By Paul Lewis
My neighbour Mary needed a new hip. It was her second hip replacement op and the NHS told her that she would have to wait seven months.
Without it she was confined to the ground floor of her small terraced house and in pain. She was in her 80s and had owned her house mortgage-free since her father died in the 1960s.
I asked if she had thought of borrowing money against the value of her home and paying for a private operation that she could have in weeks rather than months.
But she would not borrow, she told me firmly. Never had, never would.
So she waited in pain for almost a year and, sadly, not long after the NHS repaired her hip she went into a care home and after just a few weeks she died.
It was a waste of the more-than £500,000 value of her home – and she had no family to leave it to.
Many people, like Mary, do resist releasing some of the value of their home because they do not want to borrow, especially if they have spent 30 years or more paying off a mortgage.
But a growing number take a different view. Sales of equity release products were up 41 percent in 2017, taking the total amount borrowed to a record £3 billion, with the average amount borrowed around £77,000.
More than half the people used some of the money to repay a mortgage or unsecured debts, and two thirds said upgrading their home or redoing their garden was a major reason. One in four gave money to family or friends, often to help younger people get their first home.
Nowadays , equity release is safe: everyone who sells it has a special qualification to do so and will only recommend it when it is suitable.
Interest rates on the money borrowed are lower than they used to be and if you use a provider who is with the Equity Release Council then your debt can never exceed the value of your home and, in most cases, there will still be a lot of equity left to leave to your heirs.
For more information, visit equityreleasecouncil.com/home
Find out more with your free RT Guide to Equity Release, written by Paul Lewis