As sales of reverse mortgages slowly build, a snapshot is developing of the consumer most likely to use them.
The average borrower is 76, although a 104-year-old took out a reverse mortgage last year and was still drawing from it.
Adult children of seniors have proven especially interested in the products, accounting for half the inquiries Wendover Funding Inc. receives, says Michael A. Hyman, senior vice president.
California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado are hot spots, with demand spurred by economic downturns or harsh winter weather that inflates fuel bills.
In fact, reverse mortgages are not for people who retire to sunny, affluent Florida, said Mr. Hyman at a recent mortgage conference sponsored by the Community Bankers Association of North Carolina. "It's the retirees who stay behind" that find the products most useful.
Wendover, the Greensboro, N.C., unit of State Street Boston Corp., buys products that banks originate through programs run by Fannie Mae and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's FHA program.
Reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to tap the equity in their homes in return for granting their banker a primary lien, have yet to go mainstream because of concerns about seniors being exploited and about marketing issues.
But the products have received a qualified nod from the powerful American Association of Retired Persons and appear to be gaining ground. For instance, Wendover's purchases have doubled during the past year to 350 loans a month, Mr. Hyman said.
When tapping into their reverse mortgage, some 60% of buyers prefer to do so through a line of credit, Mr. Hyman said.
Another 25% choose to get a credit line and a monthly payment, while the rest opt for just a monthly payment, he said.