Harlan Accola, national reverse mortgage director at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., had been looking forward to the day for 18 years. The day he would finally close on his own Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) loan on the heels of reaching age 62, the qualifying age for the HECM program as administered by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
After spending so much of his professional time and effort aiming to educate prospective partners and clients about the benefits a reverse mortgage could help to provide for someone’s retirement strategy, he couldn’t wait to begin offering firsthand accounts of his own experiences being a reverse mortgage customer, and the added security he feels having access to a standing HECM credit line.
To get a better idea of how this reverse mortgage industry veteran experienced the process of becoming a borrower himself, RMD sat down with Accola and Fairway’s National Reverse Sales Training Specialist Dan Hultquist.
The long road to his own reverse mortgage
Having lived for years in Wisconsin, Accola was no stranger to harshly cold Midwestern winters. When he saw that there was a seminar that included reverse mortgage subject matter taking place in Miami, it was more the climate that enticed him to go than it was the topic of conversation. However, that proved to be the beginning of not only a reverse-focused career but of the resolve that he would one day get a reverse mortgage for himself.
Shortly after returning home from that seminar, Accola went to his financial advisor in Wisconsin and asked about the potential impact to his finances if he would free up $1,500 a month in mortgage payments to then have his advisor manage and apply to investments.
“When he ran the numbers, he said I would be about $100,000 ahead when I get to 2022,” Accola explained. “And it turns out, he was wrong. I’m $150,000 ahead.”
Understandably, Accola — who was selected as part of RMD’s Changemakers class in 2021 — is reticent to share personal details, but in this instance feels that it’s important to highlight the difference the incorporation of a reverse mortgage will make for his own retirement, as well as for his family. On top of that, issues of perception and why someone would get a reverse mortgage have followed him, even considering the position that he’s in as a visible leader of a major lender’s reverse mortgage division.
“Normally, I don’t want to make my personal financial stuff public, but I feel that I must to be able to get the word out,” he says. “Some people have even asked me if I’m in trouble since I’m going to do a reverse mortgage when I turn 62. That’s not the point. Are you in trouble if you’re saving for an IRA? It’s weird the way that [reverse mortgages] are looked at, and we must change that or there are going to be a lot of screwed-up retirements out there.”
A shared reverse mortgage experience
One thing that both Accola and Hultquist found interesting was the number of fellow Fairway employees who expressed interest in Accola’s strategy, but even more noteworthy was the number of employees describing their own reverse mortgage experiences in a recent companywide training call, which typically has between 150 and 200 attendees.
“We had people jump in and say that after recently turning 62, they’ve got their own reverse mortgage, too,” Hultquist says. “I think as a reverse mortgage lender, we might have a higher percentage of employees with reverse mortgages than anyone in the country. That might be hard to prove, but they’re openly talking about it.”
That openness employees have about their own reverse mortgages communicates to Hultquist two things, he says. The first is that they understand a reverse mortgage very well by implementing it into their own financial plans, and the second is that because of that, they’re willing to engage more people about it.
“That is, I think, the lesson that needs to be learned from this,” Hultquist says. “Harlan is blasting this all over social media, because he’s proud of the fact that he did something that’s so prudent. He doesn’t need it and never has, but he’s doing it because it’s prudent.”
Processes and counseling for a reverse mortgage professional
While Accola is open about the difference that having a reverse mortgage will make for him, he is also open about the potential advantages he had in terms of personnel and advisors.
“It was kind of unfair because I’ve got the best processor, I’ve got the best advisor in Dan Hultquist, and our own departments,” he said. “Obviously, I have to have somebody else do the loan. Allegiant Reverse Services did my closing and the title work, they sent somebody to my house that morning.”
Selecting an originator was not complicated as they only had to find someone licensed in the state of Minnesota to do the actual loan. The more interesting part of the process, at least for Accola in his place as a reverse mortgage professional, was the counseling session.
“I didn’t tell the counselor anything about what I did,” Accola explains. “So, she went into an extreme amount of detail, and she did say that I understood it way better than most people that she talks to, which was encouraging.”
The counselor also asked Accola if he understood that he had the right to shop around for a better deal at other lenders, which he says “irritated” him through a laugh.
“I quickly told her that I’m very happy where I am,” he says, smiling. “I’ve already done my application, so that was interesting. Obviously, my wife was on and she’s a non-borrowing spouse because she’s underage, which she enjoyed being told at 59.”
‘That was cool’
Beyond that, it was his wife that made Accola realize that his family is now ensured a greater degree of security due to the HECM. After getting on a plane to head out to Colorado, Accola spoke with his wife on the tarmac about the recent loan closing.
“I said, ‘well, honey, we’ve finally got our reverse mortgage. And she said, ‘yes, and I can live in that house until I’m 150 as long as I pay the taxes and insurance and keep it maintained,’” Accola says of their conversation. “And, you know, that was cool. She was kind of joking, but I realized, ‘hey, my wife’s got a house whether I’m alive or dead.’”
Look for more about Accola’s experience of becoming a reverse mortgage borrower on RMD soon.