Why the reverse mortgage industry is friendlier for moms, says industry pro

Christina Harmes Hika tells RMD about how and why the reverse mortgage industry is a friendly one for young mothers like her

Mothers taking care of young children while also maintaining professional careers often have a number of demands on their time, and that can be particularly true in an era of largely remote work. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, working mothers make up nearly one-third — 32% — of the American labor force, and many working mothers often feel they need to limit their schedules to part-time work to accommodate their children’s caregiving needs.

But “part-time” and being a high-performing reverse mortgage professional do not always go together, as evidenced by people like Christina Harmes Hika of Amerifund Home Loans. In addition to being a visible member of the reverse mortgage industry, its trade association and its overarching discourse, she shared with RMD that the reverse mortgage industry feels particularly friendly for working moms if her experience has been any indication.

Emotional range and capacity

Harmes Hika is a high-performing reverse mortgage broker, and recently had served in a management role at another lender before making a recent move to her current company. While she loved the previous company and the people there, she also realized that the responsibilities of management and the certain types of client care that can come with that position had clashed a bit with ways in which her life changed since becoming a mother.

Christina Harmes Hika, a reverse mortgage loan originator.
Christina Harmes Hika

“I have a pretty big emotional range, but becoming a mother used up a lot of that capacity and I wasn’t prepared for it,” she tells RMD. “I’ve always had a large capacity to hold space for other people’s emotions. And in reverse, that makes a big difference, whether it’s a loan officer or a client worrying and freaking out. You’re able to hold that space through the death of a spouse or through a big fall, or broaching the topic of getting some in-home care.”

Such conversations can be emotionally charged, and early motherhood tested that capacity in ways that she didn’t quite anticipate, Harmes Hika explains.

“I actually ended up finding that I didn’t have the capacity to hold the space as much in early motherhood,” she says. “It’s coming back, but when I wasn’t getting enough sleep or when I was having breastfeeding troubles, it added up a lot.”

When a mother may need to excuse themselves to pump breastmilk during a business meeting, for instance, many women can feel like they’re on a proverbial timer, but some of the unique latitude of the reverse mortgage industry has helped her to avoid such feelings at times, she says.

“Luckily, as brokers and as reverse mortgage professionals, we can control that schedule a little better,” she explains.

Moving outside of a management role has also helped her to delegate tasks more effectively, she explains, which in turn helps give additional latitude to the emotional bandwidth she can have for other clients. Having that capability not only affects the proverbial “bedside manner” she can have with clients, but it can also affect the specific details of a loan, she says.

“To me, it’s really important that you make the connection with a client and listen to everything that’s going on in their lives, because it matters,” she says. “It might affect whether you think a reverse mortgage is a good idea to even do, and it might affect their strategy or structure. So, it’s not just about the personal connection. It’s actually about the structuring and the doing of the loan.”

Comparisons with the forward side

While Harmes Hika has not been active on the forward side of the mortgage business for some time, she naturally has a lot of professional acquaintances in the forward broker community and often talks with such situated professionals about how work is going. One thing she feels is very clear is that the reverse side is far more accommodating of her needs as a mother than the forward side appears to be.

“What I’ve found is that my work-life balance and flexibility are both much better than the average for loan officers,” she says. “Primarily because my clients are retired, and they expect this to be a financial transaction. A lot of the time, they’re not expecting me to work on Saturdays and Sundays or evenings, and they don’t really want to talk to me then either. They’re available on a Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. to do whatever we need to do.”

This is noticeably different from what she observes about her forward acquaintances’ schedules, since many of them feel they need to be available at all times on all days with pressures that simply don’t exist on the reverse side, she says.

“These forward loan officers feel like they need to be available 24/7, and it’s just constant pressure,” she says. “And when I was going into motherhood, I’d posted something online asking about how other parents make it all work. The advice that I got from the forward brokers, honestly, made me very sad.”

She received stories about forward brokers bringing their newborn babies into the office, and an inability to take the sufficient time necessary to recover from childbirth in the cases of mothers.

“It’s a lot on a body to recover from childbirth,” she says. “And they’re just not giving themselves the space to do that, and the space to have their children. One person that I talked to in the forward space said that at three weeks, her mom and her mother-in-law came and took over with the baby, and she’s been at work ever since. That’s a way to make it work, of course, but it just makes me so grateful to be in the reverse space where I don’t have those kinds of pressures where if I don’t answer my phone one time, I lose the client forever.”

What sets reverse apart for mothers

Christina Harmes Hika and her young child.

One of the things that could help with the flexibility the reverse business affords for mothers is that it is largely a referral-based business, Harmes Hika says.

“You have more loyal clients who have a connection with you specifically, so it’s not just a quote,” she explains. “But even on the forward side when you do that, clients are often just looking for the lowest rate. They’re not looking for an advisor that they’re going to have a relationship with as much, though some are.”

The less personal nature of forward mortgage business has played into the latitude that Harmes Hika largely feels she has being as active in the reverse space, she explains.

“To me, it seems that the reverse clients really are looking for more of a relationship,” she says. “And so, that ends up giving me more flexibility when I have things that come up in my life now with a child that I can’t avoid. If my nanny didn’t come on a particular day, for instance, rescheduling a meeting is no problem at all. Whereas I feel like when I did forward loans, a missing nanny may have lost me that client because I didn’t perform immediately for them.”

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