Last week, we wrote about the New Jersey launch of New York- based Irene, a start-up aiming to unlock home equity for cash starved retirees so they can stay in their homes throughout their lives.
Up until now, reverse mortgages have been the only option available to cash starved retirees wanting to stay in their homes but being unable to afford to do so. Now, retirees or Baby Boomers wanting to stay in their homes throughout their lives can turn to Irene.
Is there a need for Irene? You bet. Baby Boomers are marching into retirement at the rate of 10,000/day. Many of those retired Boomers who have owned their homes for 20, 30, 40 years are now cash starved without enough money to continue paying their property taxes, home insurance and home maintenance costs, and medical and whatever else expenses.
Irene is built upon the longstanding, long tested European notion of unlocking the retiree’s home equity. In Europe, the retiree sells their house to an individual in return for the right to live in that house for as long as the retiree wants to. In Europe, the individual buyer frees up the retiree seller’s home equity so the retiree has some cash. The individual buyer-now-owner in turn takes title on the house for that cash, pays the property taxes and all home insurance and maintenance costs.
Now, here in the US, that “individual” buyer in Europe becomes Irene in America. Now, that individual buyer is an institutional buyer and that institutional buyer is Irene.
Fabrizio Tiso, well versed with years of finance and retail banking under his belt in the US, Europe and the Middle East, came to the idea of Irene via a friend’s parents. The friend’s parents wanted to continue living in their lifelong home but couldn’t afford to do so. They were heartbroken as were the parents’ children.
Seeing this need up-close and personal, Tiso went about coming up with a solution…home equity. He had seen first hand while in Europe and the Middle East the successful solution of an individual buying the retiree’s home in return for the retiree being able to live in the home forever and he wanted to bring this solution to America.
Tizo teamed up Wilson Keenan, a now former COO and head of product and technical leadership with one of the premier Medicare Advantage programs in the country, Clover Health (and also Yammer, Microsoft and Change.org), and the two of them co-founded Irene.
Tiso and Keenan’s shared commitment to Irene’s retiree sellers (and their heirs, attorneys, financial advisors) and long term investors is singular. Their highly complementary expertise and frames of reference in finance and operations ought to well serve both sellers and investors.
Irene’s process is clear. The retiree seller and Irene agree on a price for the home. Irene buys the home and takes title of the home. The retiree seller is able to tap into her/his/their home equity. Irene pays the property taxes and all home insurance and maintenance costs on the home. The retiree seller has the right to live in and/or rent out (and keep all the rental income from) the house for as long as she/he/they want.
Programmatically, Irene reminds me of an American adage used by Kaiser Permanente years ago…”find a need and fill it.” The need for retirees to stay in their lifelong homes is clear. Will Irene fill that need to the benefit both retirees and investors? We’ll see.
In the meantime, Irene now operates in New Jersey. “Very soon,” said Tizo, Irene will grow into highly populated retiree states such as Florida and California. Eventually, said Keenan, “Irene could have a profound impact on the lives of millions of seniors…who face considerable financial pressure…” by tapping into a “…largely untapped lifeline…home equity.”