The number of American seniors is rising with the influx of baby boomers crossing the retirement threshold, and with this comes an increase in the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors. To meet the retirement needs of the growing population, some companies are offering housing solutions, including reverse mortgages, and are increasing efforts to cater to the demographic specifically.
The 2010 census shows a 31.5% growth in the 45-64 age group, with the number of Americans aged 65 or older at 13%, and a 2011 study from the San Diego LGBT Community Center says there are an estimated 1.5 million senior LGBT Americans. Like the entire population, top concerns among the aging LGBT community include housing issues and maintaining independence, according to The Center’s research.
Several LGBT senior housing communities have broken ground recently with an eye toward the population, and one reverse mortgage lender is also increasing efforts to market reverse mortgages to the same demographic.
A reverse mortgage option may be especially relevant to the 56% of LGBT survey respondents who reported owning or making payments to their own home, and the study mentioned 79% of those surveyed expressing a strong desire to age in place.
The reverse mortgage business comprises a fairly small segment of the overall mortgage market, but The Senior Equity Group loan officer Greg Shearer, who devotes a portion of his marketing to a gay and lesbian demographic, is essentially focusing his business on that population. Shearer sees the gay and lesbian community as one that needs to be served, and has a lot of potential, but, as he says, “is a hard market to crack.” While reverse mortgage endorsements have dipped nationwide in the past three to four years, Shearer says this particular niche market is primarily untapped.
Working from San Diego to Berkeley, Shearer says most of his business comes from refinancing reverse mortgages. However, about 15% of the loans he originates are for gay homeowners, and in the past three years, says Shearer, he’s originated around 22 loans for gay and lesbian couples.
As far as marketing goes, he advertises directly to the gay community with a targeted brochure and website, gayandlesbianreversemortgage.com, through placing ads in gay publications, and at a booth during San Francisco Pride Fest; additionally, Shearer says he gets referrals and sometimes comes across gay homeowners in need of a reverse mortgage just through doing the refinancing side of his job.
Shearer’s marketing materials look like any other for reverse mortgages, except they’re targeted at the LGBT community. Shearer hits on something that’s a strong focus in a 2010 MetLife study, Still Out, Still Aging: large numbers of those in the LGBT community either plan or expect to become, or already are, caregivers for their partners and parents. While this is mostly consistent with non-LGBT boomers, more than three times as many LGBT boomers than their heterosexual counterparts, at 16%, plan to provide care for friends as well. This makes sense, considering 64% of those surveyed said they have a “chosen family,” defined as individuals they are emotionally close to and consider as family, even though they are not necessarily biologically or legally related.
In his brochure, Shearer recognizes the importance of caregiving for loved ones in the LGBT community, saying, “In many cases, the LGBT family member is charged with the care of aging family members. [A reverse mortgage] is a great tool for them as well. If you are struggling with family and personal obligations you can now help yourself live a better life with the financial flexibility of a reverse mortgage.”
Although he hasn’t originated a jaw-dropping number of reverse mortgages for gay homeowners, Shearer believes the volume could increase, as the U.S. population—and therefore the LGBT demographic—continues to age.
“I think that the LGBT market in reverse can be compared to India and Brazil, it’s an emerging market,” says Shearer. “It’s only going to get bigger as time goes on, and hopefully I will be there to satisfy their needs.”
Editor’s note: This article mistakenly stated that Mr. Shearer works out of South Central Los Angeles, when in fact he works from San Diego to Berkeley.
Written by Alyssa Gerace