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  The Alternatives to Releasing Equity    

For many people thinking about equity release they may have failed to consider the alternatives to releasing equity. However, these alternatives may represent a better financial option. It is important to explore any potential alternatives to releasing equity and equity release advisors are legally obliged to ensure that you are aware of the alternatives and the implications of proceeding with an equity release scheme.

Question About the Alternatives to Releasing Equity

The equity release industry is highly regulated by the FCA to ensure that consumers are protected. The main reason for this is the potential long term consequences which are associated with an equity release scheme including the amount of inheritance it is possible to leave to your beneficiaries. Each advisor must explore the alternatives to releasing equity and make you fully aware of the costs which are applicable with the scheme in addition to any potential restrictions or limitations associated with equity release. This will allow you to make an informed decision as to which is best suited to your needs.

What Are the Alternatives to Releasing Equity

1. Downsizing in to a less expensive property to release the equity in your current home in this way. This option would mean that you would need to move home, but would not place any restrictions on your new property. However, many people are reluctant to leave their home and would rather avoid moving. Additionally, the property market may mean you might struggle to sell your property.

2. Whether there is any form of benefits which is currently not being claimed for but could assist you financially. For example, council tax credit or pension credits. It may be possible that there are some financial benefits which you would qualify for but are not currently receiving. This could provide you with additional disposable income which could reduce any current financial strains or pressures.

3. If there are any children, grandchildren or other family members who could provide some financial assistance. This may provide a potential alternative to releasing equity. However, many people consider equity release as a measure for inheritance tax planning or to aid children or grandchildren to enter the property ladder for themselves. In these instances, it would be counterproductive to receive financial assistance from family members

4. If there are any other forms of financial product such as personal loans, conventional mortgages or credit cards which would be better suited to your current circumstances. If you are suffering from short term financial issues, there may be a form of credit which is better suited to your requirements. However, many other forms of credit may not be a viable option for you. Many loan companies are prejudiced against older people with limited disposable income. Additionally, there may be interest charges which are far higher and make this option extremely costly.

5. If an additional income could be accomplished by renting out a part of your property or taking on a lodger. This form of additional income can be a valid alternative to releasing equity for some people. However, in many cases, people are reluctant to subject themselves to sharing their home with strangers or other people. This option will compromise the privacy of the home owner and it may not be an option which older people living on their own would consider.

6. If the primary aim for the equity release is to fund your home improvements, are there any grants which could be used to provide financial assistance. There are a great number of grants available for home modifications and improvements. There are also charitable organisations who offer assistance for older people. It is important to explore this alternative to releasing equity if you are planning on using the lump sum to invest in property improvements.

7. If there are any current available savings which could be used rather than borrowing on an equity release scheme. If you have savings which are currently in short or long term investments, they may present a better alternative to releasing equity. However, in cases where you may be trying to plan for inheritance tax mitigation or to secure an additional income, this may not be possible. Alternatively, you may have little savings and require the lump sum for your own reasons.

8. If there are any ways to reduce your expenditure to make some financial savings. If you are looking to use equity release to increase your disposable income, it is important to explore if there are any ways to make financial savings through budgeting. However, many people don't want to compromise their quality of life and wish to enjoy a comfortable retirement the lump sum or additional income could provide.

If you are considering an equity release scheme, it is important to explore the alternatives to releasing equity. This will ensure that you are happy and confident to proceed. Your equity release advisor will explore these options with you to ensure that it is the option best suited to your needs and you have made an informed decision.

The Role of the Equity Release Solicitor    

The legal component of any equity release application tends to be dominated by the two sets of solicitors which are used by the customer and the equity release provider. The equity release industry differs from many financial service products as it is highly regulated by the Equity Release Council. This trade body has established a number of rules and regulations which must be complied with by all advisors, solicitors and providers. The primary and most important rule is that the client and equity release provider must engage separate legal representation.

Legal Services for Equity Release

Many equity release lenders have their own preferred legal representation. For example, Aviva use Eversheds for their conveyancing. However, this need not be a primary concern. Applicants can choose any legal representation providing they can complete conveyancing and they are not just a licensed conveyancer.

