After retirement, reverse mortgage pro goes from LO to customer

Jim Cullen, formerly of University Bank, recently retired from the reverse mortgage industry and has transitioned from originator to borrower

After first entering the housing business to sell real estate, Jim Cullen transitioned into the mortgage industry in 1997. It would be a few more years before he made the jump into the reverse lending space, but once he did, he found a business that he connected with until his retirement this year.

After most recently serving at University Bank from his home in Wisconsin, Cullen is on the cusp of a new transition — from reverse mortgage originator to reverse mortgage customer, having secured a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) primarily to have a standby line of credit.

In an interview with HousingWire’s Reverse Mortgage Daily, Cullen discusses moving into the next phase of his life and what it means for him to become a reverse mortgage customer after nearly 20 years on the other side of the proverbial “desk.”

Chris Clow/RMD: What do you think helped you to stay in the reverse mortgage business for two decades?

Jim Cullen: Having worked this as long as I have and staying at it that long, you personally have to believe in the program and be 100% behind it. People can smell a “rat.” They know when somebody is just out there to make a buck, and doesn’t really care about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. So that’s always been a big thing.

And so, for myself, now that I am officially a retiree and once I get everything settled, I will be taking a HECM. Even with the lower principal limits, I’m fortunate that I don’t have a mortgage to pay off. But I wanted to take a HECM, set it up as a line of credit, and utilize that to pay property taxes and insurance. So, that’d be one less thing I have to budget for.

Now, if you put that out there, though, I already have somebody that’s probably going to be doing that for me. So, I don’t want to get inundated with junk mail and robocalls from every lender out there.

Clow: I think that signals to a lot of people that you’re a true believer.

Cullen: To do it as long as I have and as long as a lot of other veterans have, I don’t think it’s something you can bluff your way through or fake. You genuinely have to be 100% committed to the program.

Clow: What does your family think of you setting up a HECM line of credit? I’m sure you spoke with your trusted advisers, right?

Cullen: My key trusted adviser, the boss, she’s all for it. As far as the rest, we have four adult children. Again, they’re all doing as well or better. They have no interest in our house. We’ve had it since 1983, it’s 100-some odd years old, it’s a modest home and nothing that they’re going to be fighting over.

We’re not on a lake, or have a pristine mountain view or anything like that. We’re in good old Green Bay. But that’s one thing too. … Over the years, you’re always warned about adult children and that they’re going to think that a borrower is spending their inheritance and all that negative stuff.

Luckily, and one of the things I feel very good about probably 98% of the time, they’ve always been very supportive of mom or dad or grandma and grandpa. Their concern is what they need to do to make their lives better. If there’s anything left at the end, fine and dandy. But most of the time, they’re not going to hold them back or tell them they shouldn’t be doing this. That’s been one really positive thing I’ve seen over the years.

Clow: What are you most keeping in mind as you transition from a reverse mortgage professional to a reverse mortgage customer?

Cullen: Obviously, I know the program inside and out, so I know what to look for. And I’ve got good people I’ve worked with that had this already pretty well mapped out. But the biggest thing is just getting through the process, and getting a line of credit set up. I’m not going to beat anybody up about fees, because I have done all that. It wouldn’t be very right of me to ask for a change to that origination fee, or for them to give me a margin of point five or some goofy stuff like that.

I’ll play by the rules, but like I said, I think it’s a valuable tool. And in our case, it’s one that’ll fit in nicely with our overall financial plan. It’ll take care of one component — house taxes and insurance — and take that off the plate so we don’t have to worry about it. It’s all done.

Clow: A lot of people in the business read RMD on a regular basis. If you had an opportunity to tell the industry something, what would you like to say?

Cullen: Hang in there. Maybe that sounds hypocritical because I’m bugging out, but if you’re in it, hang in there. We’ve been hearing for as long as I can remember that the industry is going to explode, that seniors have trillions of dollars of of unused home equity. Right now, I think we’re kind of in a deep valley. But like everything, things are cyclical.

So, I would say, fight the good fight and don’t give it up. Because in the long term, the program is too good to give up on. I know right now that the skies are a little gray, a little cloudy, but things will turn around. It’ll happen.

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