Reverse Mortgage Drawbacks

photo by www.aag.com

US News and World Report quoted me in 6 Drawbacks of Reverse Mortgages. It opens,

For some seniors, reverse mortgages represent a financial lifeline. They are a way to tap into home equity and pay the bills when meager savings won’t do the job. Others view this financial product with suspicion and point to stories of seniors losing their homes because of the fine print in the paperwork.

Amy Ford, senior director of home equity initiatives and social accountability for the National Council on Aging, says regulatory changes were made in recent years to eliminate many of the horror stories associated with reverse mortgages gone wrong. Home equity conversion mortgages – as reverse mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration are known – now incorporate many consumer protections. These help seniors ensure they can afford the loan and are aware of its potential consequences.

“It’s a magic credit line,” says Jane Bryant Quinn, AARP Bulletin personal finance expert, when asked why people would want a reverse mortgage. “It increases every year at the same rate as the interest you pay.” She recommends that seniors consider taking out a HECM line of credit and then borrowing against it sparingly. That way, retirees have protection against inflation and a source of income in the event of a down market.

Despite their appealing benefits, some financial experts urge caution. “I wouldn’t say there is no place for reverse mortgages,” says Ian Atkins, financial analyst for Fit Small Business. “But that doesn’t make a reverse mortgage a good option for everyone.”

Here are six drawbacks to reverse mortgage products.

1. Not every reverse mortgage has the protections of a HECM. While HECMs are the dominant player in the reverfederally insured

consumer proptection

se mortgage market, seniors could end up with a different product. Atkins says single purpose reverse mortgages are backed by a state or non-profit to allow seniors to tap home equity for a specific purpose, such as making home repairs or paying taxes. There are also proprietary reverse mortgages, sometimes called jumbo reverse mortgages, available to those who want a loan that exceeds the HECM limits.

These proprietary reverse mortgages make up a small portion of the market, but come with the most risk. They aren’t federally insured and don’t have the same consumer protections as a HECM.

A reverse mortgage can be a lifesaver for people with lots of home equity, but not much else.

“Another common issue with [proprietary] reverse mortgages is cross-selling,” Atkins says. “Even though it may not be legal, some companies will want to push investments, annuities, life insurance, home improvements and any other number of products on their borrowers.”

2. Other people in the house may lose their home if you move. HECMs are structured in such a way that once a borrower passes away or moves out, the balance on the loan becomes due. In the past, some reverse mortgages were taken out in one person’s name and the non-borrowing spouse’s name was removed from the title. When the borrowing spouse died or moved to a nursing home, the remaining husband or wife often needed to sell the house to pay off the loan.

“There are now some protections for those who were removed from titles,” Ford says. However, the protections extended to non-borrowing spouses do not apply to others who may be living in the house.

A disabled child, roommate or other relative could wind up without a place to live if you take out a reverse mortgage, can no longer remain in the home and don’t have cash to pay off the balance. “If it’s a tenant, you might not care,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and author at REFinBlog.com. “But if it’s your nephew, you may care.”

3. Your kids might be forced to sell the family home. If you’re hoping to pass your home on to your children, a reverse mortgage can make that difficult. Unless they have cash available to pay off the loan, families may find they have no choice but to sell once you’re gone.

That isn’t necessarily a reason to rule out a reverse mortgage, but Ford encourages parents to discuss their plans with family members. Everyone with a stake in the home – either emotional or financial – should understand what happens to the property once the borrower can no longer live there.

4. The mortgage balance might be due early if you have trouble paying your property taxes, insurance or homeowners association fees. Reiss says the marketing for some reverse mortgages can make seniors feel like the product is a cure-all for money problems. “There’s this promise that reverse mortgages will take care of your finances,” he says. “What they don’t mention is that your mortgage doesn’t cover your property taxes.”

If a borrower fails to pay taxes, maintain insurance or keep current with homeowners association dues, the lender can step in. Ford says many companies will try to work with a borrower to address the situation. However, repeated missed payments could result in the loan being revoked.

Financial counseling requirements for HECMs are designed to prevent these scenarios. Quinn says some companies will take additional precautions if warranted. “If the lender thinks there’s a risk you’ll run out of cash, it will set aside part of the loan for future taxes and insurance,” she says.

5. Fees can be high. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes reverse mortgages are often more expensive than other home loans. “Don’t just assume that because it’s marketed to seniors without a lot of money, that it is the most cost-efficient way of solving your [financial] problem,” Reiss says. Depending on your needs, a traditional line of credit or other loan product may be a cheaper option.