While you are free to choose any solicitor, it is advisable to choose one who is experienced in dealing with equity release schemes specifically. Using a solicitor who is unfamiliar with the process can cause delays in your application and slow down the release of your funds. Many experienced equity release solicitors are members of the Equity Release Solicitors Alliance (ERSA). These legal professionals specialise in equity release and they have been fully vetted.

Pros of an Equity Release Solicitors Alliance Member

There are a number of advantages associated with choosing an Equity Release Solicitor Alliance Member for your legal representation. These include:

•    Speed: Equity Release Solicitor Alliance members are intimately familiar with the equity release process and the rules and regulations which govern the transaction. This means that they tend to offer a far quicker service than many other solicitors.
•    Increased Number of Solicitors in the Practice: Often members have many experienced solicitors within each practice, which means that should an unforeseen event occur with your specific solicitor, it is unlikely to delay the equity release process.
•    Better Communication: Many ERSA members favour online communication and this enables far better lines of communication.
•    Lower Costs: Generally, because of their experience and the fact that they are dealing with a large volume of equity release applications, ERSA members can offer lower costs for their services. This is usually only £395 + VAT with disbursements available. This can represent a significant saving in your overall costs.

Cons of Choosing an Equity Release Solicitors Alliance Member

As with any transaction, this may not be the best possible solution for you. There are a number of disadvantages associated with using an ERSA member. These include:

•    They May Not Be Local: There is a very good chance that the ERSA member who is acting as your legal representation may not be geographically local to you. This will prevent you from popping into their offices if you have any questions or concerns. It will restrict your methods of communication as you may only be able to deal with them over the phone, by post and through email.
•    You May Need Witnesses: As the ERSA member may not be local to you, you may need another solicitor to witness any signatures on your documentation.

Will the Solicitor Provide Advice?

The solicitor is used to act on behalf of either the applicant or the lender. They confirm the identification and property status of the applicant. They ensure that all checks are correct and in order, file necessary paperwork and handle the release of the funds.

The only advice which is given is to check that the client understands the implications of the equity release transaction and that they understand the consequences, experiencing no undue influence. They cannot provide advice as to whether equity release is the best possible option for you.

If you are considering equity release, it is worth taking the time to investigate whether an Equity Release Solicitor Alliance member is the best person to represent you. They can speed up the application process, ensuring that it operates smoothly and you receive your funds as quickly as possible.

Equity Release Application    

For many people considering an equity release scheme, a great number wonder about the equity release application process. Many people are hesitant to begin the process without knowing how long it will take from starting the application through to the finish when the funds are released. The actual time taken can depend on a variety of factors, which can affect the application. However, there is a regulated process, which can make it easy to follow.

How to Start the Equity Release Application Process

The first step in the equity release application process is to find a specialist advisor. Even if you have researched your options and are confident that you have found the scheme you want, the equity release industry is regulated and you must have an advisor to begin the application. Finding a qualified and experienced advisor need not be stressful and there are a number of resources online including the Equity Release Council website which provide information for equity release advisors locally and nationwide.

Your advisor will complete a factfind document. This contains your information and basically ascertains your current financial situation, what your objectives are and what your attitudes are towards inheritance. This document allows the advisor to assess your options which would be best suited to attaining your goals.

As a major component of the equity release application process, your advisor must explore if there are any alternatives which would be better suited to your needs. These alternatives include:

1. Downsizing to a smaller and less expensive property and releasing the equity in your current home in this way.
2. Whether there are any benefits which are currently not being claimed but could assist you financially. For example, council tax credit or pension credits.
3. If there are any family members including children who could provide some financial assistance.
4. If there are any other forms of credit or loans such as personal loans, conventional mortgages or credit cards which would be better suited to your circumstances.
5. If an additional income can be achieved by renting out part of the property or taking on a lodger.
6. If the primary objective for the equity release is to fund home improvements, are there any grants which could provide financial assistance.
7. If there are any current existing savings which could be used rather than borrowing on an equity release scheme.
8. If there are any ways to reduce expenditure to make financial savings.

