A bill that extends the relief provision allowing telephonic and video counseling for reverse mortgage transactions in the state of Massachusetts has been signed into law, changing the expiry date for such relief from July 15, 2022 to March 31, 2023. This is according to the bill itself.
The bill was signed into law on Saturday, July 16 by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R), since Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has been out-of-state since late last week.
Reverse mortgage counseling in the state of Massachusetts has been allowed to progress remotely via video conferencing or telephone for most of the year, but the relief allowing for such measures expired yet again on July 15.
The odyssey of Mass. counseling
In-state reverse mortgage professionals working in concert with the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association (MMBA) and the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) were able to get another extension across the proverbial finish line, but the issue will remain a specter over the state’s reverse mortgage business until a more permanent solution is codified into state law.
Massachusetts is the only state in the country that requires reverse mortgage counseling to be conducted face-to-face, a requirement that had previously clashed with safety issues created by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Early on after a state of emergency was declared stemming from the pandemic, the state House of Representatives and state Senate passed a bill providing a statewide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 emergency, which also featured a provision permitting telephone or video counseling for reverse mortgage transactions for the duration of the emergency.
“[F]rom the effective date of this act until the termination of the COVID-19 emergency, due to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, written certification from a counselor with a third-party organization that a mortgagor has received counseling via a synchronous, real-time video conference or by telephone in lieu of counseling in person shall satisfy the requirements of [state law],” says the text of bill H.4647, the original measure allowing for counseling relief.
Since that point over two years ago, the regular course of reverse mortgage business within the state has been threatened several times, with the industry requiring vigorous advocacy by interested parties.
A potentially permanent fix
While the worst of the COVID-19 emergency appears to have passed, a lack of licensed counselors active in the state combined with the requirement for vulnerable people to need to travel vast distances in some cases has added up to a difficult situation for Massachusetts seniors seeking out a reverse mortgage.
“We lived through six years of in-person counseling only in Massachusetts, beginning in 2014 up to the emergency declaration in 2020,” said Brett Kirkpatrick, partner at Harbor Mortgage Solutions to RMD last week. “Seniors were seriously stressed to find transportation to a location that was very far away from them. These are all the difficulties that we’ve been trying to explain to the legislature for all those years.”
H.1146, a bill active in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, remains a source of hope for industry professionals active in the state as well as its advocates at MMBA and NRMLA. People familiar with the matter explain to RMD that a push is coming next to enact the bill into law.
Earlier this year, that bill was reported out favorably from the Joint Financial Service Committee. It remains to be seen whether or not the proposed bill can make it through the full legislative process to also be sent to the governor’s desk, but if it manages to do so then reverse mortgage counseling sessions would be permitted “by synchronous real-time video conference or by telephone” on a permanent basis, according to the text of the proposed bill.
“There is currently a bill up for consideration which will extend the expiration date of the telephonic/video counseling,” NRMLA President Steve Irwin told RMD last week. “NRMLA, in coordination with our Board Member George Downey, has been advocating, on behalf of our Massachusetts members and the seniors they serve, for the successful passage of this bill. Once we get the extension in place, we are hopeful for a successful passage of a bill that would permanently allow for consumer choice in their delivery of HECM counseling.”