Equity release explained Equity release schemes

Equity release schemes allow you to access your property's value for more cash in retirement - but equity release is an expensive, lifetime commitment. 

If you're facing a pension shortfall or need to meet an unexpected expense, equity release can seem attractive. It allows you to tap into the wealth you've accumulated in your property without the hassle of having to move. But before you consider taking this option, there are key aspects of it that you need to know.

What is equity release? Video guide 

In less than three minutes, our video explains the basics and the pitfalls of equity release. Further down, we cover more details and options.

 

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Cost of equity release

Equity release doesn’t come cheap. A lifetime mortgage can cost more than three times what you borrow after 20 years, while some home reversion schemes demand more than 70% of your home’s value for just a 20% advance. 

Although the Bank of England base rate is at an all-time low and normal mortgages rates have tumbled, rates for lifetime mortgages (the most common form of equity release) remain high. Average rates have fallen in recent years, but equity release is still very expensive compared with a conventional mortgage.

The Which? Money Helpline has a team of qualified experts that can help answer your questions on equity release. Sign up to a trial with Which? and speak to one of our experts. 

Equity release: types of scheme 

There are two main types of equity release: lifetime mortgages, which allow you to borrow money against your house; and home reversion, whereby you sell a share in your house.

Lifetime mortgages

With a lifetime mortgage, you borrow a proportion of your home's value. Interest is charged on the amount but nothing usually has to be paid back until you die or sell your home. The interest is compounded or 'rolled up' over the period of the loan, meaning your debt could double in 11 years at current rates.

Home reversion schemes

With a home reversion scheme, you usually sell a share of your property to the provider for less than the market value. You have the right to stay in your home for the rest of your life if you wish. When you die or move into long-term care and the property is sold, the provider gets the same share of whatever your home sells for as repayment. For example, if you sold 50% of your property to the provider, it would get 50% of the sale price.

You can take out some lifetime mortgages from the age of 55, but home reversions are available only to people aged 65 or older. Some enhanced products offer more favourable terms if you're a smoker or have health problems that could decrease your life expectancy. 

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