Once the advisor has assessed whether any of these scenarios would provide a more suitable alternative to equity release, they can see if equity release is the correct option for your circumstances. If all the alternatives have been eliminated by speaking with you, the advisor will explore the equity release options which may be suitable for you. These will include whether you wish to make a monthly contribution towards the interest, whether you wish to leave any inheritance for your beneficiaries and what your attitude to risk is. 

Equity Release Application Process 

After this initial paperwork is completed, the advisor will then explain the equity release application process. This includes:

•    The provision of a Key Facts Illustration (KFI). This documents the scheme including the costs, fees and charges which are applicable, future balance and any restrictions or limitations of the product.
•    Completion of the application form: The application form is completed by the advisor and sent to the equity release provider.
•    Property Survey: Upon receipt of the application, the equity release provider will then instruct the valuer to arrange an appointment and conduct the property survey.
•    Instructing of the Solicitor: The solicitor should now be instructed to act on your behalf. They will send you an initial questionnaire about your information including your existing mortgage details and provision of identification.
•    Provider Makes the Offer: Once the valuation has been received and it has been confirmed that everything is satisfactory, the equity release provider will then make the offer for the equity release scheme.
•    Solicitor will Complete Paperwork: Once the solicitor has received the offer, they will contact you to schedule an appointment. This will allow the paperwork to be completed, including the mortgage deed being signed and a SHIP certificate being completed. This documentation will then be sent to the equity release provider and the solicitor will request the funds.
•    Release of Funds: Once the provider has all the legal requirements in place, they will release the funds to your solicitor. The solicitor will deduct their fees and send the remaining funds to you, completing the equity release application process.

The length of the equity release application process can vary. Generally, the entire process will take between six to eight weeks. However, if your solicitor is not experienced in equity release transactions it may cause delays. Alternatively, some equity release providers aim to provide a quicker process which can reduce the time to as little as four weeks. If you have chosen a more complex equity release product such as a home reversion plan, this could take up to ten weeks to complete.

Can I Remortgage My Old Equity Release Scheme?    

For those people who took out an equity release scheme when they retired several years ago, it may seem like there are better options which are now available. This is because the equity release industry has seen dramatic changes in the last few years. Before making any enquiries about whether you should remortgage your old equity release scheme, you should speak to your remortgage solicitors, but there are some factors which warrant consideration.

Why has the equity release market changed?

As your remortgage solicitors would advise you, there have been a number of significant changes in the equity release industry. Equity release products are now heavily regulated which has increased the pressure for financial institutions to supply a greater variety and number of products which are available.

Additionally, in the early days of equity release, there were only a handful of original equity release providers. However, due to the increased demand, more and more financial institutions have begun to offer equity release schemes and products. These providers offer a very diverse selection of different products which are suited to myriad circumstances. The introduction of new product ranges and schemes has increased competition which has encouraged far more attractive rates and terms than would possibly have been originally offered.

Remortgaging an equity release scheme

Before making any enquiries with equity release providers, it is important that you consult with your remortgage solicitors to check whether remortgaging your equity release is feasible. Equity release schemes can involve complex terms and conditions which will need to be adhered to. Many equity release products were designed to be lifetime schemes, therefore there may be restrictions or penalties applied which may make remortgaging impractical.

For example, some schemes have an early repayment penalty which can be a percentage of the balance. This would need to be calculated and compared to the potential gains offered by a new scheme. While initially it may seem like a great deal to save one or two per cent on your interest rate, the savings would need to outweigh any potential penalties.

It is important to fully understand any financial implications of early repayment of your current equity release scheme, before making any decisions about remortgaging or switching providers. It may be worth speaking to your current provider to see if there are any alternative schemes which you could switch to without incurring any penalties or charges. Many equity release providers now offer extremely competitive schemes and they may wish to retain your custom and offer an attractive deal.

Additionally, the value of your property would need to be considered. The UK housing market has suffered a great deal in recent years and if your scheme was based on a higher property value than your property would command in today's market, it may not even be possible to remortgage your equity release scheme. Equity release providers have a strict loan to value ratio which must be adhered to. However, you should consider that you and your partner may qualify for a higher rate of release now because you are older. These factors will need to be assessed and checked to ensure that remortgaging is the correct option for you.

