Record home-price gains zapping mortgage insurance

Southern California’s median home price jumped an astronomical 26% since 2018.

By Jeff Lazerson | | | September 05, 2021

Ali Elahi, one of my firm’s clients, doubled down and won big, saving $800 in monthly mortgage payments by twice lowering his mortgage rate and shedding his mortgage insurance.

Elahi paid $375,000 for his Laguna Hills condo in 2018. As rates were dropping and his equity was increasing, he was able to knock $400 off his monthly payment by refinancing in 2019. But he didn’t have quite enough equity to eliminate the mortgage insurance.

Rinse and repeat.

In June 2021, Elahi nailed it. Armed with a $440,000 property appraisal, he eliminated the $139 monthly mortgage insurance bill. And he knocked 1.25% off his interest rate, landing at 3.125%. Another $400 of overhead disappeared.

“Exhilarating,” said Elahi. “It’s a double whammy sigh of relief.”

What exactly is private mortgage insurance and why do some borrowers have to pay it?

PMI is required for loans sold to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that do not have at least a 20% down payment or 20% equity in the case of refinance transactions.

One way or the other, you must pay for a policy that protects F & F in the event you default on your home loan.

Most borrowers pay for this in a monthly premium added to your property tax and fire insurance escrow impound account.

You may also pay this as a single upfront charge. Or your mortgage lender could pay — known as lender-paid premium. All that means is its baked into the rate. Never a free lunch.

Mortgage insurance is risk-based, meaning the better your middle FICO credit score, the lower the premium you pay.

For example, assuming a 10% down payment on a $400,000 mortgage and a score of 740, your monthly premium would be roughly $97. For that same loan with a score of 620 (the lowest allowable for mortgage insurance), your monthly premium would be an astronomical $407.

The Homeowners Protection Act of 1998 mandates mortgage servicers remove PMI on the date the mortgage balance is first scheduled to reach 80% of the original value.

A good payment history and no second liens are conditions for release. Or you can shed the payment with at least two years of on-time payments and 25% equity.

In this market of scorching appreciation, you have a faster path to eliminate the mortgage insurance. Either kill two birds with one stone by knocking your rate down and eliminating your PMI, or request your mortgage servicer remove the insurance premium.

Your servicer may or may not consider your request.

If the servicer entertains removing your PMI, it will likely require you to pay about $600 for an appraisal to support your assertion of 20% or more equity. If your servicer tells you to drop dead, mention you are considering going elsewhere to refinance. Your servicer does not want to lose the income from servicing your loan.

Refinancing may be the better option since mortgage rates have declined over the last several years.

Another one of my firm’s clients got lucky, but not quite lucky enough to ditch her PMI completely.

Sarah Ochwat paid $483,500 for a Laguna Niguel condo this past January, putting just 5% down. Her place has appreciated by a whopping $56,500 in eight short months.

Now she has 15% equity. While that’s not enough to eliminate her PMI, she could cut her $84 premium almost in half by refinancing. She locked in a 2.75% rate the same week Freddie Mac announced its all-time lows. Her rate is better than she can get on a no-cost refinance.

“Seems frustrating, but at the same time I feel lucky,” said Ochwat. “You can’t plan any better.”

Fun facts for you.

Nationally, about $1 trillion of conventional mortgages, or more than 10% of the U.S. mortgage market, is covered by PMI, according to Mike Zimmerman, senior vice president of MGIC, one of America’s largest mortgage insurance providers. The current crop of newly originated PMI business is about 85% purchase and 15% refinance.

About 13% of California mortgages purchased by Fan and Fred from January 2020 through this past June, or more than $106 billion, had mortgage insurance, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

Meanwhile, Southern California home prices increased 26% since the start of 2018, according to Attom Data Solutions.

Borrowers with a Federal Housing Administration mortgage have the same opportunity to chuck their mortgage insurance. If you have an FHA loan, eliminate the monthly premium by refinancing into a conventional mortgage.

Freddie Mac rate news: The 30-year fixed rate averaged 2.87%, unchanged from last week. The 15-year fixed rate averaged 2.18%, 1 basis point higher than last week.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported a 2.4% decrease in mortgage application volume from the previous week.

Bottom line: Assuming a borrower gets the average 30-year fixed rate on a conforming $548,250 loan, last year’s payment was $18 more than this week’s payment of $2,273.

What I see: Locally, well-qualified borrowers can get the following fixed-rate mortgages with 1 point cost: A 30-year FHA at 2.25%, a 15-year conventional at 1.875%, a 30-year conventional at 2.5%, a 15-year conventional high-balance ($548,251 to $822,375) at 1.99%, a 30-year conventional high-balance at 2.69% and a 30-year fixed jumbo at 2.875%.

Eye catcher loan of the week: A 15-year fixed rate at 2.375% without cost.

Jeff Lazerson is a mortgage broker. He can be reached at 949-334-2424 or His website is

* Specific loan program availability and requirements may vary. Please get in touch with your mortgage advisor for more information.

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Jeff Lazerson - Mortgage Columnist since 2011