Dorms for Grownups

The Bridge quoted me in Why Dorms for Grownups Are a New Way of Life. It opens,

If you think applying to Stanford or MIT is a long shot, consider the odds of landing a spot in a Brooklyn co-living residence. Common, the company now operating six co-living facilities in the borough, recently received more than 15,000 applications for about 300 available rooms in three of the cities it serves: New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Why the demand? Co-living, essentially the residential version of the co-working trend, offers dorm-like, amenity-filled living that’s particularly attractive to millennials. The apartments come pre-stocked with furniture, appliances, fast WiFi, and lots of prospective friends.

John Bogil, 24, has shared a giant living room, kitchen, basement, and backyard with nine other people since moving into a Crown Heights facility called Common Albany a year ago. Although it sounds crowded, Bogil enjoys the company. “It’s awesome. I’ve made friends for life,” Bogil said. Common, launched in 2015, is Manhattan-based but has found fertile ground in Brooklyn. The growing portfolio in the borough includes the newly built Common Baltic in Boerum Hill, which offers co-living spaces as well as traditional apartments. The rent varies by neighborhood, with spaces in Crown Heights starting at $1,475 and Boerum Hill spots going for $2,143 and up.

Tenants have their own private bedrooms, many with private baths, but share the living room and kitchen as well as amenity spaces including lounges, fitness rooms, roof decks, dining rooms and work spaces. Convenience is a major selling point: the suites in a Common building come fully furnished with beds, dressers, couches, tables and chairs, a TV, towels and sheets, and a weekly cleaning service. Many of the issues that traditional roommates wind up fighting about have been taken off the table, like Real World with less drama.

Common was launched by Brad Hargreaves, who earlier had co-founded General Assembly, now a global educational company with campuses in 15 cities. Like many entrepreneurs, Hargreaves was looking to solve a problem. When the Yale grad first moved to New York City, he looked for an available room in an apartment on Craigslist and found the process cumbersome. “Common offers an alternative to this,” he said. “We make living with roommates better, more convenient, and more efficient.”

With young people increasingly crowding certain urban areas, the idea of a starter apartment is changing. While rents in Brooklyn have eased lately, thanks in part to new construction, the median rent is a daunting $2,785. With rents like those, some 76% of people 21 to 34 years old say they’ve made compromises to find a place to live, including living with roommates, according to the NHP Foundation, a group advocating affordable housing.

“Co-living has proven to be more than a passing trend,” said Hargreaves. “The response to opening our first home in Brooklyn was so strong that we were able to rapidly expand in the borough as well as into San Francisco and Washington, D.C. We now have nine homes on two coasts and are actively looking at new homes and new cities.” Common chooses its spots carefully, aiming to balance affordability and urban amenities. “We look to open in neighborhoods where there’s access to public transit and great local retail for our members to explore and enjoy,” said Hargreaves.

Common has the financial fuel to grow much more. The company has raised more than $23 million in two rounds of financing from 15 investors. The budding co-living industry now has multiple competitors as well, including WeLive, HubHaus, Node, and Krash. In Long Island City, a co-living company called Ollie plans to operate what it calls the largest co-living facility in North America, occupying 13 of the 42 floors in a new skyscraper.

While much of the allure of co-living is practical, many residents appreciate having the company, which in a cosmopolitan place like Brooklyn creates diverse collections of roommates. “I really appreciate the exposure to different peoples, ideas and cultures,” said Bogil. “I’ve learned so much about Australian politics and South African sports, for example, which might sound like useless info on the surface, but it helps me to learn about the world in a way that I never would normally. It makes the world feel smaller.” More than 70% of Common members are on 12-month leases but most stay longer than a year.

While typical co-living residents are in their 20s, the format could work for older adults as well, once the format goes mainstream. “There is growing interest in more communal types of living environments of the type offered by Common,” said David Reiss, an attorney and professor of real estate at Brooklyn Law School. “Co-living appeals to different people and our membership is diverse,” Hargreaves said. “We have young professionals, married couples, those moving to New York City for their first job, those moving from abroad, and ranging in their early 20s into their 30s and 40s.”

Alternative Living Arrangements

photo by Nabokov

Realtor.com quoted me in Can You Live in a Storage Unit or Van? How Legal These ‘Homes’ Really Are. It opens,

Yes, we know: Finding affordable housing can be tough. Tougher than tough. And that has led people to push the boundaries of what “home” is—living in vans, boxes, and a slew of other stopgap solutions. Call them creative, call them desperate. But can you call them legal?

Well, that all depends on the specifics. Check out this list of alternative living arrangements people have tried to see what leg you can stand on if the cops show up at your door.

Can you live in a storage unit?

