The reverse mortgage marketplace has been through a rollercoaster in the past decade, as the number of loans grew by more than 100% from the mid-200s to the peak in 2009, only to fall by almost 50% in the years since then. While everything from the declining availability of home equity to more restrictive reverse mortgage rules have been blamed for the decline, it seems that in reality the primary factor has simply been the fact that reverse mortgages are more popular when “traditional” mortgage options are unavailable (e.g., in the depths of the financial crisis), and become less appealing as credit conditions improve.
Accordingly, this suggests that reverse mortgages may soon become even less popular as new rules just taking effect further reduce their availability, compounded further by a financial assessment that will begin to apply in early 2014, and the coincidental lapse of the FHA’s “temporarily increased” maximum property value from $625,500 down to only $417,000 at the end of the year after 2014. The end result – reverse mortgages are facing their own “tightening credit conditions” during a time when traditional lending options have become more and more relaxed – which may mean clients and their planners are less interested than ever in considering a reverse mortgage, even while reverse mortgage strategies like the standby line-of-credit or refinancing a forward mortgage into a reverse remain as valid as ever.
For those who are interested in a prospective reverse mortgage, though, the time may be now to act, as the tighter limits taking effect in 2014 means that clients may never again be able to borrow as much on a reverse mortgage as they can through the end of December. Even for those below the FHA property limits and who won’t otherwise be affected by the changes taking effect next year, the simple fact that reverse mortgage borrowing limits decline by approximately 20% for every 100 basis point increase in interest rates means that there may be no better time than right now to get a reverse mortgage line of credit in place. In the long run, though, it remains unclear whether the reverse mortgage industry will be able to weather the storm it faces as reverse mortgages become relatively less appealing compared to available alternatives, or whether reverse mortgages will simply remain used in limited situations as a loan of last resort (to the extent still possible), or simply for older clients who advanced age still allows for more useful higher borrowing limits.