Written by Patricia Whitlock, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

The latest conversation among reverse originators concerns the news about policy change: Financial Assessment, non-borrowing spouse rules, new PLF tables, lower upfront MIPs and so on. What we sometimes forget is that to a potential borrower, the whole reverse mortgage idea is new—they really don’t need to know that MIPs have gone down or that principal limits have gone up. A borrower needs to know about the loan he will get today, not the loan he would have gotten last month.

While it is essential for originators to keep up on the latest changes to the HECM program, it is vitally important to know our client. Does she already know the basics of a reverse? What problem can we help her solve? What are her goals? And when we have determined this, how can we best present information in a way that she sees the solution as plainly as we do?

The objective of a reverse mortgage LO is to be a problem solver. Listen, ask questions and identify the problem. A reverse mortgage may not just be different from a HELOC, it may be a better solution for your client. I came to reverse origination from a career in education, and I know that any curriculum can and must be adapted to the audience. It is probably best not to overwhelm any reverse borrower with too many numbers at first. I like to describe the program and answer general or conceptual questions before I open the folder with the proposal.

Every loan originator loves when a trusted advisor brings a potential borrower into their office. We are introduced as “the person with the solution.” Sign here, no need to question the specifics. If that trusted advisor knows a thing or two about reverses (and we should be educating these referral sources above all others), most of our work is done for us.

Things can get more complicated when a referral comes from a colleague in the forward mortgage world. It’s great in a way—here is another trusted advisor—but they may be looking at a completely different solution to the same set of problems. Sometimes it is a borrower who has been trying to qualify for a standard HELOC, or it may be someone having trouble making her current mortgage payments. The forward originator and the client have already been talking about income, assets, rates, and now we need to start over and forget all that. There is a different set of questions to ask when we shift into reverse.

Often the forward originator who brings a client to us to talk about a reverse already has a relationship with that client, a relationship that may or may not be the same as the one we want to establish. An established relationship is great, but we need to learn what it is. Is it Trusted advisor? Old friend? I-can-get-you-the-best-deal? If your approach is not the same as the referrer, mistrust may sour your connection.

I have found that the best approach may be for the referring partner to make the introduction in order to place us in the role of trusted advisor or expert, and then take a step back (literally or figuratively). It may now be easier to address the “But he told me…” comparisons or complaints. It is certainly better than to risk possible contradictions in information.

Every originator learns the importance of being thoroughly versed in our product. Sometimes we are put on the spot with a question we can’t answer (“What exactly is the rate today?”) or doubly embarrassed by giving someone the wrong answer and having to go back and correct it. (“Sorry, I thought you could, but you can’t take all the money at closing to buy the condo in Vegas.”) Every reverse mortgage borrower needs to speak with an originator who really knows his stuff.

Therefore, the first requirement for establishing a good connection with a reverse mortgage borrower is to be positioned as “the expert.” It does not hurt to tell someone during your first meeting how long you have been originating reverses, that you are a CRMP and that last year you helped 20 or 40 people find the right reverse program for them.

Be likable. Find common ground without sounding forced, fake or ingratiating. This may be easier for more mature (read: older) loan originators, but not too difficult for younger LOs. You do not need to connect because of your gray hair, but perhaps you admire his garden, or notice his photo from his Army days. Be the person he can rely on to solve his problems and demonstrate reliability by answering calls and emails promptly.

Meeting in person is always preferable. I usually give my clients the option of meeting in their home or in my office. When the office is not practical, an attorney or title company that you know nearby might be amenable to your using an office space. Even the conference room at the public library can work (remember to reserve it in advance). I find that a nice sweater and slacks can be less intimidating than your black pinstripe suit, unless your client is a professional as well.

Here is a tip for those cases when the application cannot be signed in person: Print out the package and number every page by hand. Add “sign here” stickers. Make yourself a copy or make note on your PDF copy how the pages are numbered. This makes it easy to go over the application page by page over the phone, or to answer specific questions on a disclosure or application item.

The older I get, the more my perception of “older” and “younger” changes. It is important to remember that a reverse mortgage borrower may or may not have had formal education, but they have certainly been around. They have the wisdom that comes from experience; they just don’t know what you know about reverse mortgages.

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