From the Top: Neil Sweren, CRMP, Senior Vice President, Atlantic Coast Mortgage

From the Top: Neil Sweren, CRMP, Senior Vice President, Atlantic Coast Mortgage

Neil Sweren, CRMP, got his start in the mortgage business 35 years ago originating private, conventional, and government-insured mortgages. When he was offered the chance to learn about reverse mortgages, he refused, thinking they were a scam.

He was later approached by a family member who needed help understanding how they worked. Sweren reluctantly agreed to do some research and would soon learn that all he thought he knew about reverse mortgages was completely wrong. He became a convert and has originated reverse mortgages almost exclusively since 2006.

Today, Sweren is a senior vice president at Atlantic Coast Mortgage, which is headquartered in Fairfax, VA, where he helps manage the reverse mortgage division and continues to originate loans.

Sweren also serves on NRMLA’s HUD Issues Committee and in 2010 was one of the earliest adopters of the Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional designation.

Reverse Mortgage magazine sat down with Sweren to discuss his long and distinguished career and what makes him successful.

Reverse Mortgage: How did you get started in reverse mortgages?
Neil Sweren: One of my networking groups had a long-term care agent who approached me one day and said, ‘Neil, we’d like to work for you and do reverse mortgages,’ and I said, ‘We’re not doing reverse mortgages. They’re terrible.’ And she said, ‘Well, you don’t know anything about them.’ I turned her away and that was the end of that. She went to work for one of my competitors down the street. A few months later, my sister-in-law called me and said her parents in Florida wanted to do a reverse mortgage and could I help her understand it. I tried to talk her out of it and she said, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure they’re going to do it. I need your help.’ I did the research, and when I dug a little deeper, what I discovered was that there wasn’t another loan product that would or could help her parents out of the situation that they were in. They had suffered some stock market losses and had an adjustable-rate loan that had increased to an unaffordable level. The only way for them to be able to afford to stay in their condo was to do a reverse mortgage. They went ahead and got one and not long after they did the reverse mortgage, her father passed away. The only reason her mother could stay in her condo was because they had done the reverse mortgage. The LTC agent came back to me a while later complaining about the guy she was working for and begging me to let her and her partner come work with us. She promised, ‘I’ll teach you how to do reverse mortgages.’ That was the beginning of my journey and I’ve never looked back.

RM: What motivated you to obtain the CRMP and how have you benefited from it all these years?
NS: I wanted to set myself apart. When it first came out, I already met the qualifications and what did I have to lose from some extra continuing education? Any licensed attorney can handle a bankruptcy, a divorce, or an estate case, but should they? Are they an expert in that particular field? You want to set yourself apart as an expert in something and the CRMP certification was a way for me to set myself apart as someone who is dedicated to the reverse mortgage space, who knows it, understands it. Not just someone who CAN do reverse mortgages, but someone who DOES them as a regular part of his business.

RM: How do you utilize it?
NS: My clients sometimes ask me, ‘Why should I use you?’ Usually, my answer goes like this, ‘Listen, I’m not someone sitting in a call center who started doing this yesterday. I’ve been doing reverse mortgages for years. I’m an expert in this field and am part of a small group of people who are certified. That’s the value. I also think people find me occasionally on the NRMLA consumer website as being certified and that also provides value. I can’t quantify it. I don’t know how many times that happens. But it has taught me that a lot of times people are doing background checks on you before they decide to do business. I’ve seen my LinkedIn profile sitting on the kitchen counter. I want to stack the deck in my favor in any way possible.

RM: Tell us about Atlantic Coast Mortgage and what distinguishes it from other mortgage lenders.
NS: I think the culture at ACM is different than a lot of other places. Our forward LOs are an amazing team of top industry producers who are helpful to each other and supportive of what we do in reverse. Our leadership team is generally very accessible, great guys. The mortgage business in general has a history of being a sort of ‘good old boys’ network, but at Atlantic Coast, our top producers every year, maybe 90 percent of them, are women. The company is also very supportive of reverse mortgages. Reverse mortgage professionals who work in shops that primarily do forward mortgages often say that they feel like redheaded stepchildren. Sure, we have a much smaller team, but I’ve never felt like an “other” here.

RM: How many people are part of the reverse mortgage team?
NS: The company overall has about 175 loan officers. Our reverse mortgage team has six right now, and we are looking to grow. We’re able to close reverse mortgages in 28 states with licenses pending in a few more. That gives us a pretty good footprint.

