MA reverse mortgage counseling issues inch closer to a fix

A bill allowing for remote phone or video counseling is now attached to a larger budget bill, increasing the likelihood of passage, but it’s not there yet

Longstanding issues that have plagued the reverse mortgage counseling business in Massachusetts could soon have a resolution via a bill moving through the legislative process.

If passed, the bill would permanently allow reverse mortgage counselors to conduct their sessions remotely using either telephone or video conferencing services. Reverse mortgage professionals in Massachusetts have noted in the past the need for such allowances, especially given a shortage of qualified counselors across the state.

The latest measure

As the only state in the nation to require in-person reverse mortgage counseling services, the restriction effectively but briefly halted reverse mortgage business within Massachusetts after business restrictions and lockdown orders were imposed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since that time, temporary relief has been put in place to allow remote counseling services, and a number of extensions to the deadline have been granted. The most recent extension is set to expire on March 31.

However, due to the efforts of state legislators and reverse mortgage professionals — as well as organizations like the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association (MMBA) and the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association (NRMLA) — legislative proposals addressing the counseling issue are being attached to a larger budget bill that is expected to pass and be signed into law by Gov. Maura Healey (D).

“The House also proposes in the spending bill to make permanent the authorizations for remote notarization services, remote reverse mortgage counseling, and remote shareholder and board of directors meetings for non-profits,” according to reporting by Orange Blue Press.

George Downey, the founder of Harbor Mortgage Solutions in Braintree, has been instrumental in pursuit of the resolution and previously outlined some of the dynamics at play with getting a final resolution over the finish line.

“We’ve got new legislators in there, so the education process has to resume,” Downey said in January. “We’ve got to confer with the MMBA and their lobbyists to determine who the strategic people are.”

State Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D) introduced a bill that could offer a permanent fix via telephonic or video counseling, Downey said, which is now attached to a larger piece of legislation — making it easier to move forward.

Legislative status

As of March 10, the status of the H.58 bill that includes the reverse mortgage counseling provision is that it has been “passed to be engrossed.” This means that the state Senate has agreed to a version with additional amendments, and it must now be sent to be “engrossed” by the State House.

If the current version is passed in the House, then a new vote to enact the bill will clear the way to the governor’s desk for a final signature.

If additional amendments are added by either chamber, however, the engrossment process must start again before the governor can sign it into law.

If passed, it would be the culmination of years’ worth of work by Downey, his business partner, Brett Kirkpatrick, and organizations like MMBA and NRMLA. However, should additional complications arise, Downey is ready to face them.

“Will it survive that cut or die on the vine? I don’t know,” Downey said in January.

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