What is PMI and how to get rid of it

Real estate lenders are a funny lot. It seems they’re happy to lend anybody money. Assuming a half-way decent credit rating, any potential home buyer can secure a loan for a house. Why? Because these transactions are secured by a very valuable asset: the home itself. If a borrower defaults on a loan, the risk for the lender is often only the difference between the value of the home and the amount outstanding on the loan, less the amount it costs them to foreclose and resell the property.

For this reason, lenders are very wary of lending more than a certain percentage of a home’s value. Traditionally, this has been 80 percent. The cushion this provides the lender helps ensure that their losses from loan defaults are kept to a minimum.

In recent years, however, it has become increasingly more common to see home buyers using down payments of 10, 5 or even 0 percent. Naturally, loaning this much presents the lenders with a lot more risk. To offset this risk, these transactions often require Private Mortgage Insurance or PMI. This supplemental policy protects the lender in case a borrower defaults on the loan, and the value of the house is lower than the loan balance.

PMI has been a large money-maker for the mortgage lenders. The amount of the insurance – often $40-$50 per month for a $100,000 house – is commonly rolled into the mortgage payment. Given the size of the overall payment, this additional fee is often overlooked. Homeowners continue to pay the PMI even after their loan balance has dropped below the original 80 percent threshold. This occurs naturally, of course, as the home owner pays down the principal on the loan. On a typical 30-year loan, however, it can take many years to reach that point.

Until recently lenders were under no obligation to tell home owners when they had reached a point where the PMI can be dropped. That all changed in 1999, when the Homeowners Protection Act took effect. In most cases, this law now obligates lenders to terminate the PMI when the principal balance of the loan reaches 78 percent of the original loan amount. Savvy homeowners can get off the hook a little earlier. The law stipulates that, upon request of the home owner, the PMI must be dropped when the principal amount reaches only 80 percent!

It is important to note that this law only applies to home loans – whether first time or refinances – that closed after July, 1999. Also certain other conditions must be met, such as being current on the loan payments. Buyers that purchased before July 1999 can also have their PMI removed, but they must initiate the process and though the lender is under no obligation to do so, most will.

Of course, there is another way that home owner’s equity can reach beyond the 80/20 percent ratio. Many areas of the United States have seen significant gains in the value of real estate over the past decade. In fact, certain areas have seen appreciation levels of 100 percent or more. Even those people living in areas with more modest gains may find that the value of their property has quickly grown to the point where the amount of principal they owe on their loan is less than 80 percent of the home’s current value. Again, in these cases, the lenders are under no legal obligation to remove the PMI. In most cases, however, as long as the home owner has been prompt on their loan payments and don’t represent an exceptional risk, the lenders will agree to remove the extra fees.

The hardest thing for most home owners to know is just when does their home equity rise above this magical 20 percent point? A certified, licensed real estate appraiser can certainly help. It is an appraiser’s job to know the market dynamics of their area. They know when property values have risen – or declined. Many appraisers offer specific services to help customers find the value of their homes and remove PMI payments. Faced with this data, the mortgage company will most often eliminate the PMI with little trouble. The savings from dropping the PMI pays for the appraisal in a matter of months. At which time, the home owner can enjoy the savings from that point on.

Short Sales

A short sale is when a bank or mortgage lender agrees to discount a loan balance due to an economic or financial hardship on the part of the mortgagor. This negotiation is all done through communication with a bank’s loss mitigation department. The home owner/debtor sells the mortgaged property for less than the outstanding balance of the loan, and turns over the proceeds of the sale to the lender in full satisfaction of the debt. In such instances, the lender would have the right to approve or disapprove of a proposed sale.

Extenuation circumstances influence whether or not banks will discount a loan balance. These circumstances are usually related to the current real estate market climate and the individual borrower’s financial situation.

A short sale typically is executed to prevent a home foreclosure. Often a bank will choose to allow a short sale if they believe that it will result in a smaller financial loss than foreclosing. For the home owner, the advantages include avoidance of having foreclosure on their credit history and the partial control of the monetary deficiency. Additionally, a short sale is typically faster and less expensive than a foreclosure. In short, a short sale is nothing more than negotiating with lien holders a payoff for less than what they are owed, or rather a sale of a debt, generally on a piece of real estate, short of the full debt amount.

