When Should Retirees Tap Their Home Equity?

This paper studies a household’s optimal demand for a reverse mort- gage. These contracts allow homeowners to tap their home equity to finance con- sumption needs. In stylized frameworks, we show that the decision to enter a reverse mortgage is mainly driven by the differential between the aggregate appreciation of the house price and principal limiting factor on the one hand and the funding costs of a household on the other hand. We also study a rich life-cycle model that can ex- plain the low demand for reverse mortgages as observed in US data. In this model, we analyze the optimal response of a household that is confronted with a health shock or financial disaster. If an agent suffers from an unexpected health shock, she reduces the risky portfolio share and is more likely to enter a reverse mortgage. On the other hand, if there is a large drop in the stock market, she keeps the risky portfolio share almost constant by buying additional shares of stock. Besides, the probability to take out a reverse mortgage is hardly affected.