Equity release is continuing to increase in popularity, with an increasing number of deals allowing borrowers to opt for a regular monthly income rather than a cash lump sum.
A range of innovations, coupled with lower interest rates, led to a 29% increase in the amount borrowed by homeowners in 2018, according to data from the Equity Release Council.
Here, we explain the key changes happening in the equity release market and take a look at current rates on lifetime mortgages.
- To learn about the alternatives to equity release, including retirement interest-only mortgages, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 256 4618. Unfortunately, the team are unable to advise on equity release policies.
Equity release: the basics
Equity release products allow homeowners to unlock some of the cash in their home while continuing to live in it. For some, equity release represents an alternative to downsizing, while for others it can fund a shortfall in a pension pot or help pay for care in later life.
Lifetime mortgages are the most popular form of equity release. These schemes involve taking a loan out on your property, which is then repaid when you sell the home or die.
Some borrowers choose to unlock a lump sum through equity release while others take a ‘drawdown’ policy, which provides a smaller sum up front with the option of drawing further loans at a later date.
- Find out more: what is equity release?
Innovations in equity release
While equity release has many critics (more on the downsides later), the most recent report from the Equity Release Council shows a significant growth in popularity and the number of products available to borrowers.
In 2018, the number of deals meeting the council’s equity release criteria increased dramatically, from 86 to 221.
|Date||Number of products|
This increase is in part down to lenders becoming more innovative in their offerings.
One of the biggest changes has been the introduction of regular income deals in the second half of 2018. These products provide borrowers with monthly payments rather than lump sums.
One of the most well-known deals in this space is from Saga, which launched its ‘Regular Drawdown Lifetime Mortgage’ last October, allowing homeowners to set how much they would like to receive each month, with a minimum payment of £200.
Three key innovations
- Regular income lifetime mortgages: these products provide monthly payments to the customer’s bank account, rather than releasing cash as a lump sum.
- Regular interest payments: 20% of deals now allow regular interest payments, up from just 9% last year. This feature allows customers to make payments to reduce costs in the long term. Unlike retirement interest-only mortgages, payments can be stopped at any point. This means you won’t face the risk of repossession if you miss payments.
- Downsizing protection: 52% of products now offer this, compared with 42% a year ago. Downsizing protection allows borrowers to repay their loan if they move to a smaller property without facing early repayment charges.
Equity release product features
|Feature||Number of deals offering this||Percentage of deals|
|Voluntary repayments with no early repayment charge||127||57%|
|Downsizing repayment options||114||52%|
|Fixed early repayment charges||89||40%|
|Available on sheltered/age-restricted accommodation||77||35%|
|Allows regular interest payments||45||20%|
|Offers regular income payments||32||14%|
Source: Equity Release Council. *Enables a fixed percentage of the property value to be ring-fenced as a minimum inheritance.
While the above table shows the amount of deals offering key features, it doesn’t necessarily reflect how popular each feature is with homeowners.
Indeed, while only 57% of equity release mortgages allow voluntary payments with no early repayment charges, 87% of the loans taken out in the second half of 2018 offered this feature.
Best rates on lifetime mortgages
If you’re thinking of taking out a lifetime mortgage, the good news is that rates are getting lower.
In the last month, Legal & General has cut its rates by as much as 0.32%, resulting in a market-leading rate of 3.4%.
The rate you’ll pay depends on two key things: the amount you need to borrow (the best rates may require you to borrow at least £100,000), and the loan-to-value (LTV) you’re borrowing at.
Below, you can find the lowest rates at four different LTV levels.
|Max LTV||Lender||Monthly rate||AER||Min/max borrowing|
|38%||Legal & General||3.4%||3.45%||£100,000/£2m|
|42%||Legal & General||3.49%||3.55%||£10,000/£750,000|
Source: Money.co.uk, 10 April.
- Find out more: lifetime mortgages
Where are people taking out equity release products?
Data from the Equity Release Council shows that around one in 32 mortgages is a lifetime mortgage, although this could be set to increase.
The report shows double-digit growth in every region of the UK in 2018, with the Midlands seeing some of the biggest increases in uptake.
|Region||Year-on-year growth||Five-year growth|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||18%||66%|
|East of England||15%||158%|
Source: Equity Release Council
Why are homeowners taking out equity release products?
Looking at the table above, you might be wondering why there’s been such an increase in equity release products and uptake over the last few years.
Largely, this is down to the culmination of years of rising property prices, which have meant many older people have a significant amount of wealth tied up in their homes.
And with people living longer than before, this has led an increasing number of people to turn to their properties for retirement income.
- Find out more: how much is your house worth?
The drawbacks of equity release
Equity release schemes might be getting more popular, but they’re not the right choice for everyone.
One of the biggest issues with equity release is that interest compounds quickly and can drain away any inheritance you’re planning to leave. For example, a lifetime mortgage over 20 years could end up costing you more than three times the amount you initially borrowed.
And while some lenders are innovating, some products still come with high early repayment charges, meaning that switching to a cheaper deal can be very costly.
Alternatives to equity release
Of course, equity release isn’t your only option.
There’s also the possibility of downsizing, although moving to a smaller home can be very expensive in the current market.
That’s because of two issues. First of all, there’s a lack of quality smaller homes for older people to move to. This is especially the case with bungalows, which can be few and far between. This scarcity results in higher prices.
Retirement interest-only (RIO) mortgages
Right now, the market for so-called RIO mortgages is growing, with an increasing number of lenders offering deals.
RIO mortgages are a kind of cross between interest-only mortgages and equity release. Most of them involve paying interest on a monthly basis for an indefinite term, with the mortgage being repaid when you die or go in to care.
One of the stumbling blocks of these products is that you’ll need to pass affordability checks to prove you can meet the monthly repayments.
- Find out more: our guide to retirement interest-only mortgages explains how they work and lists all the deals on the market
Advice on your mortgage options
If you’re considering equity release it’s worth talking to an independent financial adviser, or if you’re a Which? member you can talk to the Which? Money Helpline.
You can also learn more about the possibility of remortgaging or taking out a RIO mortgage by speaking to a mortgage broker, who can advise you on the options you’ll have at your disposal.
For a free no-obligation chat with an impartial expert, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 256 4618 or fill in the form below for a call back.