Clay Selland, CRMP, began his professional career as a certified public accountant with a national firm, which led to senior finance and strategy roles with Longs Drug Stores, Cost Plus World Market and several other startup retailers.
Looking to get out of the corporate world, he formed Signet Mortgage Corp., Danville, CA, in 2002. Four years later, Clay helped his aunt get a reverse mortgage, and he has been hooked ever since.
Clay begins almost every day with a three-plus mile hike to his “tree” in the Last Trampas Regional Wilderness before sunrise with his border collie, Rori. Clay and his wife, Jai, enjoy traveling all over in the “Skybox”—a decked-out sprinter van. He enjoys helping people and is on the board for the Financial Planning Association of the East Bay, leading pro-bono activities at local libraries and for underserved members of the community.
Reverse Mortgage magazine sat down with Clay to learn more about his reverse mortgage career and what has made him successful for these many years.
Reverse Mortgage: How did you get into the reverse mortgage business?
Clay Selland: I started Signet Mortgage in 2002 after a career as a CPA and in corporate finance. Then, shortly after that, when the loan limit became relevant in California, I did my first HECM reverse mortgage in 2006 for my aunt who lives nearby. That loan continues to be a blessing to this day. She’s 85 and lives in the same single-story home that we financed way back when. She gets her check every month and is a happy camper.
RM: That’s a long time to have a reverse mortgage. Has she refinanced?
CS: It’s a good example of the underlying strength of a reverse mortgage. Her property is located in Stockton, CA. In 2008, her home’s value plummeted as a result of the Great Recession. Her home is underwater, but she still gets that check every month exactly as the program was designed.
RM: Do you have a particular approach to selling reverse mortgages that has worked over the years, or is it continually evolving?
CS: I don’t like to sell. I would not be good at it. My professional background and my personality are far from being a salesperson. I studied accounting and finance in school and became a CPA and spent 15 years in corporate finance. My approach has always been to find ways to help people and clearly explain ideas and options. What I enjoy most is educating a client, financial advisers or family members about how a reverse mortgage can improve retirement plans. If it makes sense for all parties involved, we make it happen. If it’s not right for them, we have had the opportunity to share ideas and changed perceptions about the application of a reverse mortgage, and those clients have still become advocates.
RM: Has COVID impacted the types of borrowers you have traditionally worked with, or their reasons for wanting to get a reverse mortgage?
CS: Not that I’ve seen directly. I have had several clients retire earlier than they planned. The part that has changed is the willingness and preference for clients to meet over Zoom. I was initially hesitant to use Zoom. I enjoy the personal contact but discovered that I can have more frequent touches with clients utilizing Zoom. The clients who want to get together, we’re still willing to do that, too.
RM: As a small-business owner, what has been your biggest professional challenge/obstacle thus far? How did you overcome/handle it?
CS: It’s all about finding the right people who share similar values and are willing to sign on to what we’re accomplishing for our clients. That led to us allowing staff to work remotely six months ahead of the pandemic. The first person was Sandy, who’s worked with me for over ten years. She was set to retire, but she said, ‘If you give me a computer, I’ll help out,’ and she’s still helping out two years later. She’s awesome. That’s the standard we’re trying to achieve. Remote working has allowed me to find great staff who are not restricted to the local area and allows us to accommodate a range of family situations and make it positive for everybody.
RM: That’s interesting how you adopted remote working before it became the norm.
CS: We were very fortunate. Our industry has had that flexibility, but now it’s a necessity. Many people don’t realize how working remotely, with all the tools, can really be effective. Having good people, that’s the bottom line. We need good people because the client experience is the most important thing to me.
RM: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in your career to date?
