Should they take their winnings off the table?

Taking their winnings off the table:
Are seniors over-invested in their home?

Let’s say in January 80% of your assets were invested in hotel and entertainment stocks that made you a healthy chunk of change. For sake of argument, let’s say these stocks consistently out-performed your expectations. Then came March and the arrival of the novel coronavirus. If you found yourself holding these positions after the pandemic broke you probably got clobbered in the market.

Much like being over-invested in one or two companies, many are over-invested in their home. That’s a point Hometap Equity Partners CEO & Cofounder Jeffrey Glass made in a last month’s RMD virtual event HEQ- the future of home equity in retirement. If the bulk of a client’s wealth was tied up in one stock a financial professional is likely to strongly recommend diversification. “If that were a stock, and you had 60-90% of your net worth tied up in one stock, no matter how much you love that stock, any financial advisor would tell you you’re over-concentrated, particularly since you’re over-concentrated in an asset that’s illiquid,” While Glass’ was speaking in the context of alternate equity products, his analogy nevertheless rings true.

So what about housing wealth?

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To be frank, home equity is an illusion that exists on paper until it is separated from the home. You can almost still hear the echoes of excited voices twelve years ago boasting of their newfound ‘wealth’ or equity they ‘made’. We all remember how that story ends.

The point is the equity, or value if you prefer’ in the bricks and mortar of a home is neither safe nor guaranteed to be there tomorrow. That leaves older homeowners with two choices to extract equity: sell and ‘right-size’ into a new home at today’s prices or separate a portion of the home’s value and remain in place. The former requires one to uproot themselves and later a tool to extract cash from the roof over their heads. So let’s stop here, right now for just a moment and ask ourselves this question. Will home values continue to rise in 2021? To be honest, we don’t know. There may be indicators of a correction but perhaps we should recall the lyric’s from Blood Sweat & Tears hit ‘Spinning Wheel’ ..” What goes up must come down. Spinning wheel got to go ‘round”. And go ‘round does the housing market go. It’s a cyclical market that ebbs and flows. Many experts see employment as the lynchpin of future real estate values.

All of which leads us to our original question. Should older homeowners be taking some of their winnings or equity off the table? Perhaps. The two hurdles that must be cleared are the fear and misunderstanding surrounding reverse mortgages, and the upfront costs to diversify their ‘equity holdings’.  Before diving into the intricacies of how a HECM works it’s best, to begin with, the broad brush strokes. “Do you plan on living in your home for the foreseeable future?” And the bonus question, “Do you believe home values will continue to go up in the next year or two or go down?”. Even if they’re not reading the Wall Street Journal each week most homeowners are generally aware of the real estate market’s performance and more importantly, they’re old enough to remember earlier housing downturns.

So what are their options? You know them well. Besides selling there’s the favorite recommendation of media ‘experts’- a HELOC. Great, but now they’ve got a monthly payment in addition to their existing mortgage if they have one. Sell? The fact is most prefer to age in place? That leaves us with the question- how would you leverage your home’s values, take some of the risks of a fall in home values off the table, and not be saddled with a payment? Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems to point in one direction- a reverse mortgage. Even more so a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage with a line of credit.

Equity makes great conversation over coffee but it’s meaningless and most importantly vulnerable until it’s separated from the home.


HECM Risks: A Balancing Act

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FHA is addressing risks on both sides

The federally-insured reverse mortgage or Home Equity Conversion Mortgage while holding tremendous value has been challenged with continued losses paid from the FHA’s insurance fund. In the wake of the housing bubble and economic crisis the program, several changes were enacted. The repeal of the standard fixed-rate HECM, the introduction of the HECM Saver, increases in mortgage insurance premiums, the financial assessment, first-year distribution limits, repeated principal limit factor reductions, and most recently, the enactment of the second appraisal rule as part of the Collateral Risk Assessment. The pace of these changes increased with the passage of the Reverse Mortgage Stabilization Act of 2013 which allows HUD to establish new rules via mortgagee letter rather the previous protracted rule-making process. The intention was to allow the agency to act quickly to slow the mounting losses incurred by the program.

When it comes to HECM risks there are basically two types: front end and back end. Front-end risks would include the valuation of the home, lending ratios or principal limit factors, and product design.

Download the video transcript here