At face value, it would seem like this one could work, especially for the types of storage units that are more freestanding as opposed to those housed in multifloor buildings. And, more than a few homeless people have tried it. But, owing to ordinances and a lack of amenities, this one is considered a straight no-go.

“Most of the time, building codes are there for your protection, and storage units aren’t built for human habitation: There won’t be two means of egress, plumbing, or electricity, and ventilation may be an issue,” says attorney Robert Pellegrini, whose law firm, PK Boston, assists its clients with residential zoning and permitting. There’s also no kitchen, bathroom, or windows.

Bottom line: It’s illegal and possibly dangerous.

Can you live in a van?

A house on wheels? Yes, living in your car or van has become a bit of a thing in pricey-but-young areas like Silicon Valley. But doing so requires some fancy maneuvering.

“There are certainly modifications that you’d want to make to a typical van. But if you don’t run up against vagrancy regulations, there are plenty of Wal-Mart parking lots around for you to call home,” says Pellegrini. “I’d suggest a safe deposit box and better-than-average auto security, but this is definitely doable—just ask all the baby boomers driving around the country in their RVs.”

The trick is to find venues that don’t consider van living illegal.

“Many jurisdictions do not allow people to sleep in public, and this has sometimes been interpreted to include sleeping in a vehicle,” says David Reiss, academic program director for Brooklyn Law School’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

For example, in Beaverton, OR, you can’t park a vehicular residence in a commercial lot overnight, but in Boise, ID, you can as long as you have permission from the owner.

To check the status of where you are, do an internet search for “public sleeping + [your current location]” and see what comes up, or look at this report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (there is a list of places where it’s OK to sleep in public starting on Page 165).

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Can you live in a box?

Could you build a wooden box in the living room of a friend’s apartment—like in the recent case of an illustrator in San Francisco, CA, who did just that? It became a national story when the city’s chief housing inspector got wind of the box abode and put up a fuss.

“In the San Francisco case, it doesn’t seem that this artist’s box violated local laws,” says Reiss. “Safety investigators are going to be less interested in how people choose to live within their own legal apartments than in how landlords might choose to split up an apartment to jam more and more people in it.”

In other words, if you put one more roommate in your apartment in a wooden box, OK. But if you were to put 10 of those boxes in an apartment and try to rent them out? Well, safety investigators might balk.

Still, it’s not completely unlikely someone might try that.

“Now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to offset the skyrocketing costs of living,” says Pellegrini. “I predict that people’s resourcefulness and practicality will stretch the definition of ‘home’ in order to make ends meet.”

Affordable Enough for NYC?

 

Real Affordability for All has released a report, Real Affordable Communities: Mayor Bill De Blasio and the Future of New York City. The report opens,

Across the five boroughs, the affordability crisis is growing every day. Today, low- and moderate-income New Yorkers continue to be priced out of their neighborhoods. The incomes of countless New Yorkers are not increasing while rents keep rising. The growing gap between lower incomes and higher rents is making New York City increasingly unaffordable.

Indeed, a recent study released by StreetEasy, The High Burden of Low Wages: How Renting Affordably in NYC is Impossible on Minimum Wage, found that a New Yorker earning $15 an hour could afford just one neighborhood: Throgs Neck in the Bronx.

“The extent to which rent growth has outpaced income growth in New York City means low-wage workers face three options: find several roommates to lower their personal rent burden, take on more than one job, or move out of New York City,” the study finds.

According to a close analysis of the most recent Census data, Bloomberg’s housing efforts generated a shortage of more than 400,000 affordable units for low-income New Yorkers. Low-income here is defined as a household earning less than 50% of Area Median Income (AMI). For a household of four, that means an approximate annual income of less than $42,000. (In 2012 New York City area median income was $83,600 for a family of four; the 2015 New York City area median income for a family of four is $86,300).

Overall, utilizing the 2012 census data, more than 700,000 low-income New Yorkers were left behind by Bloomberg’s housing plan. To tackle the affordability crisis, Mayor de Blasio has proposed preserving or creating 200,000 units of affordable housing. He wants to achieve that goal through mandatory inclusionary zoning and dense new residential development in various neighborhoods.

To succeed, de Blasio will need to avoid repeating the mistakes of Bloomberg’s housing agenda, and ensure that real affordable housing is created for the huge number of low-income New Yorkers who were not served by the previous administration and still struggle to survive. (1-2)

The Real Affordability for All advocates that “Low-income neighborhoods like East New York and the South Bronx will be empowered to offer a ‘density bonus’ to developers in exchange for real affordable housing below 50 % of AMI and for career-oriented union construction jobs for local residents at new development sites.” (7)

The report provides an example pro forma for one building to demonstrate that this plan is do-able. The report does not, however, indicate where the De Blasio Administration would find the $15 million in additional subsidies it would take for this one building to be built according to the Real Affordability for All guidelines.

