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What is equity release?

Our video explains the basics and the pitfalls of equity release in less than three minutes. Also in this guide, we cover more details and options.

In this article
What is equity release? How much will equity release cost me? What are the main types of equity release?  Lifetime mortgages
Home reversion schemes Equity release pros and cons Alternative options

What is equity release?

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.

Our short video explains how equity release works.

How much will equity release cost me?

Equity release doesn’t come cheap. A lifetime mortgage can cost more twice what you borrow after 15 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 relatively high.

Average rates have fallen in recent years (from 6.2% in January 2016 to 4.22% in February 2022), 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. 

What are the main types of equity release? 

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 15 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.

Equity release pros and cons

It can sometimes be a good idea if:

  • You don’t have other savings or income to live on in retirement
  • You don’t want to or can’t downsize
  • You don’t mind reducing the family’s inheritance
  • An IFA has told you this is the best option

However, if you opt for it:

  • Your debt will grow due to compound interest unless you make repayments
  • Your benefits might be affected
  • You might be subjected to early repayment charges
  • You can't leave the full value of your home as an inheritance
  • You won't be able to take out another loan against your house

Alternative options

With increasing numbers of mortgages becoming available to older borrowers, equity release may not be your only option.

If you own your home outright you might find that taking out a mortgage on the property is a more cost-effective strategy.

Alternatively, if you have a mortgage in place, you might be able to release extra cash by remortgaging to release equity

Downsizing to a smaller property or moving to a cheaper area could help to pay off your mortgage and generate some income. Finding a suitable property in an area that you like can be tricky.