A mortgage company that has seen firsthand the challenges of rising home prices has taken a step to ease the burden for its own employees.
And they’ve done it with what they believe is a first-ever benefit offering: picking up the cost of mortgage insurance, an expense that can add a few hundred dollars—or more—to a monthly mortgage payment. First-time, young and minority home-purchasers often are the ones affected since only those buyers without the required 20% down payment of a home’s purchase price must purchase mortgage insurance. Policies protect lenders against default, but buyers foot the bill—typically between 0.5% and 1.5% of the original amount of the loan per year.
Redwood Trust, which has offices in pricey Denver, New York and Irvine, Calif., and corporate headquarters in the even more expensive San Francisco Bay area, rolled out the new benefit starting May 1 for its 250-some employees, says Sasha Macomber, chief human resources officer.
As Redwood Trust considered enhancing benefits in recent years, Macomber says, leaders focused on health and wellness, including financial wellness and the “overall wellbeing that can come from having a quality home.”
That need only heightened during the pandemic, of course, as homes became “everything to us: our schoolhouses, our gyms, our workplaces,” she says. Combining the company’s mission of making quality housing available to all with the knowledge that 8 in 10 Americans say housing affordability is a problem, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, “mortgage insurance came to us as something that could be quite innovative.”
In some parts of the country, 20%-down payments can be a particularly large hurdle, especially for young and diverse workers, she said. So this benefit aligns both with Redwood’s mission and its diversity efforts to help younger employees and those at different points in their careers. Leaders also believe it will boost employee retention.
Interest has been high so far, but Macomber recognizes that not everyone will qualify for this benefit. “We really were focusing on employees we felt had the greatest need,” she says. “We definitely want to add to the suite of benefits [for other employees] over time.”
The company also called on other organizations to follow suit, saying the benefit is easier to institute than, for example, complicated down payment assistance. “We wanted to offer something that was easy to apply,” she says. “Costs add up and it’s a substantial benefit.”
Redwood Trust offers the insurance benefit as a reimbursement. It’s too early to tell how much the company might spend on the perk, she says.
Related: Read more on employee benefits from HRE here.