RM: You’re an active member of the HUD Issues Committee, which spent a great deal of time last fall reviewing the HECM Handbook. What new policies in the HECM Handbook are you most excited about?
NS: I’m a purchase guy so the improvements there really piqued my interest. Interested party contributions are going to be super helpful. Prohibited seller concessions have always been a hurdle for us, particularly with new construction because it meant many of our buyers were leaving money on the table or the builders in some cases just refused to modify their contracts. Now, we have a method for calculating concessions and moving forward with the transaction. It’s a huge step in the right direction. It’s going to take a lot off our plates not having to explain, amend, and rewrite contracts. From a contractual standpoint, HECM loans work pretty much just like a traditional forward mortgage.

RM: Do think allowing for seller concessions will help increase H4P volume?
NS: I am hopeful. Anything we can do to make the reverse seem more “normal” to agents, builders, and sellers should help us increase volume. Time will tell.

RM: Are there particular approaches to marketing and lead generation that you try to instill in your sales team?
NS: We don’t buy leads or do TV commercials. We’re all doing our own thing to generate business and my team is pretty good at it. We don’t have to do a lot of coaching. A lot of my business comes from referrals. I teach CE classes to real estate agents, who I think are probably some of the best potential clients for this product. They often own nice homes but don’t have pensions, so as they get older, they’re looking for a way to make things work down the road for themselves. The agents who come to my CE classes aren’t generally looking for ways to sell more houses using reverse mortgages. Very often they just want to learn about reverse mortgages for themselves or a close family member. The hardest part of the business right now is dealing with lower principal limits. It seems like everyone comes in thinking they can borrow 50 percent of the property value. That’s probably our fault, we’ve been saying that for years.  We’re closer to 30 to 35 percent, so a lot of them can’t get enough money to pay off their existing debt. The upfront two percent mortgage insurance premium is also a tougher pill to swallow for many when it represents closer to six percent of the loan amount. This is a cyclical business; it will come back. Whether it’s on the forward side or the reverse side, it’s a constant challenge dealing with market cycles. Keeping your head in the game is the biggest challenge for many.

RM: Your company does a lot of social impact work. What can you tell me about Project GiveBack?
NS: Many of us at Atlantic Coast Mortgage have outside volunteer projects that we work on.  During COVID, I read an article about a guy in Florida who paid off 114 delinquent utility bills for people in his community for $7,600. That’s a huge impact for a relatively small amount of money. My business partner Scott and I reached out to our local utility who put us in touch with The Fuel Fund and we started a campaign. We contributed some of our own money and I went to our CEO and asked him if he would be willing to help out. He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I’ll match what you can raise in addition to what you guys are putting in.’ It was like okay, game on. I love that. We went out and raised a lot more money. The total figure was something like $15,000 total, and we got to choose which zip codes the money went to. It had a huge impact on the community; we even made the local news.

RM: What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered managing a reverse mortgage division and how have you overcome them?
NS: For me, the challenges of managing or originating in the reverse mortgage space haven’t changed much. Sometimes they look a little different, but the challenges have been the same. I’ve been originating mortgages since 1989. Economic cycles present challenges. Product changes and guideline changes present problems. It’s just more of the same to me. There will be years when we do well and other years when it’s a little slow, and you have to be able to get through those years. Some people come into the business when it’s great, and they leave as soon as it gets challenging. Some of us stick around and dig a little deeper during those leaner years to keep things going so that when the market does turn, we’re in the right position to take advantage. Whatever challenges we face pale in comparison to what our clients face. If you ask me how business is going, I’m one of those guys who always says ‘Unbelievable!’ I feel blessed to be in this business and have the opportunity to do what I do. Some of our clients have high six- and seven-figure investment accounts and are struggling. It’s a long story but I have a client who recently lost her husband. He had some tax issues and when he died, the IRS took all of the couple’s savings. She found herself in a position where she didn’t know how she was going to pay her bills. The reverse mortgage helped her back on her feet. In the email she sent to me after we closed, she said, ‘Neil, I haven’t slept in months. I didn’t know what my future looked like. And now I feel like I’m at peace. I feel better about myself. I know that I’m in a good place now.’  A reverse mortgage can be and often is life-changing for our borrowers. To me, that’s what it’s all about.


Published by

Darryl Hicks

Darryl Hicks is Vice President of Communications for the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. In this capacity, Hicks writes for NRMLA's publications, manages the association's web sites and social media accounts, assists committees and the Board of Directors, and manages the Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional designation. Prior to joining NRMLA in 1999, Hicks spent three years in the Washington, D.C. bureau for National Mortgage News.