What Kind of Insurance Do You Need When You Buy a House?

Let me start by saying that I’m not in the insurance business, but that the insurance business is in mine.  And my business is helping home buyers and homeowners get a great mortgage.  So just what are the insurance requirements when you buy a home or go to refinance a mortgage on residential real estate you own in California?  Why does your lender care about the insurance coverage you keep?

Homeowner’s Insurance

Also known as “hazard insurance,” or “fire insurance,” this is the key policy you will be required to carry if you have a mortgage.  While the actual coverage may seem to be a clear benefit to you, there’s a mutual benefit for the lender.  After all, the home is both where you live and the collateral for the lender’s loan.  Without the home itself, it’s unlikely the lender would/could ever be paid back in the event of a loss.  By this logic, some homeowners who are “free and clear,” meaning they have no mortgage, will opt not to carry a homeowner’s policy.  In the event of a total loss from a fire, for example, they would be completely out of a place to live with no reimbursement for loss of its use.  Ouch.

Flood Insurance

If your lender determines that your property is in a FEMA special flood hazard area, you’ll be required to carry flood insurance.  Regulation requires that mortgage servicers impound your flood insurance premium even if your homeowner’s insurance and property taxes are not impounded (aka “escrowed”).

Earthquake Insurance

Earthquake insurance is not required by lenders in California, even though the risk of earthquake damage is real in many areas.  You can, at your discretion, purchase earthquake insurance but only about 10% of CA owners will choose to do so.

Title Insurance

When you buy a home and use financing, you’ll be required to get a “lender’s” title insurance policy.  This protects the lender from title defects and future claims against the title (which, like with homeowner’s insurance, could jeopardize their rights to the collateral).  You’ll notice that you’re also being quoted an “owner’s” policy, which is technically optional.  The vast majority will purchase this coverage too, and with good reason.  Should anyone claim an interest in your property down the road, the owner’s policy would provide you cover and the title insurer would step in to deal with the claim.  Worth noting is that the owner’s title insurance policy is in effect for the time you own the home.  The lender’s policy is in place for the time you hold the specific loan involved in the transaction.  If you refinance, you would purchase only a new lender’s policy.

Life Insurance

Like earthquake insurance, life insurance is not required when you take on a mortgage.  Also like earthquake, it may not be a bad idea.  Life insurance can help a surviving spouse pay off or better manage the payments on a loan in the event of the death of the other spouse, and you can make a very good argument that life insurance is an incredibly responsible financial purchase to consider at the time of home ownership.  We work with some great life insurance agents on a regular basis, so ask if you need a recommendation.

Private Mortgage Insurance

I am including private mortgage insurance or “PMI” in the insurance category because it makes sense that when borrower looks at the voluminous paperwork involved in buying a home, all of the insurance terminology starts to look the same.  But PMI is exclusively related to your mortgage and if you’re putting at least 20% down and/or not using an FHA loan, you may not have PMI at all.  So the best way to look at PMI is not as an insurance coverage required by the property, but one sometimes required by the loan.  You also do not need to “shop” for PMI like you would any of the other insurance types listed above, like homeowner’s.  Your lender should always attempt to find the least expensive private mortgage insurance available among the eligible providers.

So, to recap.  If you have a mortgage on a home, you will always need homeowner’s insurance and a lender’s title insurance policy.  You may be required to carry flood insurance.  Depending on your loan’s characteristics, you may also be required to have private mortgage insurance.  Owner’s title insurance, earthquake insurance and life insurance are up to you.  If you need help or perspective on these decisions and choices, I am always available to share my experience and insight.  We routinely work with many great insurance professionals because our industries are inevitably intertwined with the financing of real estate.  If you would benefit from a referral, please don’t hesitate to ask.

You’re in good hands, 

Rob Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Guaranteed Rate
NMLS: 22343
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959
rob.spinosa@rate.com

Marin Office:  324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA  94960
Berkeley Office:  1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA  94709
*The views and opinions expressed on this site about work-related matters are my own, have not been reviewed or approved by Guaranteed Rate and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Guaranteed Rate.  In no way do I commit Guaranteed Rate to any position on any matter or issue without the express prior written consent of Guaranteed Rate’s Human Resources Department.

