lenders will offer immediate roll-up deals.

Are There Any Issues?

When considering Equity Release there are a few things to be careful about. Firstly, any lifetime mortgage taken out should come with a ‘no negative equity guarantee’. This means that the value of the debt can never exceed the value of the property. For example, with a rollup mortgage, there is a risk that the debt could rise to be greater than the value of the property meaning, when the property is sold, the debt would not be fully repaid and the difference would need to be made up from other assets in the estate. If possible, a mortgage that is Equity Release Council (ERC) approved should be sought. All ERC approved mortgages will come with the no negative equity guarantee, along with some other guarantees; mainly concerning fees and charges.

Another significant issue to consider is whether the homeowner feels they may wish to move or downsize at some point. Most ER products will allow the borrower to move and take the mortgage with them; all ERC approved products will. However, if the new property has a lower value than the original (maybe the owner is downsizing with the intention of releasing capital) there is a risk that part of the capital already advanced may need to be repaid; in the extreme, this could wipe out the capital the borrower is trying to release by downsizing. The reason this occurs is that the lenders will only advance on a limited percentage of the property value. Whilst this percentage does increase with age, if the new property has a lower value, the outstanding debt may form too large a percentage of the new property value. In these circumstances, the homeowner could still move, but would need to repay the difference between the outstanding debt and the maximum that could be raised on the value of the new property.

The final major issue to consider is care. Whilst ER products are designed to be for life, they also terminate on the event that the borrower moves into full time care. With a joint product it would be when the second borrower moved into full time care. At this point, the property would be sold and the debt repaid.

The fact that it is possible the property may need to be sold before the end of the borrower’s life if they move into full time care can cause some inheritance planning issues. For example, a borrower may have a whole of life insurance policy with the intention that the policy proceeds would repay the debt on their death and the property could still be left to a beneficiary. The risk is that the repayment of the debt is triggered by the borrower being taken into full time care. At this point the proceeds of the life policy are not available and, unless there are sufficient other assets to repay the debt, the property would be sold.

Appropriate Advice

Equity Release can form a critical and extremely useful part of later life financial planning but it is essential that the right product is selected that meets the current and reasonably envisaged future needs of the borrower. It is therefore essential that advice is sought from a suitably qualified equity release advisor. MAP has a number of qualified equity release advisors all of whom are also fully qualified general financial advisors giving them the breadth of knowledge to understand not only which product would be appropriate, but how this would fit with a client’s other financial requirements.

For equity release advice, we charge an adviser fee dependent on the loan amount, as invariably larger loans require more time and effort to complete:

  • Loans up to £200,000 incur a £595 charge; and
  • Loans up to £200,000 incur a £795 charge.

For further information on how MAP may be able to assist with your equity release needs, please contact us on 0345 241 1808 or email us at: enquiries@mapfinances.co.uk.

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