Michigan seniors learn they CAN lose their home on a reverse mortgage

linda pryczynski

Muskegon senior Linda Pryczynski: “I’m 73 years old and I don’t know where I’d live.” (Photo by Ted Roelofs)

Sifting through a stack of letters on her kitchen table from a reverse mortgage company, Linda Pryczynski recalled how the nightmare began.

“My husband saw it on one of those TV commercials that’s on all the time,” the Muskegon resident said. “He thought it would be a good idea.”

In 2007, her husband Warren took out a reverse mortgage on their modest duplex to pay off the remainder of an old debt of $100,000, a loan for a truck and for household expenses.

MORE COVERAGE: Reverse mortgage 101. Know the risks

Her husband died in 2016 at age 94, leaving behind tax and mortgage debt Pryczynski said she couldn’t possibly pay off. Facing foreclosure, Pryczynski filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and fears the prospect she could lose her home.

That’s because she was not named in the reverse mortgage – a home loan available, and marketed to, older Americans – leaving her no protection at the time of his death.

“I’m very upset about this. I’m scared. I’m 73 years old and I don’t know where I’d live.”

She’s hardly alone. Advocates for Michigan seniors like Pryczynski say that reverse mortgage foreclosures are on the rise – even as traditional mortgage foreclosures are falling – reflecting a disturbing national trend.

“I’ve been seeing a surge in these cases,” said Joe McGuire, a lawyer for Michigan Legal Services, a Detroit-based nonprofit that fights to keep seniors threatened by foreclosure in their homes.

“A lot of times seniors don’t understand what they are getting into.”

Karen Merrill Tjapkes, an attorney with Grand Rapids-based Legal Aid of Western Michigan trying to help keep Pryczynski in her home, says: “There’s a lot of salesmanship that goes on with reverse mortgages. From where I sit, I don’t think it’s very honest.

Legal aid attorney Karen Merrill Tjapkes: “There’s a lot of salesmanship that goes on with reverse mortgages. From where I sit, I don’t think it’s very honest.” (Courtesy photo)

“Seniors are told that they are never going to have to make a payment. And that sounds very good. And then several years down the road, you have a problem.”

Indeed, over the past decade or so a parade of older celebrities including former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson and actors Robert Wagner, James Garner and lately, Tom Selleck, have pitched the merits of a reverse mortgage to those 62 and older in TV ads.

“I know what you're thinking,” Selleck says in one ad for California-based American Advisors Group (AAG). “I thought what you thought. … Just like you, I thought that reverse mortgages had to have some kind of catch. Just a way for the banks to get your house, right?”

Later, he offers these soothing words: “A reverse mortgage from AAG will give you the retirement stability you’re looking for.”

The ad does not mention that AAG – the nation’s largest reverse mortgage lender – was fined $400,000 in 2016 by a federal watchdog agency for misleading advertising about reverse mortgages.

The problem, say advocates, is that many senior homeowners don’t understand the fine print in a reverse mortgage. Some wrongly assume the lender will pay the taxes and insurance.

But fall behind on those payments or fail to maintain the home, and the lender can foreclose. The surviving spouse is also subject to foreclosure if they were left off the mortgage document.

Federal analysis shows these foreclosures are on the rise.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – which insures reverse mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration – says nearly 90,000 reverse mortgages in the U.S. were at least 12 months behind in paying taxes and insurance last year and could be expected to result in “involuntary termination.” That is twice the number of the previous year.

According to the report, nearly 1-in-5 reverse mortgage loans taken out in the U.S. from 2009 to June 2016 are expected to go into default because of unpaid taxes or insurance. The report did not include analysis by state, so it’s unclear how many Michigan reverse mortgages are in jeopardy.

Projections of an increase of reverse mortgage foreclosures come as the overall rate of mortgage foreclosure in Michigan – mostly on traditional mortgages – has fallen. In Detroit, the number of tax foreclosures fell in 2017 to the lowest level since the Great Recession’s housing market collapse.

