Laurie MacNaughton of Atlantic Coast Mortgage previously described for RMD how she first became aware of reverse mortgages, but the path she ultimately took to get into the business and become a respected professional within it is a little less straightforward. When discussing her journey to understanding — and ultimately adopting — this product on the professional side, MacNaughton’s journey is only similar to her peers because it is a varied one.
Reverse mortgage professionals know all too well that there is no single, direct path for someone to decide that this is a business they will pursue. The variance of the paths that people take is one of the hallmarks of RMD’s ongoing “Origins” series, and revisiting MacNaughton’s story as she told it in the latest episode of The RMD Podcast adds to the variety with which the professionals in this business approach an entrance into it.
Reverse mortgage recruitment, personal understanding
MacNaughton grew up in the Tucson, Ariz. area as the daughter of an aerospace engineer, and after spending time abroad and ultimately settling on the East Coast, she began her professional life as a chemistry teacher. Some clashes she would have with parents during what she calls the “helicopter parent era” led her to explore new career opportunities, and she became a technical writer for a law firm shortly thereafter.
While working for the law firm and in a couple of other freelance positions on the side, MacNaughton was contacted by someone who told her she might be a good fit for the reverse mortgage business.
“I knew nothing about reverse mortgages, so I turned the guy down,” she said. “’Thanks but no thanks.’ But one thing he said that captured my attention was, ‘this is a way to enable our aging homeowners to live in their home with independence and dignity.’ That really struck a very deep chord with me.”
That deep chord came from MacNaughton’s childhood bedroom, which for a time was shared with her grandmother who was advanced in age, and had some serious health issues. One of the regular interactions she often had with her grandmother cut to the core of the concept of home from a senior’s perspective, she says.
“Every single day of my life until she passed, I would hear her say, ‘when are you taking me home?’,” she explains. “And this is a question everyone who’s ever lived with an aging relative has heard 1,000 times: when are you taking me home? And as a tiny little person, I would just say, ‘Grandmother, this is your home. You live with us.’ And then it wasn’t until I turned teenager that I realized she was saying, ‘No. This is where I live, but this is not my home.’”
Digging in, then getting thrown into 2008’s deep end
Thinking back on her experiences with her grandmother after dismissing the recruiter’s attempt to get an interview with her, MacNaughton began to rectify her lack of understanding regarding reverse mortgages with the recruiter’s phrase about providing seniors with greater independence and dignity ringing in her ears.
“I was just struck so deeply,” she said. “After I got off the phone with this guy, I jumped right into the Congressional Record, I had [legal research platforms] LexisNexis and Westlaw available to me because I was working for a law firm, and so I just jumped right in and started.”
Having grown adept at using those legal research platforms while concurrently studying for a master’s degree in legal research, she found herself spending hours of her day voraciously poring over the reverse mortgage category’s interactions with the law.
“I spent hours and hours reading everything I could find in the historical record on reverse mortgages,” she said. “A few days later, I called the [recuriter] back and said that I think I would like to come in and have that interview [and] talk about reverse mortgages. So, that was my very odd entry into reverse mortgages.”
The recruitment conversations occurred around 2007, MacNaughton describes, so she was first onboarded in an official reverse mortgage position in 2008. Shortly after she began, the financial crisis of the late 2000s upended the proverbial table of the housing industry broadly, and reverse mortgages were not spared the wrath of the spiraling crisis.
“I think I first was onboarded in 2008, and then, of course the world went to hell in a handbasket,” she says. “I was at Wells Fargo at the time, and the first many loans I did were refinancing people who were in truly dire straits. They had been in these Wachovia ‘pick-a-pay’ loans, and they had hit their balloon. These people were losing their homes, they couldn’t afford to keep them with the adjusted payment.”
Wachovia’s “pick-a-pay” branded loans were adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) which allowed borrowers to make a range of monthly payments, but in the midst of the financial crisis were generating “proportionally more delinquencies and foreclosures than subprime mortgages,” according to 2009-era reporting from The Wall Street Journal. Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo in 2008.
“I’ll tell you, that was a tough way to cut your teeth, because I knew less than nothing about lending,” she says. “But, it didn’t keep me from writing loans, and it also showed me the absolute miracle power of a reverse mortgage. Of course, we didn’t have Financial Assessment back then. So, it was basically age and equity [that qualified you for] a reverse mortgage. So I did plenty of those in the first couple of years.”
Adapting to a new crisis
MacNaughton has stuck with the reverse mortgage business ever since, and moved on from Wells Fargo in 2011 to move to Southern Trust Mortgage. She ultimately joined Atlantic Coast Mortgage in 2017. She has become a frequent guest speaker at events courting reverse mortgage referral partners including financial planning seminars, elder law conferences, and elder care events and shares her own anecdotes and observations on reverselady.com.
Now, MacNaughton finds herself adapting to an entirely new change in the lives of seniors since the onset of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, since the illness that can result from infection with the virus disporportionately impacts older people and those with compromised immune systems. For a business which relied heavily on person-to-perosn contact, minimizing that in the early days proved difficult to the proliferation of new business. MacNaughton remained determined, however.
“It was not at all apparent in the early days of the pandemic that these people were going to be able to use DocuSign applications, or understand Zoom,” she said. “One of my bosses said to me many years ago, ‘you are the most determined woman I’ve ever met.’ So stubborn, determined. I’ve been kind of shameless, in roping in next door neighbors, community bankers, faith organizations who will make house calls and help moms set up a Zoom link. And these people were heroic.”
Read more about MacNaughton’s pandemic observations on RMD next week, or listen to the full discussion on the latest episode of The RMD Podcast now.