Christina Harmes, CRMP, is a reverse mortgage specialist and assistant national director at C2 Reverse, a division of C2 Financial Corporation, in San Diego. While in high school and college, Christina learned the real estate and mortgage business from working for her father Scott Harmes, CRMP, and has specialized in reverse mortgages for over six years. In May 2017, she became the youngest person, at age 30, to earn the Certified Reverse Mortgage Specialist designation. She is an avid surfer, participates every year at a local senior center dressed as Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) to help MC the annual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and she is a founding member of the National Aging in Place Council’s San Diego Chapter. Weekly Report sat down with Harmes to get her perspectives on current issues impacting the reverse mortgage business.
Weekly Report: How are you achieving success in today’s market? Has the conversation changed at all with your clients in terms of helping sell the product?
Christina Harmes: Today’s success for us has hinged on improving our process and making every interaction with clients as clear and simple as possible. They say if you can’t explain it to a five-year old, you don’t understand it well enough yourself. I think we have really taken every aspect of the client interaction to the simplest form while communicating all the information. Clients come to us very confused from trying to do their own research and maybe talking to too many loan officers who don’t understand reverse mortgages. The most satisfying thing to hear is ‘I finally feel like I understand my options now and how this thing works.’ People really want information and to form their own opinion. Giving them that opportunity has been a game changer for us. People are concerned they are making choices they can’t change and it’s very important to make sure they know they are in control.
WR: What is your favorite reverse mortgage story?
CH: My favorite reverse mortgage story so far involved 94-year old Mr. Smith (name changed), a client who was very independent and willful. Even at his age, Mr. Smith stood 6’3”. He had a couple of falls and his family wanted him to move into a care center, but he had other plans. Mr. Smith interviewed and hired his own live-in care person. Then with the help of his attorney, we were brought in to meet with the whole family, including a son that was a judge and a granddaughter who was a financial analyst, the care taker, estate attorney and, of course, the client himself. It was like sitting at Thanksgiving dinner at his large dining room table, every seat full. We explained everything about the reverse and how it could pay for the care he needed and how they could still protect other asset accounts should he need funds in the future. We answered everyone’s questions and by the end of the meeting Mr. Smith got everyone on board for the future he wanted for himself. He was staying in his home and the reverse provided thousands of dollars every month to pay for his care. His family was comforted knowing he was going to be well taken care of and happy. That was four years ago. Nine months ago, Mr. Smith passed in his sleep, in his own bed, in his long-time home. To me, this was the most beautiful part of what we do – helping people achieve a peaceful plan for the rest of their life on their terms.
WR: Do you have a follow-up system you use to reach out to customers who want to wait.
CH: I’m a big believer is systems and efficiency. We use Reverse Focus’ Client Relationship Manager (CRM) software to keep us on track with prospects. When a client tells me they want to wait until after a surgery in four months, we schedule a notification for the CRM to email them directly or email me to remind me to call. The fortune in reverse is in the follow up, so having a good system is key – even if it’s just an excel spreadsheet – which we do use for tracking other processes in our business.
WR: How are you approaching proprietary reverse mortgages?
CH: We are really in a great time and market for the proprietary reverse mortgages. I’ve found that the million dollar homeowners face the same dilemma as the HECM homeowners: paying a mortgage each month that is eating into their cash flow and other assets. I just spoke with a client last week who is very excited about doing his reverse. They have over $1.5 million in other liquid assets, but with a mortgage payment of $14,000 a month, they are paying $168,000 every year to their mortgage. That is killing their long-term cash flow projections.
WR: What is one (positive) take away for the coming year?
CH: The boomers are tech savvy and technology refinements make it simpler to use. We started doing more virtual meetings than ever which makes it is easy for the clients and makes our process a lot simpler since we do not have to drive to a client’s home three-plus times to pick up one more piece of documentation.