Coronavirus Impacts on Reverse Mortgage Operations, Meeting Clients

The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has led many who do business in the reverse mortgage sector to consider additional layers of caution for their operations in order to try and minimize the virus’ spread. For a long time, a loan originator trekking out to a prospective borrower’s home and sitting at the kitchen table of an elderly person was the norm for the industry, and a vast number of loan officers still have a preference to operate that way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised the American public that elderly people are particularly susceptible to the symptoms of the virus, and are at higher risk of getting very sick from the illness that can result should they contract it.

Because of the virus’ more severe effects on older Americans, reverse mortgage loan officers shared what their working experiences have been like recently in reaction to the public concern and additional caution generated by COVID-19.

Pre-existing precautions

For some experienced loan officers, the current issues surrounding the spread of COVID-19 haven’t yet had an inordinate impact on the way they do business because health concerns already tend to affect seniors more severely, so some in the reverse mortgage business already feel prepared to handle any necessary precautions already being advised. This is according to John Luddy, SVP of reverse mortgage lending at Norcom Mortgage in Avon, Ct.

“[Coronavirus] certainly hasn’t [affected me] yet,” Luddy tells RMD. “The regular flu virus takes the lives of many seniors every year. And it’s, I believe, the most underreported cause of death [among seniors].”

The severe affect that the regular flu can have on seniors already causes Luddy to take proper precautions when preparing to meet with senior clients, but he also attributes a generally cautious posture to his own upbringing.

“I’m cautious and careful. I would never work if I don’t feel good. I would certainly never put my clients at risk if I didn’t feel like I was at 100%,” he says. “So, I’ve had no interruption in clients wanting to meet me, or with me feeling comfortable meeting them. I’m not pushing the panic button.”

Like anyone, Luddy is of course aware of the impact that fear about the virus is having on other businesses, since he has children who work in both the hotel and insurance industries. The hotel his daughter works at has seen a major reduction in conference business, while his son’s insurance company is experimenting with more robust work-from-home policies.

“So, I’m aware of the world around me,” he says. “I’ve always been cautious maybe because of my upbringing. I’m a constant hand-washer anyway. So as far as I’m concerned, remain calm.”

For some, business as usual

In his own local area, National Director of Reverse Lending at Thrive Mortgage Loren Riddick has not seen much of any change in the approach of business extending from COVID-19 concerns.

“Perhaps it is due to our rather unique, isolated region in East Tennessee, but I haven’t seen any concerns here at all,” Riddick tells RMD. “As for nationally, I don’t see many changes there, either.”

Seniors already have a predisposition to isolate themselves if they’re not feeling well just because of how they were taught, Luddy says.

“I think it’s instinctive in our older population not to invite you into their home if they’re not feeling good, because of an abundant concern for you,” Luddy says. “Not because of them, but because they have respect for others. I’m dealing with a generation of people that have respect for others and the world around them. So, they would never think to allow you to come into their home if they’re sick. So, it hasn’t been any worse than it always was.”

Heavily-affected areas

The two parts of the country that have seen the biggest impact from the virus thus far are Washington state and New York state, respectively. The presence of COVID-19 in the United States began in Washington state, and Governor Jay Inslee has been forming an increasingly aggressive response to contain the outbreak including restrictions on public gatherings in specific counties, according to the Seattle Times.

A majority of the 38 deaths attributed to the virus in the U.S. come from Washington state, specifically centered on a Seattle-area nursing home. At last count, Washington has 366 confirmed cases of the virus.

One reverse mortgage originator who has recognized the impact that the outbreak is having on the state is Brandi Braley, loan originator with Neighborhood Mortgage in Bellingham, Wash. Bellingham is situated roughly 100 miles north of Seattle where the most concentrated coronavirus activity is located, but it’s still close enough to cause concern in the community which has bled over into Braley’s operations.

“This is a crazy time,” she tells RMD in an email. “Our office has all been informed that if you are sick or someone in your family is sick, you must stay home. I have been calling my clients before appointments to make sure that they are not sick and to see if they still want me to come over, or if they would like to postpone. So far no one has asked to postpone. But, if I hear that my clients have been sick or sound sick, I will postpone the meeting with them.”

Braley’s local community recently had its first confirmed case of the virus, which has naturally caused anxiety in the area leading to a pile-up of in-person event cancellations.

“A number of our local networking groups have been sending out memos saying that they are canceling events, and our local performing arts theater has started canceling their performances. I feel we all need to limit our contact and be mindful of those around us,” she says. “We just had our first confirmed case of the virus here in Whatcom County, so I feel that it is becoming real for everyone.”

In terms of her clients, Braley hasn’t noticed an abundance of new caution being observed, so she’s doing her part to follow guidance from health authorities to keep both she and her clients as safe as possible.

“It is so ingrained in us to shake hands or hug, and I notice people are still doing it,” she says. “I personally am trying to remember to do an elbow bump or just jazz hands when I see people instead of shaking hands. Some people seem a little put out by it, but I just tell them I am following the rules.”

Additional lender response

In the state of New York, there are at last count over 200 documented cases of COVID-19 infection according to the New York Times, with the majority of that figure originating in Westchester County. Nearby New Jersey does not have nearly as many confirmed cases as New York, though Governor Philip Murphy announced that the state’s total number of cases has risen to 23, including one death late last week.

Mahwah, N.J.-based lender Nationwide Equities recently advised its offices across the country that it is coordinating its own response based on guidance from CDC and state and local health agencies, and are taking steps to disinfect its local office spaces at the corporate headquarters while encouraging satellite offices to do the same.

“Our goal is to provide uninterrupted service to our customers while instilling safety and soundness practices,” writes Paul Lamparillo, CEO of Nationwide Equities in a letter to employees shared with RMD. “Our corporate staff has been instructed to refrain from shaking hands at this time and we will have a supply of hand sanitizer for those that have difficulty sourcing.”

Nationwide’s instructions and actions echo similar precautions being taken at other lenders, including Reverse Mortgage Funding (RMF) and Longbridge Financial.

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