am the new owner of a cracked clavicle, which is something I thought my neighbor played in the high school band. Don’t ask why – I’m not telling – just know that I don’t bounce anymore, I splatter.

If it weren’t for the permanence of the alternative, I would highly resent getting older. I resent it anyway. The problem, probably for most of us, is that after about 40 or so, our mental image of ourselves begins to lag behind our physical age. The math says I’ve just slipped past 60, but my mental image of myself is stuck at about 40 and believes it can still do things I obviously can’t.

Age also changes your relationship to real estate, sometimes for the same reason. If you’ve lived in the same house for 30 years, you may ‘know’ the neighborhood has changed, but it’s not always that easy to really face it.

When we moved into our first house, we were the youngest among a beautiful group of elderly and near elderly neighbors, many of them “widder ladies”, as they called themselves. Most had lived there for 20 to 40 years, so we were a novelty. Several loved to cook for us. We loved to let them and I did heavy-lifting chores for those without family around to help.

When we moved out 30 years later, we were the oldest. Actually, I’d stayed about the same age, but only a block away from Valdosta State College/University meant we were becoming inundated with college students who had gotten a LOT younger. When I got tired of training them every quarter/semester in the finer points of not blocking driveways and parking on the grass, we fled.

If there had been any indication of sliding values, we would have left sooner. It’s easy for homeowners to ignore that chore and often don’t know how. It’s heartbreaking to drive through what was once a nice, middle-class subdivision that’s slipped off the edge and find just one house with a carefully tended yard amongst houses that don’t look like that, anymore.

Houses need paint and there are cars parked in grassless front yards, some dead, but the only change the beleaguered widow lady living there has made is to put a chain link fence all the way around the yard, maybe put bars on the windows.

Statistically, women live longer than men and many ladies of that age were used to husbands making the decisions, including buying the car they drove, so the carefully tended car in the carport is often 10 or 15 years old. Low mileage, too.

And they’re house trapped. They can certainly sell the house for more than was paid for it, but when they bought the house, a dollar was a dollar, not the dime idiotic politically driven entitlement “solutions” have turned it into.

But then what? That won’t produce enough money for a replacement, even if Social Security and probably a fixed retirement income was enough to qualify for a loan. Sometimes, even in neighborhoods which have kept their value, the elderly become prisoners of the house because taxes, insurance, bare minimum maintenance and utility bills on a house larger than they now need doesn’t leave them enough for more than the basics.

True story, of which I’m proud: A lady I’ve still yet to meet called after I’d written a column about reverse mortgages, a new mortgage product at the time. Her house was in a solid neighborhood and she and her late husband had lived there long enough to pay off the original 30-year mortgage, but after house expenses, even groceries were beginning to look like a luxury.

Long story short, I pointed her in the right direction, paved the way with a call or two and forgot about it, until she called about two months later to say she’d paid the bills, painted the house and was about to embark on a short cruise with friends. She sounded ten years younger.

Hugely simplified, the basic premise of a reverse mortgage is that the lender pays the owner, either monthly or in a lump sum, an amount based on the value of the house and the owner’s age. The minimum age requirement is 62, but there is no income requirement, the loan is based solely on the equity in the house.

The loan isn’t due until the owner moves out, as in aged care for 12-plus months, or for the final long, long time.

The heirs can then pay off the reverse mortgage and keep the house or sell it, keeping the difference between what the mortgage company paid out to Mama, plus expenses, and the value of the house. And so what happens if the mortgage was for $75,000 and Mama lives to be 120 years old and collects twice that?

The answer: Nothing. The lender only holds the mortgage, Mama owns the house and the mortgage lasts just as long as Mama does. If Mama’s collecting monthly payments when the mortgage reaches $75,000, she keeps on getting the same payments as long as she lasts in the house. The lender gambled and lost, with none of the responsibility slopping over onto the heirs.

Reverse mortgages should be and are FHA/HUD backed and insured and, like other mortgages, are complicated enough to leave room for shysters to work the cracks, so education is important – so important, that borrowers are required to attend financial counseling from HUD-approved counselors before going further.

The equity in your home is obviously valuable, but ‘releasing’ it in more conventional ways for other purposes can be a problem. Having to pay it back comes to mind. Reverse mortgages may not be right for everybody, but they can be perfect for somebody.

Think of it as having your cake and being able to eat it, too. Or if you live long enough to outlast the mortgage and put the lender in the hole, think of it as “Mortgage Company Revenge”.

Mike Hill entered the real estate business in Valdosta in 1976 at an age he now believes to be 13 (see above) and has recently learned that “clavicle” is not a musical instrument, but a medical term for “collarbone”, which in no way makes cracking one any less troublesome.