At this point, the plan is more of a wish list than a serious proposal, but it does make clear that there is a deep need for deep housing subsidies among low- and moderate-income households.

Airbn-Beffudled

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MainStreet quoted me in Is Airbnb Making It Impossible For You To Rent That Dream Apartment?. It opens,

The accusation is blunt: Airbnb, say some, is sucking up apartment units that otherwise would be available to renters. In San Francisco, that claim is spoken so loudly – by so many politicians – a city agency just filed a report on it.

Similar claims are heard in Santa Monica, Calif., in Manhattan and some Brooklyn neighborhoods, a few areas in Seattle and also a sliver of Boston and adjacent Cambridge. True? False? Is that Airbnb host putting vacationers up in what should be your prime Greenwich Village flat?

Some think such accusations are just distracting from the main issue at hand: housing inventory shortages.

“It’s a diversion,” says Richard Green, the Lusk Chair in Real Estate at the University of Southern California. “Politicians are not dealing with what they should be dealing with to address housing unavailability so they are singling out Airbnb.” His nuanced point is that in most markets the number of Airbnb units is trivial and so whatever impact it has on apartment availability is minimal.

The San Francisco government report does not disagree: “the Budget and Legislative Analyst estimates that between 925 and 1,960 units citywide have been removed from the housing market from just Airbnb listings. At between 0.4 and 0.8%, this number of units is a small percentage of the 244,012 housing units that comprised the rental market in 2013.”

Read the San Francisco report. It said that under 1% of apartments have been removed from rental channels due to Airbnb. How important is that? What does it mean?

What is unique about San Francisco – also Manhattan and a few other places – is that apartment vacancy rates are fiercely low. In a recent survey, it stood at 4.1% in San Francisco and that means this is the type of town where would-be renters get in line early whenever a decent unit goes up for rent. Add back in those Airbnb units and, yes, that might be a happy day for some tenants. But not many.

The other unique feature: San Francisco, Manhattan and a very few other places attract large tourist populations, especially Millennials, and that has been a sweet spot for sharing economy rentals. Take tight supply, add in high hotel prices and a flood of tourists and there is the recipe for cries about any apartment that seems to be lost to the longterm tenant market.

In a lot of markets – from Phoenix to Houston – vacancy rates are already high, tourist numbers are low and nobody really thinks Airbnb is having any impact on local rentals.

But in some cities it just may be. Harry Campbell, TheRideShareGuy.com, said of Airbnb: it is “having a huge impact in coastal communities [of Los Angeles] like Venice/Santa Monica where mid level chain hotels can run upwards of $300-$400 a night. It just doesn’t make much sense for landlords to rent their apartments out traditionally when the profits are so much higher using Airbnb.” (Santa Monica, in mid May, enacted legislation banning short-term rentals such as Airbnb. Nobody knows how it will be enforced or if it will withstand legal challenges.)

At least one Portland, Ore. Airbnb host emailed Mainstreet to admit that two apartment units that had been rented to regular tenants are no longer. Explained that host: “From the point of view of a former landlord, the Airbnb experience is far superior. Airbnb guests are, on the whole, responsible, considerate and never late with rent since this is collected in advance by Airbnb.”

Either way, however, the calculus is not one-sided, not even in those premium markets like San Francisco. Green added: “You could also say that Airbnb is increasing the stock of affordable housing units by letting some keep their apartments by occasionally renting them out. It’s entirely possible Airbnb produces as many units as it loses.”

In that regard, listen to Kip (last name withheld) — a self-described 60+ woman living alone in Beverly Hills in a two bedroom apartment. A few times a month, said Kip, she rents it out through Airbnb. “That helps me with the cost of living,” she said. She stressed she would never take in a roommate but is happy with having guests a few nights a month. “It’s helped me boost my flagging income,” she said.

Christopher Nulty, an Airbnb spokesperson, had fighting words in response to the San Francisco report in particular.

“This comes from the same people who want to ban new housing in the Mission [a San Francisco neighborhood], ban home sharing and make San Francisco more expensive for middle class families,” he said. “Home sharing is an economic lifeline for thousands of San Franciscans who depend on the extra income to stay in their homes.”

So, who’s telling the truth?

“When evaluating claims about Airbnb, it is important to keep in mind whose ox is being gored,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. His point: In some cases, maybe Airbnb brings some harm. In other cases, it does good. Matters just aren’t simple or black and white.