In 1991, Alison Calamia was new to reverse mortgages. In a rush to spread the word about her business, she booked an appearance on a New Orleans morning news show. The interviewer peppered her with questions that she couldn’t answer. She left feeling like “an absolute wreck.”
She went to her office, where the secretary had news.
“There were thousands of calls,” Alison recalls. “All I had to say was ‘reverse mortgage.’ It didn’t matter if I had the right comments or answers. People had been waiting for it, and it took off from there. It was life-changing for me and, I think, for the state.”
In those days, Alison was Louisiana’s only reverse mortgage lender. Today, she continues to fill a need as one of only 169 CRMPs in the nation. With experience in nearly every aspect of the field, she wraps her clients in knowledge about their rights and responsibilities as they use their reverse mortgages to achieve their dreams and step with confidence into the future.
Before entering the reverse mortgage field, Alison worked in various banking roles for 17 years. She was in commercial lending when she opened an account for a New York woman who was bringing reverse mortgages to Louisiana and looking to hire an associate. They became friends, and the woman said she thought Alison would be a good fit, even though she had no idea what a reverse mortgage was. The woman said she would rather train someone who’d never done reverse loans than untrain someone steeped in forward mortgage thinking.
Over the course of a weekend, the woman taught Alison all she knew about reverse mortgages. Then she returned to New York.
“She left me with the HUD manual, a servicing guide and an empty office,” says Alison. “This was truly a God thing. I prayed about it and said, ‘Give me direction.’”
After that unnerving TV interview, Alison’s customers taught her by their questions, which forced her to find answers.
“Slowly but surely, I knew how to do it,” she says. In time, she was so surefooted that she dabbled in the servicing side and then ran a servicing department for a local mortgage company. That venture ended after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 damaged so many properties that the servicer sold its portfolio.
Until then, Alison had declined opportunities to become a national account executive, but now, her son was in school, so she was able to hit the road. She called a friend who hired her right away. She slipped easily into the role because her previous experience in servicing had coincided with the shift to live pricing, so she was already familiar with the secondary market and the knowledge necessary for that role.
She loved her seven or so years on the wholesale side, first with Generation Mortgage and then with AAG. But by 2017, she wanted to spend time with her first grandchild. Plus, she missed the one-on-one with people who find solutions in reverse mortgages. She put “feet on the street,” she says, by joining America’s Mortgage Resource, where she had built business and friendship ties.
From her first meeting with a client, she knew she was back home.
“I loved the kitchen table conversations with the seniors themselves,” Alison says. “I love working with them. I love their stories. Seniors teach you about history, because they love to share what they’ve found here in life. They have great perspective. You can help them, and they can help you. There’s a great reward in knowing that the product you have for them can be lifechanging.”
She recalls one fun-loving couple in the early 1990s. They had “a very big house, a very expensive house” and regular cash flow, but they also had a dream. They wanted to fly to Europe on the Concorde supersonic jet and sail back to the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth 2. With their reverse mortgage, they did exactly that, even sending Alison a postcard from England.
A reverse mortgage also gave Alison the power to keep a promise made to her own grandmother, when she pledged never to put her in a nursing home. Her grandmother was 100 years old when Alison provided the reverse mortgage that paid for round-the-clock caregivers.
“She died at 102, and the reverse mortgage gave her two more years in her house,” says Alison. “It’s what she wanted, and that’s what I promised her.”
Serving as a national account executive completed Alison’s education in the reverse mortgage spectrum—except for underwriting loans, which she’s happy to leave to “very gifted people.” With her range of experience, she can fully educate her clients on all aspects of their reverse mortgages, including the internal processes of the investor and the expectations and responsibilities on the servicing side.
With that comprehensive guidance, her clients learn to leverage the power of the tool they’ve acquired.
“I try to give them as much knowledge as I have, without overwhelming them, so they know how to live their best lives with a reverse mortgage,” Alison notes. “It’s very important to educate, educate, educate.”
She served for three years on NRMLA’s Independent Certification Committee, helping create the requirements, guidelines and examination for the Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional (CRMP) designation. When she returned to the origination side, it became important to her to earn the credential.
“Once people realize what it means and the rigorous testing involved, it puts you a step above everybody else,” she says. “Having that credential is a testament to my years in the reverse mortgage field. I’ve never been one for letters behind my name, but this is a badge of honor.”
The outlook that customers bring to the table has changed over the years. At first, they were driven by need and forced to overcome stigmas about taking on new mortgages. Today’s younger Baby Boomers see a tool they can use in financial planning, well before any emergencies arise. They also don’t feel a need to leave their homes to their children.
“Today’s clients have a broader understanding of reverse mortgages, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Alison says. “There are still people who say they never knew how reverse mortgages work. The myths are still out there, but it’s better, by all means, than it was back in the early days.”
Alison is a native Louisianan whose son and daughter are grown. Her two young grandchildren, who live nearby, “are pretty doggone awesome.”
“We might go to the lake,” she says. “We might go to New Orleans City Park. We’re sort of an athletic family, so we do everything outside. They’re fun kids. I’m blessed to have them living close by, so I can see them often.”
Pre-pandemic, Alison and her husband, Carl, loved to travel and enjoy the outdoors through bicycling and other pursuits. They went to Paris for the Tour de France every other year, joining the crowds lining the Champs-Élysées for the arrival of the cyclists. Next time, she hopes to find a spot on a mountain road and witness the Tour leaders and peloton racing past. “I absolutely want to go and experience it with all the crazy locals on a mountaintop,” she says.
Alison and Carl actively support Trinity Community Center, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that provides afterschool programs, tutoring and mentoring for underserved children. She was inspired to get involved by meeting some of the children through a friend whose father started the center.
As for how her career has made a difference, Alison points to the sighs of relief she hears from her clients. She cites the reverse mortgage she recently closed for a woman who was making nominal money but now “gets a supplement for the rest of her life.”
“She can do normal things, and eat normal things and eat healthier, and afford things she otherwise couldn’t,” Alison says. “It gives my clients peace of mind and removes the financial stress. That, to me, is one of the greatest feelings. I love knowing that this has helped them in such a great way.”