In August, HUD announced changes to the troubled reverse mortgage program that took effect Oct. 2, including new limits on how much equity a senior could draw on  under a reverse mortgage. Under the change, an average borrower would be able to borrow 58 percent of the value of their home, down from 64 percent. That’s intended to trim losses to the program that total $11.7 billion since 2009.

Launched in 1989, the idea behind government-backed reverse mortgages is simple: Allow cash-strapped seniors 62 and older to “age in place’ in their homes by giving them cash from the equity they’ve earned on their home. That can be in the form of a line of credit, loan or lump-sum payment.

The money comes due when the borrower dies, sells or moves out. Under terms of a reverse mortgage, heirs or the surviving spouse not named can either repay the loan or buy the house at 95 percent of its appraised value. Otherwise it goes into foreclosure.

For many of approximately one million homeowners who used a reverse mortgage, it’s worked well, giving them money for needed repairs or funds to meet daily living expenses. But for other seniors, a HUD spokesman conceded, it’s not brought the retirement stability often promised in the advertising.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan told Bridge that “significant changes” to the program in recent years are aimed at stemming the tide of foreclosures.

In 2013, President Obama signed a law requiring lenders to conduct financial assessments to assure that borrowers have enough money to pay annual tax and insurance costs and help ensure borrowers set aside funds to pay those costs.

In 2015, HUD gave lenders the option of conveying the mortgage to HUD if a surviving spouse is threatened with foreclosure, giving that spouse an opportunity to remain in the home.

But Sullivan said some lenders have played a risky game with seniors, by encouraging couples to include only the name of the oldest homeowner on the mortgage document as a way to qualify for more money, often without spelling out the perils.

“It’s a bit like gaming the program. It puts the non-borrowing spouse at extreme risk,” he said.

In December, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – which had warned for years about deceptive advertising for reverse mortgages – fined three companies a combined $790,000 for misleading advertising, including the claim by AAG that “you cannot lose your home.”

HUD itself likely accelerated the pace of foreclosures when it mandated in 2011 that lenders devise a repayment plan for seniors with reverse mortgages who were behind on tax and insurance payments – or foreclose if borrowers could not do that. Lenders for years had been paying those bills on behalf of mortgage holders as a means of protecting their investments.

“We told them to stop doing that,” Sullivan said.

The National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association contends that foreclosure reports on reverse mortgages exaggerate evictions tied to foreclosure.

It cited a communication from HUD regarding the issue: “We use the term ‘foreclosure’ when title is transferred through a foreclosure proceeding—either judicial or non-judicial. It does not always have an associated eviction. The most usual cause for default is death of the last surviving borrower so there is usually no eviction involved.”

‘We were in dire straits’

In 2003, Detroit resident Katherine Butcher and her husband, John, turned to a reverse mortgage to fund badly needed repairs on their home.

“We were in dire straits,” Katherine recalled. “The roof was leaking and the damage that was coming was too much. We wouldn’t have had any ceilings left. We had to put buckets under it.”

She recalled they took out about $16,000, with the mortgage loan in the name of her husband, then 67. At age 61, Katherine Butcher did not then meet the minimum eligibility age of 62.

Around the time they closed, Butcher recalled, a broker for the lender told her: “Nobody can take your house from you.”

Her husband died in 2014.

Now 74, she’s been fighting to stay in her small two-story east side home ever since. She finally turned to McGuire of Michigan Legal Services.

According to McGuire, the lender foreclosed on her home not long after her husband died, and in December it was purchased by federal loan giant Fannie Mae.

McGuire said he’s pressing Fannie Mae in Detroit’s 36th District Court to allow Butcher to remain in her home, perhaps by buying it back for its approximate market value of $12,000. McGuire said he hoped to get some of that funding through United Community Housing Coalition, a Detroit nonprofit which helped keep nearly 2,000 Detroit homes from being lost to foreclosure in 2015.

McGuire said he’s encountered numerous cases like Butcher’s, where a surviving spouse said they had no idea they could be forced from their home if the spouse on the mortgage document died.

“When person after person tells you that, that they thought they could stay in the home, it tells you you might be onto something,” McGuire said.

McGuire questioned what Fannie Mae – which was created by Congress – would gain if Butcher is forced from her home.

