I’ve had more than a usual share of “the same reason for becoming homeless” this summer. There are three women effected, but I’ll only refer to two. The topic for this Cyberlog is Reverse Mortgages. If the reader pays attention to TV, s/he will have seen the ads to which I will refer. Two highly respected (once young and handsome) now senior actors have been “pushing” the “advantages” of a reverse mortgage for those 62+ who have financial problems and wish to remain in their homes forever without paying a monthly mortgage payment. I’m going to let Marcia and Penny tell you their stories:

“…divorced for several years and became aware that the lump sum settlement of $40,000 was being beaten down to ‘How will I be able to keep up this house after next year.’ I guess I was stupid; I thought I’d be relatively comfortable even though I knew I’d have to cut down on lots of expenses….One night I sat up all night figuring just how long I could stay in my house. I added up all of the costs and became so frightened that I ate an

entire box of candy bars without even noticing….I just don’t do things like that!

My mortgage payment was constantly being raised by my lender and my property taxes -- state, county, and town – were being compared to homes around me that were in super condition. You know; lots of inside updating of bathrooms and kitchens, exterior painting, new roofs and gutters, landscaping, removing big dead bushes, new air conditioning and heating systems, and all kinds of lawn furniture. Even fancy birdbaths were laughing at my squirrel-damaged Kmart bird feeders. And everything was surrounding my plain and un-repaired Cape Cod. I was ashamed, but at least I had a house! I didn’t mind the 1960 kitchen and bathroom. I didn’t mind the peeling wallpaper. I did mind the need for a new roof and toilet. The leaking water spigots were changing the usually cheap water bills. I didn’t water the plants, either, and the yard looked like I didn’t care about my house at all.

There was an ad in the newspaper for a seminar on Reverse Mortgages. I figured I had nothing to lose by attending since it seemed to be the answer to my problems. What would happen to me if I couldn’t make my mortgage payments anymore? I was petrified by the time of the seminar. I listened to the speech and watched the slide show of people who took out the reverse mortgage on vacation, some in new motor homes or sailboats. I was just 62 and thought how lucky I was….At the end of the “show,” some people asked questions, and none seemed to be hard to answer by the bank which sponsored the seminar. Now I wonder why no one asked the questions that I now find so important! But I saw no reason why I shouldn’t make an appointment and take the reverse mortgage and have all of that extra money every month. Hell; I could buy a fancy birdbath! The TV ads sold me. How could those terrific old major actors tell lies? Certainly they of all people could be trusted! Hah!

I was in the lender’s office for hours. I was sort of pushed along by a secretary who supposedly ‘helped me,’ but I managed to fill out a zillion papers. It didn’t take much I time to be told that I qualified. I had a small mortgage left and felt so happy that I could live in my house forever….I’m sorry now that I didn’t have a magnifying glass with me; the tiny print mentioned lots that I didn’t catch. It certainly wasn’t TOLD to me!....I was shocked when it came to paying the costs and fees to just GET the reverse mortgage…after I signed. It amounted to almost a year of my monthly payments. But then I considered that I would skimp for a year and then be safe….

Safe and sound in my old house, I lived quietly and inexpensively for a little over a year and then the ball bounced and broke my windows instead of my being able to take that wonderful vacation that ‘everyone takes after taking out a reverse mortgage.’ My property taxes were raised and then the water and sewage bills, and then the sidewalks needed repairs, my roof had to be completely changed, and the heating system broke. The leaks in the bathroom and kitchen faucets became streams. The toilet needed a new seal and the plumber’s costs were a shock since he found I needed other expensive repairs. All of my saved monthly payments were not enough to pay for the repairs on the house…and I wasn’t ready for the next surprise: the lender’s requirement that I update the house even more…at my expense. If I didn’t, I’d lose the house to them.

I begged for a bank loan first, and then refused, had to try what someone told me was a loanshark deal. You guessed it: the interest was so high that I couldn’t keep up and the lender told me the house would be foreclosed. I went to all kinds of advisors. There wasn’t any way out of the mess. I’d like to have a long talk with [X] (those actors) about the scheme to take your house when you can’t pay for the things that they don’t tell you in their TV ads. They assure you that it’s safe and government insured. What a crock!

