Austin, Texas

You can drive for days on the highway through West Texas looking at land in all directions as flat as a chessboard for as far as the eyes can see. And so it’s a relief to the eyes once you cross the Colorado River in Austin and hit I-35, the beginning of hill country. These hills are a popular location for getaway homes from the Texas capital, a city of 500,000, that refers to itself as the “Third Coast” due to the location of technological companies such as Samsung, Motorola and the corporate headquarters of Dell Computers.

I always believed Equity in your house can’t do you any good unless you put it to work for you”

It’s in these hills where you can find Barry and Susan lining up the next shot of an Indian Paintbrush or a Bluebonnet for their new coffee-table book, Texas Wildflower Vistas and Hidden Treasures.

The books are a fairly new career for Barry and Susan, both in their early 60s. Both previously divorced, they met in their earlier careers: Barry spent 25 years as a marketing executive in the aerospace industry and Susan managed a printing company. One of the things they discovered they shared was love of nature and natural science.

In 2002, Barry’s employer at the time, an aerospace company, closed its Austin facility and offered him a buyout. “My Dad once said to me, as you get older in your job, if they offer you money to get out, take it and find something else to do,” says Barry. At 57, Barry was retired and determined to devote the rest of his life to the things he loved most—photography and nature. He began teaching photography classes part-time at the University of Texas’ informal classes division, the continuing education program. In 2005, the couple decided to downsize and move into a 2,000 square foot,
3 bedroom, 2 bath house in North Central Austin. They were able to buy the home with cash and without a mortgage.

“I always believed equity in your house can’t do you any good unless you put it to work for you,” Barry says. “And so we decided to turn the equity into something that could better our financial situation.”

Barry and Susan conceived a series of nature books, beginning with Grasses of Texas Hill Country and Texas Cacti. They were able to make a publishing deal with Texas A. & M. University Press. But the deal did not pay an advance, only royalties once the books were published. “We needed seed money to get our business going,” Barry says. He had been told about reverse mortgages by a friend in Oregon. He looked around for a local loan originator and settled upon John Mitchell of 1st AAA Reverse in Austin. “The process was smooth and seamless,” adds Barry. “He presented us with all the data in written form and when we did our counseling session, we had already been provided all the information by our lender.”

The couples’ home was appraised at $200,000 and Mitchell arranged a reverse mortgage of $105,000. Over time, they used about 75% of the loan to buy new camera equipment and get their business rolling. The balance remains in a line of credit. “The reverse mortgage gave us the cash we were looking for,” Barry says. “Otherwise we would have had to take out some kind of a commercial loan and we would have been indebted from the get go.”