Blog by Richard Heagy
The elderly couple lived on a tree-lined street close to the downtown area of a small town that had seen better times, much better times. Unemployment had contributed to the decline, but did not directly affect the retired couple. Then that controversial word “gentrification” reared its ugly head. As often happens, gentrification starts off slowly and suddenly accelerates. Neighbouring houses were torn down and replaced at great expense by much larger homes. The spread between the fixed income of the retired couple and the cost of living kept increasing, primarily because of big property taxe increases on their home due to its location. Many others affected by this situation had moved out, but not them. It would never happen, not after fifty plus years in this cosy home. Still, something had to be done.
Walter and Grace were watching one of their favourite TV programs, actually Grace’s favourite, when it was interrupted by the advertisement about reverse mortgages for the second time. They had been thinking about it for some time. It all seemed so simple. That nice looking actor on the TV told them that he used to think there might be a catch to reverse mortgages, but not so he assured them repeatedly. You could use the money for whatever you wanted—payment of medical bills, home improvements, new car, maybe a boat or a vacation in Las Vegas or Italy. The best thing was that you didn’t have to pay the loan back. Just spend the money.
Grace turned down the volume on the TV, picked up her cell phone and started punching in the numbers on the TV screen.
“What are you doing?” Walter asked.
“Calling the 800 number”, Grace said. “It’s time we did something”.
“Let me have the phone”, Walter said, as he reached for it.
Grace handed the phone to him and said, “I thought you were never going to call”.
“I will”, said Walter, cutting off the call, “but not them. I don’t like their advertising; it irritates me”.
“I think you are jealous of that good looking actor”, Grace said.
“Actors don’t know anything about business”, Walter said. “They are paid to say that the sponsor has a wonderful product—probably hasn’t even used it himself”.
“He doesn’t look old enough to need a reverse mortgage.” Grace said.
“Don’t let the heavy makeup fool you,” Walter said.
“I thought we agreed to get a reverse mortgage, or at least look into it”, Grace said.
“Absolutely”, Walter said. “I’m going to look on the internet for companies that offer reverse mortgages and do a comparison”.
“Next week, or next month?” Grace asked.
“Right now”, said Walter, who went over to a small desk and turned on his computer and began a search. Finally satisfied, Walter made an appointment with a mortgage broker for the next day and gave him driving instructions to the house.
Mr Huff drove up to the residence that was seeking a reverse mortgage the following morning, parked in the driveway and rang the doorbell at exactly 11 a.m. Walter opened the door and said, “Right on time”.
Walter looked outside toward the driveway at a used Chevrolet with a dented front left fender. Mr. Huff quickly said, “That’s a loaner; the only one they had available. I had to leave my Jaguar at the dealer for maintenance again. Jaguars are wonderful cars, but they do require a bit of maintenance. You know how it is”.
Walter didn’t know how it is, or was. He invited Mr. Huff inside and introduced him to Grace.
“Have a seat on the rocker, Mr. Huff”, said Grace. “It’s really quite relaxing”. Across the room, directly opposite the rocker, the TV was on with the volume turned down.
“Actually, it’s Captain Huff, but you can call me Charlie”, he responded.
“What branch of the services were you in”? Walter asked.
“Special Services”, said Huff, immediately regretting his choice as that was the entertainment branch of the military. Actually his only service as a Captain had been with the Salvation Army two years ago.
“I suppose you can’t talk about it or you’d have to kill us”, Walter said with a serious look, before his face relaxed into a grin.
“Let’s get down to business”, said Grace.
“Of course”, said Huff. He opened his briefcase and handed them each a glossy folder with photos and charts, then explained the reverse mortgage program as they reviewed the materials.
The TV had switched to a commercial—about reverse mortgages. “Oh, look”, said Grace, pointing to the TV.
Huff jumped up to turn off the TV, but instead turned the volume up for all to hear “until the last one leaves the home”, then turned it off and returned to the rocking chair.
“I suppose you both know what that means—the last one to leave the home”?
“When I kick the bucket”, said Walter.
“I’d rather not think about it”, said Grace, “but I get the idea”.
“Never mind that”, Walter said. “How much can we get”?
“Let me run some numbers”, Huff said. He pulled out a notepad and calculator and asked, “Are there any loans against the property”?
“About $40,000”, said Walter.
“That will have to be paid off out of the reverse mortgage proceeds”, said Huff.
Walter and Grace looked at each other. “Wait”, said Grace. “I have an idea. Why can’t we just leave the existing mortgage in place and continue making the payments ourselves”?
“That’s a good one,” said Huff.
“Thank you”, said Grace, not understanding Huff’s meaning.
“That’s not the way it works’, said Huff. The new lender wants title to the property to be clear of any liens or other mortgage loans”.
“I suppose that you are going to deduct other expenses”, said Walter.
“A few”, said Huff.
“Could you be more specific”, said Walter.
Huff hesitated before he said, “Costs would include a title search, appraisal fees, recording fees, taxes, postage, termite inspection, preparation of legal documents, etc., etc.”.
“Any your commission,” said Grace.
“Well, yes”, said Huff. “I do have to do quite a bit of work, seeking a loan with the best rates for your reverse mortgage, seeing that all of the paperwork gets done on time, etc., etc.”.
“After all of those etceteras, how much will we get”? Walter asked.
Huff made a few notations on his notepad and used the calculator to come up with the net amount—$63,200.
Walter and Grace looked at each other and agreed that it would have to do. Walter said, “We were hoping to take a vacation in a few weeks if we can get this reverse mortgage done in time”.
“No problem,” said Huff. “We can start right now. I have the preliminary paperwork here, but there will be a few more documents to sign after the loan is approved”. He took out an eleven page contract, filled in several blanks and handed it to Walter. “You both should read it over before you sign”.
