Negative equity

You are in negative equity if your property is worth less than the amount you still owe to your mortgage lender (or any other lenders who have given you a secured loan). It may be difficult to sell your home or to get credit.

What causes negative equity?

Equity is the difference between the value of your home and the amount you borrowed to buy it. If you get a £75,000 mortgage to buy a home worth £100,000, you have £25,000 in equity. If property prices fall and the value of your home drops to £50,000, you would probably have £25,000 in negative equity.

You will be more at risk if you have:

  • fallen behind on your mortgage payments
  • borrowed a large proportion of the property's value
  • increased the size of your mortgage when property values were high
  • taken out other loans using your home as collateral
  • a mortgage with high interest rates.

If you are worried that you could lose your home, get advice immediately - use our directory to find a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice that can help explain your options. If you have debt problems, the National Debtline may be able to help.

Selling your home

If you have negative equity and you sell your home, you could still end up with a large debt to your lender. The money from the sale is unlikely to cover the cost of your mortgage, but you will have to pay back everything you originally borrowed. Your lender (and/or other creditors) can take legal action against you even after your home has been sold. If you are in this situation, it is likely to affect your credit rating. You probably won't be able to get a new mortgage with a different lender or take out any other loans using your home as collateral.

If you have enough savings (or other assets) to pay off the negative equity and the costs involved in selling, you can sell your home in the normal way. If you don't, you should get advice before you make a decision. If you can, it may be better to wait until property prices rise and your home increases in value.

If you are on means-tested benefits, the money you get from the sale will be counted as capital and your benefits will probably be reduced.

Getting permission from your lender

You normally need your lender's permission if you want to sell. If you have used your home as collateral for any other loans, you may need permission from whoever provided those loans as well. It may be easier to get this if you have realistic plans to pay off everything you owe. For example, you may be willing to sell personal belongings or a car to clear your debts.

Get independent advice if you can't get permission to sell. Some lenders have developed schemes to help people who are stuck in negative equity. An adviser may be able to help you to negotiate. It may be possible to:

  • argue that selling privately will allow you to pay off your debts more quickly
  • convince your lender to let you keep the same mortgage but transfer it to a new property.

Some lenders may offer you a bigger mortgage to allow you to move to a new property and pay off the negative equity. However, this would increase your debts, and will probably mean you have to pay higher interest rates and/or arrangement fees. Get independent financial advice before you decide.

Mortgage arrears and repossession

Your lender can't repossess your home just because you are in negative equity, but there's a risk that it may try to do so if you fall behind with your mortgage payments. However, repossession doesn't happen automatically. Your lender may let you stay in your home and not sell it if you can come to an agreement about how you will pay off the arrears. If you are threatened with repossession, get advice immediately from a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice, as it may be possible to negotiate with your lender - use our directory to find a local advice centre.

If your lender sells the property

You should only allow your lender to sell your home as a last resort. There is usually a better option, so get advice before you decide to do so. If your home is repossessed, your lender is unlikely to get as high a price for it as you would if you sold it privately (or through an estate agent). This is because many lenders sell repossessed properties at auction. You will also still be responsible for your monthly payments until the sale is completed.

Selling may take a long time, so the amount you owe could increase considerably. Unless you can stay with friends or family for free, you will also have to pay rent when you move somewhere else.