Researching your remortgate options

If you are considering switching to another equity release scheme or company, it is always a good idea to thoroughly research your options. There are a number of equity release calculators available on provider websites to make initial enquiries and determine the terms and amounts involved in the schemes which are currently available in the marketplace. However, this should not replace the professional assistance of an experienced equity release adviser. An independent equity release adviser will be able to check the qualification criteria for the various schemes and assist you in finding the best possible policy. You will then be able to assess the potential benefits and determine whether they outweigh any potential fees or costs associated with the early repayment of your current equity release scheme.

It is important to consult with a reputable and experienced professional to gain an accurate insight into the available schemes. This can assist you in making a more informed decision about whether remortgaging is the best option for your specific circumstances.

In the current equity release marketplace and financial economy, switching to another equity release scheme or provider may represent a sound financial choice. However, in order to determine whether it is not only feasible but best suited to your circumstances you will need the advice of experienced professionals including a specialist adviser and remortgage solicitors.

Raising the Standards of Advice in the Mortgage Market    

Many people considering a drawdown lifetime mortgage or other equity release scheme may be a little concerned about the press the industry has received in the past. Like many financial products, the equity release sector has seen a number of ups and downs since they were first introduced in the 1960's. They received a great deal of bad press in the 1980's and 90's due to their lack of regulation, which means that now many people approach the thought of equity release with a little trepidation.

The Early Days of the Drawdown Lifetime Mortgage

The first equity release scheme was released in 1965 establishing an equity release industry. In the 1970's Allied Dunbar launched the first home income financial product. This plan provided an interest only fixed rate mortgage which was used to purchase annuity and provided a fixed income for the remainder of the customer's life. The interest rate was fixed and deducted from annual annuity payments meaning that customers had no worry about falling behind in any payments. This type of product was made unavailable in the 1990's after changes were made to the taxation of annuities in the Budget.

The Troubled Time of the Drawdown Lifetime Mortgage

In 1988 a new style of equity release scheme was introduced. They were called home income plans and were similar to the Allied Dunbar model of the 1970's. They were based on purchasing an investment bond or annuity to run alongside an interest only mortgage which was usually set at an uncapped variable rate. The monthly pay out from the annuity was designed to pay off the monthly interest in addition to providing an income. The main troubles with this type of plan arose in the early 1990's when the interest rates rapidly rose and house prices fell considerably. This left many borrowers with a negative equity situation and monthly arrears. Many families could not move home but had debts which they had no way to pay off. Equity release was labelled as expensive and inflexible and a great deal of bad press began.

SAMs or Share Appreciation Mortgages created another blow for the equity release industry when they were introduced in the mid 1990's. A SAM allowed a home owner to release the equity from their property as an interest free loan which the customer could pay back as a percentage of future growth of their property value. This was based on a prediction that there would be a rise in property values of 4.5% per year. However, then property prices spiked in the late 1990's, the rise was actually equivalent to 11.7% per year which left SAM customers owing a massive amount which was disproportionate to their original loan.

Consumer Protection for the Drawdown Lifetime Mortgage

There was obviously a need for consumer protection and in response to this the Safe Home Income Plans or SHIP was established in 1991. This body established a number of best practices and guidelines to ensure consumer protection. These plans are now representative of a majority of drawdown lifetime mortgage providers and the equity release industry and they ensure that their members abide by a set of strict regulations.

Many of these rules centre around ensuring that the consumer has a safe and reliable product and they are presented with all the information and knowledge needed to make an informed decision about their drawdown lifetime mortgage or other equity release product. The most important consideration about SHIP schemes is that they have a no negative equity guarantee, which provides the assurance that no client will ever owe more than the value of their home or leave a debt to an estate.

The Changing Marketplace and FCA Regulation

As the turn of the century approached, more SHIP schemes were readily available for consumers and many large financial institutions came into the drawdown lifetime mortgage marketplace. Household names such as Aviva, Liverpool Victoria and Norwich Union provided an easy and safe way for consumers to release the equity from their home. The equity release market doubled in a short time between 2002 and 2003 but the bad image which had been created during the troubled time of the 80's and 90's restricted the industry growth even further.