“You read it, Walter. I get vertigo every time I try to read anything”, said Grace.
Walter started to read, and then stopped. “I need to find a magnifying glass,” he said. He looked in the desk, went into the kitchen and returned with an opened box of Crackerjack in his hand. He poured some into his hand, offered it to Huff, who declined, and popped it into his own mouth.
“What are you doing, Walter”? Grace asked.
“I am looking for my magnifying glass”. Walter shook out another handful of Crackerjack, retrieved something with his other hand and held up a tiny magnifying glass for the others to see, then ate the handful of Crackerjack. “I usually throw away the toys in Crackerjack boxes but I saved this one”.
Walter sat and resumed reading the eleven page document, occasionally pausing to use the tiny magnifying glass, and then started skimming over the remaining pages rapidly.
“Did you read over the whole document carefully”? Hull asked Walter.
“Yes,” said Walter. “I’m a speed reader”, a phrase Walter had heard somewhere, though it did not accurately describe his reading habits.
“Any questions, either of you?” said Hull. “If not let’s get this document signed”.
The reverse mortgage loan had been approved and all that was needed was to wire the money to the borrowers’ account and get a receipt signed. Hull had not slept well the night before, woke up with a headache and realised that he was going to be late for his appointment. He jumped in his car, the so-called loaner, and stopped at a Starbucks drive-through window on the way. They had bananas at the payment window so Hull decided to add a banana to his small black coffee. He finished his coffee by the time he drove up to the driveway, peeled back the banana and started eating it as he walked toward the front door. Hull looked rather silly—briefcase in one hand and banana peel in the other—so he tossed the banana peel over his shoulder.
Once inside, Hull removed a computer from his briefcase, got online and transferred the funds to the borrowers’ bank account. They signed a receipt, thanked Hull and he left. Walter put the receipt in his desk and they sat at the kitchen table for a late breakfast.
“Where’s my morning paper”? Walter asked.
“I though you got it earlier”, said Grace. “It must still be outside. Do you want me to get it”?
“No, I’ll go”. Walter walked to the front door, opened it and saw the newspaper lying in the driveway. What he did not see was the banana peel that Hull had tossed over his shoulder. Walter slipped and fell, hitting his head against a solid ceramic pot that housed a geranium bush. If he were not unconscious, Walter would have said that he had always hated geraniums, as well as a few choice words.
Even during bad times Walter always said that they could get better or they could get worse. This time they got worse and worse. First was the hospital, where Walter stayed for several weeks. Grace decided to rent a room across from the hospital so that she could be near Walter, and during the last week of her absence decided to have the house painted as a surprise for Walter when he came home. However, Walter’s condition deteriorated so much that he had to move into a nursing home—directly from the hospital. Fortunately there was enough money left over from the reverse mortgage financing to make the large deposit that the nursing home required. After Walter was settled in, Grace went to their freshly painted home. She fixed herself a drink, a good stiff one, and sat in the rocking chair. She had another one and sat rocking until she fell asleep. Sometime later she awoke to the sound of a loud noise outside the front door.
She opened the door and saw a workman pounding a wooden sign into the ground. “What are you doing”, she yelled as she went round to read the sign, which said FOR SALE. The workman finished planting the sign and looked at his watch just as a tired looking blue Chevrolet drove up. Out stepped HULL, who thanked the workman and handed him a twenty dollar bill.
Grace approached Hull as another car drove up—a Mercedes—and parked next to the Chevrolet.
Grace started yelling at Hull saying repeatedly, “What’s going on”. The chunky man from the Mercedes joined them and was introduced as Mr Slick, the lawyer for the mortgage company, who would explain everything if Grace would just calm down.
They went into the living room and Hull gave Grace another glass of whiskey. Slick handed Grace the loan document and asked if the signature was hers. Of course it was. Next, Slick asked Grace if she had read the document before signing it.
“No”, Grace said. “Walter read it”.
“Just above the signature lines it says that you and your husband acknowledge that you have read it,” said Slick.
“I don’t understand what’s going on”, said Grace. “Why is there a FOR SALE sign in front of my house”?
“Unfortunately it’s no longer your home,” said Slick. He had used the word home instead of house, but neither Grace nor Hull had noticed. “The lender foreclosed and you didn’t redeem within 6 weeks”.
Grace looked puzzled and said, “I don’t understand why you foreclosed, but we have 6 months to redeem the house”.
“No”, said Slick, “some lenders give you 6 months, but we only allow 6 weeks. You should have read the contract”.
“You can only foreclose when the last one has left the home”, said Grace. “Walter is still alive”.
“Ah”, said Slick, “that is a misunderstanding that many—I mean a few—persons have. If a home owner permanently moves in with a relative or is permanently confined to a nursing home, that person has left the home”.
“What about me”? said Grace. “I am still alive and I am still here”.
“Unfortunately, you do not qualify as a home owner”, said Slick.
“I don’t understand”, said Grace.
“Have you read the deed to the property”? Slick asked Grace.
“Here, take a look”, Slick said as he handed a copy of the deed to her. “The sole legal owner is your husband. Your name is not on it”.
“Walter bought the house before we got married”, Grace said. “I guess he never put my name on the deed”.
“Unfortunate, but everyone has problems”, said Slick, “which reminds me that I am going to be late for golf”.
Hull walked to the TV, turned it on and suggested that Grace just relax for a bit. He and Slick got up to leave and Slick said that Grace could stay overnight and move out in the morning.
Grace had not been paying any attention to the TV or the advertisement then playing, but when she focused on the TV she heard “until the last one leaves the home”. She finished her drink and threw the glass at the TV, aiming it at the head of that good looking son-of-a bitch she had listened to all these month.