I sold all of my good furniture and lifetime belongings and moved into a cheap room in a part of the city where I’d never even go outside at night. And then I went to the library one day and used the internet to see what I could possibly do to live more happily. I found Marjorie Bard by accident. Her book, Shadow Women: Homeless Women’s Survival Stories, probably saved my life. I looked up everything under her name on Google and realized that I could live in what she called an alternative lifestyle: an RV. It would be better than the horrible neighborhood room and all I had to do was find a cheap used RV and go anywhere, sleeping in the RV, and eating in its kitchen. I didn’t even have a real kitchen in that awful room….I saved as much as I could from the small Social Security check that I get from my ex who died two years ago and found a nice little RV. I still make payments on it for about 2 years to a nice old man who understood my problems. He hadn’t used the RV since his wife died, so he was glad to let me have it for a reasonable price. I send him Thank You cards often….

I discovered that the several relatively local Starbucks are my happiest survival afternoons. I can go from one to another and not look like I have no other place to go. But I do have other places: the main library, which I never even went to before, and every Sunday I choose a church for their snacks after services, and if there is a wedding or other event that day, I find my way into the area where all of the good food is….I found a Senior Center which has a lady who gives free piano lessons, and I’ve met a lot of nice women who don’t ask too many questions and invite me to bridge games and other workshops. I don’t care what denomination the religion is. I just want the companionship….I’m going to travel next summer. To someplace where it is cool. So, I get that vacation, but I lost my house.”

(Marcia, 2006, in Maryland)

Penny has a slightly different story, but it’s all about losing her home to a Reverse Mortgage:

“I was a really good salesperson for a company that was associated with Cendant. I’m just another sad story about being laid off and not being able to get another job with my skills. My age at the time, almost 60, didn’t help….

I did the grocery store clerk for a while, and then Wal*Mart, and then tried waitressing. I just wasn’t cut out to do any job like those. I considered myself a professional. Maybe that’s being a snob, but I just couldn’t perform well with the physical aspects of standing for long hours. That’s not really being a snob, but I did want to use my talents selling, and not one job was offered even though I was better than the 20something person who was hired. They had NO experience and had to learn the business that I had been doing efficiently for 18 years….

I had a nice house and I had to consider selling it. It didn’t pass inspection. I had termites and mold. With no other choice, I listened to the TV ads for Reverse Mortgages. I was used to the termites and mold…since I didn’t even know that I’d had them for years….If [x] and [x] (actors) said so positively that reverse mortgages were the way to go to stay in your home forever, I believed them. I say ‘shame on them today.’ Do they need money so badly that they do TV ads that lie? Especially about the reverse mortgage paying off one’s credit cards! No such thing!

I qualified for the wonderful-sounding plan, and I even expected to go on the fun trips that they kept talking about with the money I would save. Boy, is that an exaggeration! Maybe for rich folk who have lots of money in the bank, but not for the average person who has just enough to buy food, clothing and necessities every year….I ate up my bank account and faced the rising taxes and requirements of the lender to fix my house to their standards. The saved monthly mortgage payment didn’t cover anything but that sum. It wasn’t enough; it certainly didn’t pay for my mounting credit card debt. A couple of years ago, they got my house. I’ve never cried so much since my childhood experiences with the Lassie movies.

I lived near a small RV park, and sometimes chatted with a couple of women who shopped where I did. They liked the RV since they could travel around and sort of move with the weather. At first I couldn’t imagine living in such a small space, but I got used to visiting them and imagining myself in the RV. They had a tent thing outside of their RVs, and spent as much time outside as possible. It seemed like something I could try. I’d always wanted to travel, and this was my chance. I didn’t think it would be because of the lack of truth about the reverse mortgage. Ironic, huh?

I was able to buy a used RV from the family of a woman who died, and I’ve been in the RV for about a year now. I’m not saying I’d do this on purpose, because I want my house back, but I’m being a good sport and taking advantage of new adventures in living. I was so stable in my lifestyle, and now I feel almost free. I can turn on the engine and go somewhere and always find an RV park or boondock in some lovely spot for as long as I want until I get caught for ‘hanging around.’

I’m going to join a caravan next summer and head for Mexico with two other women in their RVs. I hate the lender and the actors and I’d never tell anyone to get a reverse mortgage, but I’m going to be OK. I guess! It’s going to be difficult to find a way to make extra money since I only get about $600 a month, but I’ve been thinking about the hobbies that I’ve had and how I can use them to make money. One of the women I chat with makes Indian style baskets and she goes to craft shows and does pretty well. I used to sew and I even wrote a syndicated column when I was young. Maybe I can find the theme I need to create a column again…for a magazine or newspaper.”

(Penny, 2006, in Delaware.)





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 Marjorie Bard