For many of today’s retirees, a home can seem like Fort Knox without the key. Escalating real-estate prices have caused many seniors’ homes to skyrocket in value. But unless they’re willing to sell, it may be an inaccessible gain during a time in their lives when extra income and liquid assets would be most welcome. There is a way to tap those profits–a reverse house loans. “Many seniors are sitting on home equity they never dreamed of,” says realty expert Tom Kelly, whose recent book, The New Reverse Mortgage Formula, is a guide to what a growing number of elderly homeowners see as a way to have their home and cash in on it, too.
A reverse house loans allows a homeowner to borrow against the equity in a home, but unlike a home-equity loan, the loan and interest do not have to be repaid until the home is sold. The loan might be in the form of a line of credit that can increase over time and be drawn on as needed, a lump sum payout, a fixed monthly check for as long as you live in the home, or a mix of options. There is minimal or no upfront cost, as closing and other fees can be wrapped into the loan. The reverse mortgages also pays off any existing mortgages, ending that monthly bite on income. Cleo Dunn, an 88-year-old widow in Leawood, Kan., says the $1,200 a month she receives from her reverse mortgages supplements her Social Security check. That helps her pay medical and other bills while remaining in the home she loves. “I have this most beautiful garden,” she says. “I have a life here I could not have anyplace else.”
Reverse mortgages have been around for years, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s that they began earning respectability after the Federal Housing Administration started insuring the mortgages for repayment to lenders. Even so, they’ve been a niche product; only about 40,000 were done last year. But an aging population is expected to begin tapping into home equity more aggressively. New loans have doubled since 2003. Interest rates on reverse mortgages are mostly about 5.3 percent now but can also be about 6.5 or 8.5 percent, depending on the type and size of the loan.
Bolstering demand are seniors who see the loans not as a lifeline but as a route to a more active life. Francisco and Joanne Santana-Montez of Antelope, Calif., 69 and 68, will use their reverse mortgages line of credit to finance a dream trip to Cancun, Mexico. “Our adviser told us we’re spending our kids’ inheritance, but our children are delighted,” says Joanne.
A prime consideration when getting a reverse house loans: age. The older you–and a spouse–are, the more cash you can get since the loan will presumably be shorter in duration. A 75-year-old with a fully paid-off $250,000 home in suburban Cleveland, for example, might receive about $917 a month. Or, as is more popular these days, the homeowner would qualify for a line of credit of about $140,000. A 70-year-old Clevelander would nail down less, about $791 a month or a $130,000 line of credit; an 80-year-old would draw more, a monthly check of about $1,099 or a $152,000 line of credit.
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