Creditors, their surrogates, and those who politically benefit from the mortgage industry – especially those in the real-estate, mortgage servicing, and banking wrongly portray short sales as difficult to complete or morally questionable. This is simply untrue if the value of the underlying asset, a home, has fallen dramatically and debtor has limited assets. Short sales are extraordinarily common in standard business transactions in recognition that creditors are not doing debtors a favor but, rather, engaging in a business transaction when extending credit. When it makes no business sense or is economically not feasible to retain an asset businesses default on their loans (called bonds). It is not uncommon for business bonds to trade on the after-market for a small fraction of their face value in realization of the likelihood of these future defaults.

Tax Grievance

Property Tax Grievance Guidelines vary widely by State and sometimes even by municipalities within a state. A successful real estate tax appeal in most areas of the country is based upon first establishing the market value of your property. In order to reduce your property taxes you must prove that the value of your property is less than the valuation assigned by your assessing district (according to state law in most states, the assessment is deemed to be correct, and the burden of proof, falls on the petitioner-homeowner to prove otherwise). A recent bonafide arms length sale of the subject property is the best evidence. If the property was not recently purchased, or the purchase was not at arms length (as in an inter-family sale, foreclosure or other sale made under conditions of distress), an appraisal by a state certified appraiser is the next best type of evidence, which is typically used to prove value of your home throughout the process.

Excerpts from the Florida Statutes:

194.011 Assessment Notice; Objections to Assessments

(1) Each taxpayer whose property is subject to real or tangible personal ad valorem taxes shall be notified of the assessment of each taxable item of such property, as provided in s. 200.069.

(2) Any taxpayer who objects to the assessment placed on any property taxable to him may request the property appraiser to informally confer with the taxpayer. Upon receiving the request, the property appraiser, or a member of his staff, shall confer with the taxpayer regarding the correctness of the assessment. At this informal conference, the taxpayer shall present those facts considered by the taxpayer to be supportive of the taxpayer’s claim for a change in the assessment of the property appraiser. The property appraiser or his representative at this conference shall present those facts considered by the property appraiser to be supportive of the correctness of the assessment. However, noting herein shall be construed to be a prerequisite to administrative or judicial review of property assessments.

(3) A petition to the Value Adjustment Board shall describe the property by parcel number and shall be filed as follows:

(a) The property appraiser shall have available and shall distribute forms prescribed by the Department of Revenue on which the petition shall be made. Such petition shall be sworn to by the petitioner.
(b) The completed petition shall be filed with the clerk of the Value Adjustment Board of the county, who shall acknowledge receipt thereof and promptly furnish a copy thereof to the property appraiser.
(c) The petition shall state the approximate time anticipate by the taxpayer to present and argue his petition before the board.
(d) The petition may be filed, as to valuation issues, at any time during the taxable year on or before the 25th day following the mailing of notice by the property appraiser as provided in subsection (1). With respect to an issue involving the denial of an exemption, an agricultural classification application, or a deferral, the petition shall be filed at any time during the taxable year on or before the 30th day following the mailing of the notice by the property appraiser under s. 193.461 or s.196.193 or notice by the tax collector under s.197.253.
(e) A condominium association, cooperative association, or homeowners’ association as defined in s.723.075, with approval of its board of administration or directors, may file with the Value Adjustment Board a single joint petition on behalf of any association members who parcels of property which the property appraiser determines are substantially similar with respect to location, proximity to amenities, number of rooms, living area, and condition. The condominium association, cooperative association, or homeowners’ association as defined in s.723.075 shall provide the unit owners with notice of its intent to petition the Value Adjustment Board and shall provide at least 20 days for a unit owner to elect, in writing, that his unit not be included in the petition.
(f) An owner of contiguous, undeveloped parcels may file with the Value Adjustment Board a single joint petition if the property appraiser determines such parcels are substantially similar in nature.
(g) The individual, agent, or legal entity that signs the petition becomes an agent of the taxpayer for the purpose of serving process to obtain personal jurisdiction over the taxpayer for the entire Value Adjustment Board proceedings, including any appeals of a board decision by the property appraiser pursuant to s.194.036.