The Coronavirus and associated UK lockdown has had a dramatic impact on the world of Equity Release.
There were three key parts of the application process which were affected – face to face meetings with prospective clients, valuations of properties and meetings with client Solicitors.
The first issue, face to face client meetings, became partly resolved with the immediate surge of video meetings following lockdown. Suddenly, Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp, Skype and other video platforms became the way we could talk to family members and our clients as if we were in the same room. This process is likely to continue, for some, long after the lockdown ends.
As lifetime mortgage lenders required a physical valuation of properties, not being able to send Valuers to our clients homes meant applications were put on hold. However, after five weeks of lockdown, breakthroughs were achieved. Valuation companies finally produced a method of reliably valuing some properties without needing to actually visit them. This used historical valuation data, Google Streetview pictures of the outside, Rightmove and Land Registry database information and other data sources. Some lenders also asked clients to take photographs of internal rooms on their mobile phones and email them. This allowed Valuers to produce a report for some, but not all, of our client’s properties.
There was also the issue of clients needing to meet their solicitor face to face to discuss the legal aspects of the application, and be witnessed signing legal documents. The Equity Release Council eventually produced a temporary easing of requirements by way of a strict revised process which avoided the need to meet face to face to do this. However, in practice many legal firms continued to visit their clients whilst observing strict social distancing – and we heard anecdotal tales of them even witnessing the signing of documents through closed kitchen windows!
SO WHAT IS THE NEW ‘NORMAL’?
Solicitors will either continue to meet with clients, socially distanced, or they will operate using the Equity Release Council revised guidelines.
Valuers are now allowed to enter homes in some circumstances. At the time of writing, most equity release lenders are reviving their physical valuation processes. However, social distancing is still needed, along with personal protective measures, but never where the occupier may be self-isolating and cannot maintain acceptable distances away. We are hopeful the backlog of cases that had built up will soon be cleared and we can return to some sort of ‘normal’ ways of working.
As an equity release adviser, I am still meeting with clients during lockdown, but using a video connection rather than a visit to their home. This also means that family members who the client wants to be a part of the discussions can also join the video meeting, wherever in the world they may be. This may become a part of this new ‘normal’ going forward, and means an even better service to my clients.
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Equity Release may require a lifetime mortgage or Home Reversion Plan. To understand the features and risks, ask for a personalised illustration.