CS: I’ve actually had three professional careers. All were building blocks and experiences. I would say my greatest career accomplishment is that I’m able to make a good living at something I thoroughly enjoy. I don’t know how many people can say that. It doesn’t feel like work. It is a great personal reward every day to help people. My business is entirely referral-based, so that must mean I did something right along the way. People associate a CPA with numbers, but it’s more problem-solving and getting a transaction done in a way that maximizes the most benefit to a client. Being able to help somebody who doesn’t have financial experience or background and help put pieces together is really a lot of fun. Although I have a pretty good sense early on what might benefit a client and how the transaction should be structured, I’ve got to educate and help bring them along to that same point and give them all the options we can think of. When it comes together, it’s very rewarding. A lot of clients have said, ‘I had no idea we could do this,’ which is the coolest thing for me to hear. Usually they start out with, ‘Huh, if we could pull this off.’ I know what is possible, but you can’t say, ‘Just sign here.’ It’s the journey along the way that’s fun and coaching clients along the path towards improving monthly cash flow, providing a safety net for the future or getting their dream retirement home is what makes what I do rewarding.
RM: If you could offer one piece of advice to someone who wants to get into the reverse mortgage business, what would it be and why?
CS: I suggest working alongside someone who knows the business well. There’s plenty of resources to learn the technical aspects of how to do reverse mortgages between NRMLA and all the lenders. But I think a much larger part of the business is understanding how to strategically apply a reverse mortgage. It’s different than the forward mortgage side, where the goal can be fairly straightforward to purchase a house or refinance to get a lower rate or reduce a monthly payment or to cash out. In a reverse mortgage, you must pay attention to a lot more variables in a retirement plan—personal, family and financial. The loans themselves are more straightforward, but you need to understand how to apply it to the client’s overall financial plan. Working with someone who is successful, who has been around a while, can help a loan officer who’s new to the business better understand how the reverse mortgage fits within a client’s overall retirement plan and, more importantly, how it doesn’t and what you shouldn’t do. It’s equally important to learn how to work well with seniors. I took care of my grandmother pretty much fulltime from when she was about 85 to when she passed away at 104. I guess I was the go-to grandchild. Those experiences helped me develop insights and skills that are hard to obtain any other way. For most people in the forward mortgage business, it’s quick, quick, quick. In the reverse mortgage business, it’s a different cadence, and learning that from someone who has the experience will make a new loan officer successful sooner.
RM: You became a Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional four-and-a-half years ago. What was your motivation for becoming a CRMP? How has it impacted your business?
CS: I think the CRMP is very valuable to the business. Relatively few originators have earned it. The CRMP is an honest certification. There’s work to be done before you can submit your application. There’s ongoing work to be done to maintain it. Here is an example of how it has benefited me: There’s a small group of CRMPs from the best broker shops around the country who have a call every Thursday morning to talk shop and help each other with issues, strategies and industry changes, which helps us better serve our clients. I also maintain a current CPA license in California, so I have that propensity to stay educated, current and relevant.
RM: Given your involvement with the East Bay chapter of the Financial Planning Association, do you see financial planners as a key ally in growing the reverse mortgage business?
CS: Absolutely. I currently serve as a pro bono co-chair and treasurer, which is my way of giving back to the community. My pro bono activities include meeting one-on-one with people who need financial advice but don’t have the means to pay for it. I’ve been involved with the East Bay chapter for a long time, and I’ve found every conversation I’ve ever had with a financial planner to be beneficial for both of us. There is a multitude of elements to a complete financial plan. Considering home equity as a key piece in every financial plan is somewhat new, but it’s gaining acceptance. In my conversations with financial planners, we get fairly deep into the pros and cons. Every conversation is positive. I’ve been successful in converting almost 100 percent of the skeptics into advocates. Usually, when I start a conversation, I often start with, ‘Did you know you can purchase a home with a reverse mortgage?’ and the response is, ‘What? Why would you do that?,’ which leads into a 15-minute conversation about buying a better home with no mortgage payment. Eventually, the conversation leads into how a reverse mortgage can create a more secure and flexible financial plan.
RM: Thank you. Do you have any professional goals for 2022 that you’d like to share?
CS: I’d like to make reverse mortgages a larger percentage of my business, because it’s more fun and rewarding. One of my favorite clients was a couple in their late 50s who refinanced their forward mortgage with me twice. They were still working, but on these occasions, I mentioned to them that they should start thinking about a reverse mortgage for when they retire. I ended up doing a refinance of their home when they retired and a HECM for Purchase when they moved to a retirement community a few years later. All my reverse mortgage clients are advocates for me—they love the result—and, in every case, it is helping them a lot in retirement.