Originating: Why We Do What We Do

Written by Joe Morris, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

With all the new regulations, departing institutions, call centers, TV ads, lead generators and financial assessments, do we really remember why we originate reverse mortgages in the first place? Or are we just holding on to what we do while going through the motions? Are we merely trying to earn a living?

When Jeff Taylor, a true pioneer, was trying to lure me into the reverse mortgage business in 1991, the origination cap was $1,500. Regardless of the size of the loan, there was no premium, the SRP was maybe $400 and all reverses had to be underwritten by HUD (there was no DE at the time). Frankly, I didn’t think it was worth the time and effort.

I finally agreed to give it a shot and hired someone to head reverse production. Four months later, we closed our first loan for Ms. Mitchell. She was an 82-year-old African American woman who was confined to a wheelchair. The loan officer came back from the closing with bloodshot eyes and disheveled clothes. When I asked what happened, she said, “Joe, Ms. Mitchell cried the entire time, holding my hand. When it was over Ms. Mitchell said that she knew that I was an angel sent to help her. And then she said, ‘Is it OK if I buy that dress now?’”

I almost cried myself when I heard this story because I knew that we had changed Ms. Mitchell’s life for the better. Wow! What a glorious feeling! I was hooked. There was no turning back for me. I had finally found something that made me feel really good about myself down to my core. I felt like a hero or even a white knight sent to help these senior adults, some of whom are widows.

Now, when people ask me what I do, I tell them, “I change seniors’ lives for the better.” I tell them why I do what I do. Their eyes get big as I relate to them how these people’s lives are improved through reverse mortgages.

One of the greatest reverse originators I’ve ever been associated with told me that he wakes up every morning with an urgency to find the people who are in need of his services: “They are out there, Joe, and I need to find them before it’s too late.” This attitude struck me as both amazing and refreshing, and I think it should be the norm. What a paradigm shift from the way most of us operate, starting our day thinking we have to get out and sell reverse mortgages.

Over the years, we originators have been beguiled by the press, ripped by the regulators and scorned by some in Congress. But if you know why you do what you do, all that is just white noise in the background. Deep inside, you know that what you are doing is improving the lives of seniors.

For a while, when there was a lot of negative press about our industry, I heard from several loan officers who no longer felt like the good guy and were embarrassed by what we do. We must be determined to not let any negativity distract us from our motivation for being in this industry.

For instance, when NRMLA was recently battling negative press,

what did it do? It got testimony after testimony from seniors about how the reverse mortgage process helped them. This reframed the picture and put reverse mortgages back in a positive light.

Over the years, I have discovered that people do business with you because they respect the reasons you do what you do. I’ve always said that the first trustworthy person who cares for the senior will be the one to get the business. Seniors are savvy. They are able to discern who really cares about them versus someone who’s simply trying to make a sale. They can tell if you love what you do and have a passion for helping them.

One of the most revealing things I learned in managing a call center is that the more a loan officer got seniors to talk about themselves and their personal struggles, genuinely responding and showing concern, the more likely seniors would be to choose that person to help them with a reverse mortgage. Most salespeople feel they have to do the majority of the talking, when in fact the opposite is true! If you really want to make a positive difference in the lives of seniors, you have to understand why they are considering a reverse mortgage so that you can be sure it is the right fit for them.

But there has to be a balance to all this. I’ve seen people who were just out to make money and they didn’t last. I’ve seen originators who were out to help the world on every loan and they didn’t last either.

Additionally, it’s very important to surround yourself with people who have the reverse mortgage “bug,” who understand what a difference they are making in these seniors’ lives. It is such an added value to their position. That knowledge and experience of what happens to the senior after their reverse mortgage is closed turns their position from an ordinary job into an extraordinary ability to help change people’s lives. Your fellow workers need to know what your last closing did for that senior. It will make them feel so much better about themselves.

It’s critical that you keep in the forefront of your mind and heart why you do what you do. You should keep a picture nearby of some of the seniors you have helped, or post a list of the names above your desk. Better yet, post a written goal declaring how many seniors you aim to help this year. This will keep you grounded through the day should business and distractions close in on you.

I’d like to close by saying that at the end of my career, when I reflect on what I’ve accomplished, I know that I will get the most pleasure and gratification not from the positions I’ve held or from the money I’ve made, but from the many seniors I have helped achieve financial security. I’m sure it will be the same for you!

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