Professor Chris Mayer has a lesson for homeowners: Reverse mortgages, which let older Americans tap their home equity without selling or moving, aren't as risky as some say. In an online video, he brushes aside "common misconceptions," including fears about losing your home.
Mayer, a real estate professor at Columbia Business School, isn't an impartial observer. He's chief executive officer of a company that sells reverse mortgages. He's trying to rehabilitate one of the U.S.'s most-reviled financial products—part of a broader push that relies in part on academics with interests in the mortgage industry.
The host of Mayer's talk was the American College of Financial Services, a school that trains financial planners and insurance agents. Until recently, it had a task force funded by reverse mortgage companies, which each contribute $40,000 a year. They include Mayer's firm, Longbridge Financial, and Quicken Loans' One Reverse Mortgage.
To show the need for reverse mortgages, industry websites cite a Boston College retirement research center run by Alicia Munnell, a professor and former assistant secretary of the Treasury Department in the Clinton administration. She once invested $150,000 in Mayer's company, though she's since sold her stake.
The six-year-old task force cites key successes. Mainstream publications have run articles quoting positive research on the loans, and financial planners are growing more comfortable recommending them. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry's self-regulatory agency, in 2014 withdrew its warning that reverse mortgages should generally be used as "a last resort."
Mayer and Munnell said they've fully disclosed, in research, appearances, and interviews, their financial interest in the lender. Columbia and Boston College both said they approved the arrangements.
The professors and industry officials say these government-backed mortgages deserve a second look, partly because of a series of federal reforms in recent years designed to protect taxpayers and consumers.
"We are looking to help people responsibly incorporate home equity in their retirement planning," Mayer said of Longbridge.