“A lot of time, these houses get stripped. As soon as they are vacant, people come in who make money from stripping wiring from a house, toilet fixtures, water heaters. Sometimes they end up being used as a place for drugs.

“It seems to be a waste of time for the federal government to evict these people.”

Bridge’s calls to the Fannie Mae attorney listed on the case – from Farmington Hills-based Trott Law – were not returned. Trott Law is one of the state’s largest foreclosure firms and was led for decades by current U.S. Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham. He sold his stake in the firm in 2014.

In 2007, Detroit resident Irvin Burt took out a reverse mortgage on his east side home along with his mother-in-law. Burt said they used most of the $22,000 from the mortgage to put on a new roof and gutters and repair a leaky sewer in the back yard.

But Burt said they fell behind on insurance payments for the house and the mortgage holder took over those payments, then demanded it be paid back.

Burt said he couldn’t afford the $5,000 the lender asked for – and the house soon foreclosed, then sold in 2016 to Fannie Mae for $14,000.

“My pockets weren’t hardly that deep,” said Burt, 72, who moved in December with his wife to a rental house a few miles away. He got $1,500 as part of his eviction agreement to find another place.

Burt said he drove by his old home not long ago.

“It’s still there. But scrappers took everything out of it – doors, windows. It’s really been stripped. I thought, ‘OK, you should have left me in there. I would have kept it up.’”

Trott Law represented Fannie Mae in the eviction.

Not long after her husband died, Pryczynski, the Muskegon resident, said she received a letter from the mortgage lender. She had 35 days to submit a payment plan for the loan or make arrangements to buy back the house.

Pryczynski said she had no idea his death could mean she could lose her home.

“I don’t remember them saying anything about that,” she said.

Karen Tjapkes, her attorney, said the original loan on their duplex has ballooned with interest and other fees, from $148,000 to $216,000. Pryczynski also owes roughly $11,000 in back taxes, much of which were paid by the lender. Tjapkes is trying to negotiate an agreement for her client to stay in the home if she pays off the taxes.

“I can’t possibly pay $216,000,” Pryczynski said.

“I supposed I could move to my daughter’s place in West Virginia. But that’s not my home. This is my home. It would tear me apart if I had to leave.”

Trott Law, again representing the lender, did not respond to calls about Pryczynski’s case as well.

In the meantime, Pryczynski said she stews when she hears another sales pitch for a reverse mortgage.

“Every time I see those ads on TV, it makes my blood boil.”

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Kevin Grand
Tue, 10/10/2017 - 11:08am

At the risk of asking an obvious question (again), exactly what business is it of the federal government to get involved with something that it didn't have the authority to involve itself in the first place?

People think that the CRA and the resulting housing market collapse that directly resulted from it, was the federal government's first major disaster in handling things that it had no business being involved in.

It wasn't.

The federal government giving money to people who had no expectation of ever paying it back (or even giving others the green light to do the same), has been going on for longer than people realize.

People might be surprised to learn that the federal government essentially burned large piles of money back in the 1970' s via mismanagement & corruption with another housing scandal (and also involving HUD).


It was also a major contributor in the large number of abandoned homes/vacant lots that you have today.

What was that about doing the same thing over again and again, while expecting different results?

Darlene McLamb
Tue, 10/10/2017 - 1:34pm

I feel for anybody who got a reverse Mortage. Worse advertisement Selleck or any famous rich person could do. I was a drug user when I got mine now I try to get a gov Grant to help me but with 0 success. I give up and our gov could care less

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 1:44pm

It appears that the loan originator mislead them. However there was a counseling that should of been done on the phone letting her know what could happen if her husband passed away. It also appears that even though she was 62 and could of qualified for the reverse. They decided to leave her out of the reverse. More than likely to get more cash out.

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 2:37pm

Years ago, pre 1970, the home buying process was pretty straightforward. You went to a local bank, applied to them for a mortgage, then made all the payments to them. Your mortgage was never sold, never bundled, reverse-mortgage was a nonexistent word, and after 30 years of payments, the house was yours free and clear. Then everything went south. Mortgages bundled and sold so that the borrower often never knew who held his mortgage. Banks were making money on borrowers misery. Slick pitchmen pushed reverse mortgages to un-suspecting homeowners.