Many consumers were reluctant to commit to a drawdown lifetime mortgage because of the lack of regulation. However, in 2004 the Government announced that the FCA would begin regulating the equity release industry. This change meant that only qualified advisors would be able to recommend equity release schemes and all potential costs and fees must be provided so the consumer could make an informed decision.
The FCA established strict monitoring of the sale of all products and fined any company which failed to comply with these regulations.

Today's Equity Release Market

The equity release market now provides a wide variety of options such as interest only or drawdown lifetime mortgages and home reversion plans. The FCA regulations ensure that consumers are protected and can have the opportunity to use their largest asset to provide options for their retirement. With the country's growing population of retired people, it is believed that very quickly equity release will become as common as conventional mortgages.

Retirement Finance in Equity Release   

As the UK is experiencing a rapidly ageing population, more people are struggling to maintain their lifestyle throughout their retirement. With the current economic climate, there are even fewer potential avenues for monthly income generations, left available for those approaching retirement age. This can leave many retired people facing extreme stress as they face the possibility of a long retirement with very little disposable income.

Equity release products and schemes can present a viable solution for many of these individuals. However, there is such a wide variety of schemes and differing qualifications, that a great number of people are confused by whether they could release sufficient capital from their home to provide an adequate financial solution. With an equity release calculator, UK residents are able to gain an insight into the possibilities equity release may facilitate.

•    Why are the figures different?

Equity release schemes are generally based on a lifetime mortgage. There are strict rules governing these types of financial products in order to comply that no individual owes more than the value of their property or leaves a debt to their estate upon their death. With an equity release calculator UK home owners can collate the information for a number of factors and which will help to illustrate how much equity would be available for release.

•    Isn't it easier to consult an adviser?

While there are a number of advisers and brokers who have the qualifications and experience to advise clients on the feasibility of equity release many people are hesitant to explore the options as they are unsure that they would qualify for equity release or release sufficient funds. This is especially applicable when a home owner has debts or an existing mortgage on the property, as people believe that there may not be enough money released to pay off any remaining debts and provide financial assistance to meet the needs for a comfortable lifestyle. Since in a number of cases, this would require a sizeable amount, the home owner may feel they are wasting their own and an adviser's time to take this route further. 

•    How can an equity release calculator help?

In using an equity release calculator, UK home owners have generally been able to gain a unique insight into whether equity release would be beneficial for their circumstances. It can confirm whether equity release is a feasible method to raise capital from their property without needing to move home. Since equity release schemes allow the home owner to retain their right to reside in the property, this can provide a great solution in a good number of cases. Using the initial figures produced by an equity release calculator, UK home owners can then seek out a professional adviser to explore their options more fully.

•    What factors are used for the calculations?

There are a variety of factors considered when using the calculator. This will include the age of the home owner or owners, the current value and location of the property, the amount of debt or mortgage remaining and any pre-existing medical conditions of the applicants. When the information for these factors is collated, it can allow the calculator to compute the feasibility of equity release for the specific circumstances and the amount of equity which could be potentially released.

•    Why are these factors applicable?

The majority of schemes have strict guidelines which must be complied with in order to grant equity release. While the age of the applicant and value of the property are the main factors in a lifetime mortgage, other factors can influence how much an equity release provider would be willing to finance.

For example, generally for applicants aged eighty or over considering a lifetime mortgage, the provider may authorise an equity release of up to fifty per cent of the value of the property as the loan amount. Age is one of the determining factors as the interest for the loan will accrue on the loan since no monthly payments are made and the total debt will continue to increase until the property can be sold when the applicant passes away or goes into a long term care facility. At this time, the property will be sold, the loan paid off in full and any remaining funds are left to the beneficiaries.

It is important to consider that when using an equity release calculator, UK home owners will only gain an illustration of the potential equity release available on a lifetime mortgage. There are other more specialised schemes which have different criteria and may offer a different solution. Companies such as Equity Release Supermarket offer the use of calculators which will provide the maximum potential loan amount available and this may vary according to the specific conditions set by your chosen equity release provider.

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