David Heilman, CRMP, began his reverse mortgage career in 2007 when he landed a job with Franklin Funding, a mortgage brokerage in Charleston, SC.
His job role focused on business development and building relationships with other local businesses that provided services to the region’s aging population, the thought being that a reverse mortgage could help pay for a person’s in-home care, home modifications, or other services to help them age in place.
The end result was an extensive network that would become the official chapter of the Charleston Aging in Place Council. For several years, Charleston became a role model for other cities across the country that wanted to build similar networks for seniors to access.
The Charleston Aging In Place Council would later disband, but Heilman is still originating reverse mortgages through his own mortgage brokerage company.
Reverse Mortgage magazine sat down with Heilman to talk about how he has remained successful over the past 16 years and what he’s doing to stay competitive.
Reverse Mortgage: How did you get your start in the reverse mortgage business?
David Heilman: Right out of college, I landed a job working with seniors in a community outreach type of role. Soon after, I was approached by Paul and Barbara Franklin, who were long-time participants in the reverse mortgage business. I didn’t know much about reverse mortgages. I had heard things and was skeptical, just like most people at first. The Franklins said they really needed help with their business and thought I’d be a good fit. For the next three months, I did my research and found that it was a very viable product and solution for many people. I took the dive in 20O7 and switched gears from healthcare administration to reverse mortgage financing.
RM: People come and go all the time in this business, but you’ve stuck it out through good and bad times. What has attracted you to reverse mortgages all this time?
DH: We help people. I love being able to help someone solve a problem. Our clients run the spectrum as far as their goals and objectives with this product, but at the end of the day, we’re providing a solution that solves a problem. That is why I’ve stuck with reverse mortgages for almost 17 years because at the end of the day, it solves problems.
RM: Have you seen any changes from 2007 to now for why someone pursues a reverse mortgage?
DH: I can put a client in one of three categories: needs-based, lifestyle enhancement or financial security. That hasn’t changed much since 2007. For a time, I was seeing more affluent borrowers. That has waned a little bit over the past year-and-a-half, but my clients still fall into one or a combination of those three categories.
RM: What do you mean by lifestyle enhancement?
DH: When I put somebody in a lifestyle category, they’re either wanting to maintain a lifestyle that they enjoy, or they want to achieve a lifestyle that they’ve never had. Maybe it’s a dream vacation that they could never afford. A majority of the people I work with use a reverse mortgage to maintain a lifestyle that they once had and wish to maintain while living on a fixed income.
RM: Tell us about Homegrown Financial and what distinguishes it from other mortgage brokers.
DH: I make it clear to every potential client that I am a reverse mortgage expert who is here to help get them from point A to Point B, but at the end of the day, you need to have peace of mind with the product itself. I tell people point blank that if doing this loan causes you to lose sleep, then you need to find another solution. That has always been my stance from the very beginning. I learned that from Paul Franklin, obviously a big mentor of mine. I’m not here to sell anybody on a reverse mortgage. I’m here to educate them on the reverse mortgage and then help them with my expertise get through the process as quickly and as painlessly as possible. At the end of the day, my post-closing interactions with clients and their children, even when the loan becomes due, have always been good. I haven’t experienced any backlash. I think that’s probably because I’ve never tried to fit somebody into a reverse mortgage that wasn’t suitable.
RM: How many people are part of the reverse mortgage team? How many states do you offer reverse mortgages? Do you offer other loan products, or just reverse mortgages?
DH: It’s a small group. There’s me and one other loan officer, Gary Landon, who’s in the Beaufort-Sun City area, which is heavily populated by seniors. We also have Julie Moxley as our in-house processor. We only originate in the state of South Carolina, which is by design. I see no reason to dip into bordering states at the moment, and I certainly don’t mind giving referrals out to other CRMPs in other states.
RM: Are there particular approaches to marketing and lead generation that you have adhered to over the years, or do you try different things depending on what’s going on in the marketplace?
DH: I’ve tried everything and I say that laughing because we all know there is no silver bullet with marketing this product. It’s all about walking and talking, meeting people, and becoming a trusted referral source. I’ve built a sizable network over the course of my career to the point where 90 percent of my business comes from referrals. I do mailers from time to time when it’s appropriate, certainly during the refi boom, but I’m not doing anything other than being involved in the community and meeting bankers, financial planners and attorneys. Those are my main three referral sources.
RM: When we first met back in the mid-2000s, you were heavily involved in creating the Charleston chapter of the National Aging in Place Council. I know that chapter has disbanded, but do you still see community involvement as a key to your success?
DH: Yes, it’s a place that I need to get back to is the best way to put it. The pandemic created this ability to work from home, which is great in many cases, but it also got me away from being involved in community organizations and networking groups, like Rotary International and Chambers of Commerce. All that went by the wayside after 2020 and here we are in 2023 and I’m not nearly as involved as I used to be. Community involvement is huge and it’s something that I need to personally get involved with despite being very casual in working from home.
RM: As we look ahead to 2024, what do you anticipate doing differently to stay competitive?
DH: I just touched on it. It’s a goal of mine to get more involved in the community and find organizations that mean something. You’re going to get referrals naturally just by telling people what you do, especially if you tell people that you do reverse mortgage financing. They’re immediately interested and want to know more. Getting involved in the local Rotary, financial planners association, bankers association, mortgage brokers association, or whatever those different associations are, finding a way to get involved with those is certainly a goal of mine.