The reverse mortgage industry is about to close out another eventful year on the calendar, which has naturally put those of us in the RMD offices in a bit of a reflective mood as we get ready to say goodbye to 2019.
The year has not been without its interesting and eye-catching stories, whether discussing changes to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program handed down by Federal Housing Administration (FHA), upheaval in terms of some of the most visible reverse mortgage lenders in the country, and efforts the industry continues to make in appealing to a segment of potential reverse mortgage borrowers.
As we get ready to bid farewell to one year and welcome the new one, we thought we’d take a look back and present the top 10 most read and talked about stories that appeared on Reverse Mortgage Daily in 2019.
- Live Well Financial Halts Funding for New Loans (May 3)
In what would prove to be the very beginning of the end for mortgage lender Live Well Financial, RMD learned that it had ceased funding for new loans in early May before eventually learning that this would be one of the biggest ongoing stories of 2019. Live Well’s closure brought a degree of understandable upheaval to the reverse mortgage industry’s status quo, leading to a reshuffling of staff and long legal battles on multiple fronts that still have yet to settle here in December.
- Two New Reverse Mortgage Reform Bills Push for Program Change (Sep 29)
Any time the topic of change comes to the reverse mortgage industry, the conversation most commonly starts and ends with national politicians trying to find ways to make the HECM program more efficient. In late 2019, this manifested in the form of two draft pieces of legislation from two Democratic members of the House of Representatives: Washington state’s Denny Heck, and Missouri’s Lacy Clay, respectively.
Heck’s piece of legislation related to bolstering reverse mortgage borrower protections along, while Clay’s attempts to address the current national loan limit structure for Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-backed HECM loans.
- FHA Eases Condo Rules, Expanding Reverse Mortgage Market (Aug 14)
Condominiums have long been a thorn in the side of the reverse mortgage industry due to the convoluted process that borrowers and homeowners associations (HOAs) would have to engage in, often requiring an entire condo complex to gain FHA approval as opposed to a single unit for a particular prospective borrower. When it was revealed that FHA would be handing down new regulations that would make it easier for condo owners to get reverse mortgages and other FHA financing, the industry became very encouraged by what the possibility could mean for future business.
- FHA Extends HECM Second Appraisal Rule, Expands Non-Borrowing Spouse Protections (Sep 23)
Through the release of two back-to-back Mortgagee Letters (MLs), FHA enhanced some protections for non-borrowing spouses (NBS) in a reverse mortgage transaction while then indefinitely extending the unpopular, though effective collateral risk assessment that sometimes results in the necessity for a property to undergo a second appraisal.
In terms of NBS protections, the applicable ML updates the Mortgagee Optional Election (MOE) Assignment for HECMs with case numbers assigned prior to August 4, 2014. NRMLA praised this decision at the time saying it would be a relief to HECM servicers. By extending the CRA, FHA hopes to continue having a directionally positive impact on the HECM book of business inside the Mutual Mortgage Insurance (MMI) Fund.
- Ditech Risks Default, Avoids Second Bankruptcy and Terminates COO (Jan 17)
The ongoing bankruptcy odyssey for Ditech Holding Corporation had a direct impact for months on the outlook of its reverse mortgage servicing subsidiary, Reverse Mortgage Solutions (RMS). In this January development, Ditech elected not to make a $9 million interest payment to its creditors while entering into a forbearance agreement to avoid default. Ditech would continue to face significant hurdles in its financial outlook, putting RMS at risk until finding a buyer for the reverse mortgage servicer months later.
- AAG Unveils New Selleck Ad to ‘Set Reverse Mortgage Record Straight’ (Jul 16)
American Advisors Group (AAG) has long had the most visible advertising presence in the reverse mortgage industry, largely due to its employment of recognizable celebrities and investment in airing on popular broadcast and cable programming. This new ad featuring spokesman Tom Selleck had a tall order in front of it, coming off of renewed reverse mortgage industry scrutiny after the publication of a critical investigative story published in USA Today a month prior.
In aiming to “set the record straight” on reverse mortgages, Selleck aims to strike a frank tone with the audience about the legitimacy and capability of reverse mortgages to help certain seniors.
- Former Live Well CEO Hild Arrested in $140M Fraud Scheme (Aug 29)
The abrupt closure of Live Well Financial certainly surprised reverse mortgage observers across the country, but that surprise notably increased after it was discovered that former Live Well CEO Michael Hild had been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in an alleged bond fraud scheme. Hild’s arrest also accompanied the arrests of two other former Live Well executives that had reportedly pleaded guilty before agreeing to cooperate with federal authorities on the investigation into the alleged scheme. Hild was released on an unsecured bond shortly after his arrest, and a trial date was later set for October, 2020.
- Oregon Governor Signs Reverse Mortgage Property Tax Deferral Law (Aug 6)
Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed H.B. 2587 into law on July 23, which allows an individual whose residence is in the state’s tax deferral program to adopt a reverse mortgage that has at least 40% equity interest in their home at the time of filing his or her claim. Prior to the passage of the law, reverse mortgages on the properties participating in the program have been prohibited. This new legislation changes that, allowing for some homeowners in the tax deferral program to have a reverse mortgage available to them.
- Ditech Denied ‘Free and Clear’ Sale of RMS in Bankruptcy Court (Aug 28)
After hearing evidence in early August from counsel for both Ditech Holding Corporation and an opposing coalition made up of a consumer creditors committee and state attorneys general, federal bankruptcy Judge James Garrity Jr. denied the plan that would have allowed Ditech to sell its forward and reverse mortgage businesses “free and clear” of consumer claims against them alleging wrongdoing and improper foreclosures.
While this represented a brief hurdle in Ditech’s ability to sell Reverse Mortgage Solutions and its forward mortgage business Ditech Financial, ultimately the parties came to an agreement after an amended sale plan was submitted to the presiding judge that more equitably addressed the concerns of former Ditech customers.
- Reverse Mortgage Industry Cautious About Trump HECM Proposals (Sep 9)
In September, the United States Department of the Treasury under the direction of President Donald Trump unveiled a new series of proposals aimed at improving the nation’s housing finance system, including a number of proposed changes to the HECM program. Among the proposals are an elimination of HECM-to-HECM refinances; area-based, regional lending limits; and implementing a tiered pricing system as a measure of protection for the MMI Fund.
Reception by the reverse mortgage industry to the proposed changes was mixed, according to outreach conducted by RMD to an industry data analyst, an originator, and NRMLA.