Life would be much better for all if the rules reverted to pre 1970. Get rid of the bottom feeding MBA's who spend all day trying to figure how to pick your pocket. Of course this will never happen because politicians have found a new source of money in the big banks.

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 2:51pm

You're a groaner. Quit your bitchin and come up with some fresh new ideas.

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 4:40pm

First, thank you Bridge for highlighting and educating people on Reverse Mortgages. Second, there is a burden of responsibility that must be assessed to the homeowners. In the Pryczynski case, they were fine for 9 years with taxes and insurance until the husband died. The problem was that the wife was not on the Reverse Mortgage Contract.

Bottom line is that Reverse Mortgages are one tool in the bucket for financial resources for homeowners as are other loans or re-financed mortgages. A homeowner must do due diligence in reviewing or to seek out non-profit advice or other legal advice available to them.

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 6:05am

A reverse mortgage is a great product, granted it is not for everyone. If you are not financially responsible prior more than likely you won't be after. You must always pay your own taxes and insurance, it's right in the loan agreement. It seems to many people are desperate and do not read what they are signing, and want sympathy after they cannot keep their end of the agreement. Lastly, these attorneys who take on a case potentially telling these seniors they can help, all the while milking them for money knowing that factually you CANNOT get out if paying back lender tax advances ought to be ashamed of themselves. These attorneys should suggest that the advance be paid back.

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 8:29pm

It’s is common since to know that if you don’t pay your taxes on your home that you could lose your home. Also if a client has a reverse mortgage and falls behind on there taxes by law the company has to show the FHA that they tried everything they could to help the client get up to date. Then if that doesn’t work then the reverse mortgage is called due.

You forgot to mention that for the past 2-3 years every client has to go to reverse mortgage counseling before taking an application. This counseling is there to make sure the client is competent and can make decisions on there own. The counseling is from a 3rd party that doesn’t benefit from the client doing a reverse mortgage and they can ask the counselor anything that want want to to make sure we are telling them the correct info.

They also do a financial assessment and credit check to make sure the clients can afford the taxes and insurance on there home. If they can’t then they go into a LESA program.

Plus the reverse mortgage can take up to 2 months to close so the client has ample time to research the program before they close and then even after the fact there is a 3 day recession period if they want to cancel.

So the moral of this comment is that there are plenty of check marks to make sure the client understands the reverse mortgage and know what they are signing up for.

There are honesty mortgage officers out there that truly care about the clients needs and know that this will help them accomplish there financial goals.

John C
Tue, 10/10/2017 - 9:01pm

Fake news!!! Get updated information and re-write your article.

John Cusack
Wed, 10/11/2017 - 1:15am

In review. WTF. This is the first time this has happened to me. WOW!!! I am laughing my buttocks off lying on the floor.
John Cusack
Chicago, 11.30.1947

Jacob dajewelwer II
Wed, 10/11/2017 - 3:04am

Let me say this, when they did the reverse mortgage what happened to the savings??? 94 yrs old?? I'm amazed he didn't do it sooner. That agent made a killing on that forward to Reverse. Best of all that man live the rest of his life worry free, good for him I' m happy.

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 6:06am

FYI, there's such a thing protecting the spouse not on the loan called a non borrowing spouse.

Terri Arnold
Wed, 10/11/2017 - 12:29pm

I don't understand why when the non borrowing spouse doesn't add their name to the lender when they turn 62. Boggles my mind. I mean they can do that, no?

Eric Olsen
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 4:19pm

This article could be considered a disservice and simply irresponsible. And adds to the misinformation about reverse mortgages. Articles should not be written unless researched. Every example is from a reverse mortgage that originated decade or longer ago to draw conclusions on reverse mortgage today. Which problems have been addressed and corrected as explained in some of the comments here. A reverse mortgage can be a godsend to a senior who otherwise would lose their home. Many more seniors lose their homes because of misinformation about reverse mortgages fostered by articles like this. Eric Olsen HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm