We live with my mother-in-law and were present throughout the process of her getting a reverse mortgage.  The broker is fully aware that we live there with her and help keep up the property and pay living expenses.  He told us if she ever needed to go to a nursing home, if she was in the home at least once a month, they would not recall the loan.  What I am reading here seems contradictory to what we were told.  We were also told about having 12 months to sell or purchase the property upon death.  I am just confused about the nursing home situation now after reading this. -Amy

Reverse Mortgage Occupancy Requirements Explained

Hello Amy,

I cannot comment on what was said or not said by another originator and was not there for the conversation, but I have always been very honest with my borrowers and their families.

The loan documents make the legal agreement between the borrower and the Lender.  The occupancy of the home as the borrower’s principal residence is outlined as a requirement in the three main legal documents – the Note, the Deed of Trust or Mortgage (depending on which instrument your state uses), and the Security Agreement.

I am looking specifically at a Deed of Trust, but all the states have similar wording on their Deeds and Mortgages, and they define the property as no longer being the principal residence when:

The Property ceases to be the principal residence of a Borrower for reasons other than death, and the Property is not the principal residence of at least one other Borrower; or for a period of longer than twelve (12) consecutive months, a Borrower fails to occupy the property because of physical or mental illness and the Property is not the principal residence or at least one other Borrower.

It sounds like the broker may have been counting entirely on the 12 consecutive months and not paying attention to the “Principal Residence” requirement.  The Promissory Note contains similar language in that it states that the Lender may require immediate repayment in full if:

The Property ceases to be the principal residence of a Borrower for reasons other than death, and the Property is not the principal of at least one other Borrower.

So, what qualifies as the “Principal Residence”?  That is defined explicitly in the Security Agreement.  Item 1.8 states:

Principal Residence means the dwelling where the borrower shall maintain his or her permanent place of abode and typically spends the majority of the calendar year.  A person may have only one principal residence at a time.  The Property shall be considered the Principal Residence of any Borrower who is temporarily or permanently in a health care institution as long as the property is the Principal Residence of at least one other Borrower who is not in a health care institution.  (emphasis added)

So, there you have it.  A principal residence is where you spend most of the year, and the question about being in a mental or physical health facility is also covered.  Your question is specifically answered right in the loan documents, and if the originator told you that being gone eleven months a year only to return for one was OK, that is not accurate.

For that reason, we always advise borrowers that the property must be the location where they spend more than 6 months of the year, receive their mail, and use for their banking and other purposes as their mailing address.

Again, I can’t comment on a conversation during which I was not present.  Still, you absolutely do have to occupy the property as your primary residence with a reverse mortgage, not 1 month out of the year, and if you were told differently, that was wrong.

If your mother-in-law moves into a home for a temporary stay, she can be absent for up to 12 months before they consider that a permanent situation; otherwise, she must occupy the home most of the year to be considered owner-occupied.

If the Lender does call the loan due and payable because the property is no longer owner-occupied, I am a little hesitant about giving you a hard time frame.

The loan would be due then, but I think the timing for the next step might depend on the circumstances.  I have discussed this issue with the head of one servicing department, and he says that they grant 12 months to dispose of the property.

I think that would also depend on whether the borrowers’ heirs were making a good faith effort to sell or refinance the home, the condition of the property, etc.  If the heirs are trying to sell or refinance and pay off the loan, I know that would also be the preference of the reverse mortgage lender.

However, if the heirs have no desire to sell the home and intend to stay in it until the last possible moment, the home’s condition is deteriorating.  The Lender’s security is being impaired; they may have to decide to move faster (and I am not saying you are – just that this might warrant different action).

If they began foreclosure proceedings immediately, it would still take many months in most states before the Lender would be able to take the home back even if they started the day they first found out about the borrower’s leaving so they would consider the timing they might think the borrower(s) have already been gone and other concerns if they wait 12 months before they began any action at all, especially if they had reason to believe the heirs had no desire to leave or to sell/make arrangements to pay off the loan since it could take up to 24 months in some states to complete the process if they wait.

That is why communication is key.

Occupancy FAQs


Do you have to live in a home with a reverse mortgage?

Yes.  One of the requirements of a reverse mortgage loan is that the property must be your primary residence.

What happens if I move out of my home while I have a reverse mortgage?

If you move out of the home permanently, the reverse mortgage loan will be called due and payable as occupying the property as your primary residence is one of the requirements.  If you have a reverse mortgage and want to move out of the property without selling it, you must complete a refinance transaction to another type of loan or pay the reverse mortgage off in full first.

How long can I be away from the property when I have a reverse mortgage?

The guidelines of a reverse mortgage stipulate that the loan can be called due and payable if the borrower has vacated the property for 12 consecutive months or is no longer their primary residence.  Otherwise, it would no longer be your primary residence and could result in the loan being called due.  For example, if you had to be away from home for 6 consecutive months to rehab a surgery, your loan would not be called due if you went back to the property as your primary residence.  If you split time between two or more locations, you must spend most of your time at the property with the reverse mortgage.

How long can my heir live in the property after I die?

If a homeowner has a reverse mortgage, the loan becomes due upon their passing.  If the heir to the home is living in the property, they cannot assume the loan.  If the heir pays off the reverse mortgage in full, they can live in the property for as long as they choose to.  If the heir cannot pay off the reverse mortgage and plans to sell the home, servicing guidelines will give them ample time to sell the property, and they can live in the property during that time frame.  They will be given extensions of time in 90-day increments up to a full year to sell the property if they demonstrate that they are, in fact, trying to sell the home.

How quickly do I have to move into the property after buying it with a reverse mortgage?

You must move into the property within 60 days after closing on the purchase transaction when you buy the property using a reverse mortgage loan.

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