Guaranteed Rate. Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee NMLS License #2611 3940 N. Ravenswood Chicago, IL 60613 – (866) 934-7283

Is Your Mortgage Lender Requiring Flood Insurance?

Up until this point, everything was going great. You loved the house, it fit your budget and, by the grace of God, your offer got accepted.

But then it was your mortgage lender, Dasher of Dreams, who let you know that the property sits in a special flood hazard area, and that it will require flood insurance. I know — this is something that should have been revealed earlier in the process, and most often it is, but this time around, the fact that the property may be susceptible to flooding risk came up late and was discovered when your mortgage originator pulled a “flood cert.” So what is flood insurance, what are the requirements? Is it going to be expensive?

[Too lazy to read the rest? Watch the short video below instead!]

Coastal areas, rivers and streams and sometimes even the unlikeliest of areas might be subject to a flood hazard. Lenders assess this risk by accessing FEMA’s flood maps as part of the loan process. “Pulling a flood cert” will reveal if the property is an area of hazard and if it is, it could require flood insurance. Flood insurance itself is most often provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the insurance agent of your choice can help you purchase the policy. The standard NFIP policy will insure the homeowner’s property for up to $250,000, though contents coverage is separate and available for up to $100,000 in coverage. Lenders will require the property coverage in cases where the property is in a flood zone. Of late, we are seeing more homebuyers purchase “private” flood insurance policies through carriers such as Lloyd’s of London, and we also see some buyers obtain “supplemental” coverage. With high-value, coastal properties, one can easily see that $250K of coverage would be woefully inadequate in the case of a serious flood event. Keep in mind a final, important point about flood insurance. If an elevation certification documents that the property is not at flood risk, it may be possible to eliminate the need for a flood policy altogether.

“Alright,” you say. You are still going forward with the purchase of the property and you accept the fact that it’s in a potential flood zone.  What’s flood insurance going to cost? What are the implications of carrying the flood policy? Let’s look at the cost part first. The flood zone designation itself will drive the cost of the policy. Higher risk of flooding will equate to more expensive premiums. Once a quote has been obtained for a sufficient policy, we — the lender — will factor the monthly expense of the insurance into your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This is why it is vital to understand if flood insurance is a factor as early in the process as possible. If you determine that flood insurance is required and if you qualify with the payment, then the next two considerations are that the flood insurance policy’s annual premium must be paid in full prior to closing AND you must impound your flood insurance payment going forward, even if you do not have impounds on your property taxes and regular homeowner’s insurance.

Because my home base is Marin County, CA, which is coastal California, we do see our share of properties in flood zones. We also have some great relationships with insurance providers who understand flood policies and have access to the carriers outside of the NFIP when and where necessary. They also appreciate that flood insurance can be expensive and is never welcomed news. They work with our clients to place them in the most cost-effective insurance arrangement. Because flood insurance can’t be avoided where it is required by the map, the next best thing is to understand comprehensively how it fits into your mortgage process. We’re here to help you navigate the waters of the flood puzzle.

When the levee breaks, 

 

Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Guaranteed Rate
NMLS: 22343
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959
rob.spinosa@rate.com

Marin Office: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960
Berkeley Office: 1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA 94709

*The views and opinions expressed on this site about work-related matters are my own, have not been reviewed or approved by Guaranteed Rate and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Guaranteed Rate. In no way do I commit Guaranteed Rate to any position on any matter or issue without the express prior written consent of Guaranteed Rate’s Human Resources Department.

Guaranteed Rate. Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee NMLS License #2611 3940 N. Ravenswood Chicago, IL 60613 – (866) 934-7283

What Is an Impound or Escrow Account?

When renters desire to become home buyers, they quickly learn once in the mortgage process that their single rent payment will morph into “PITI” or “principal, interest, taxes and insurance,” or a “total monthly housing payment.” So, yes, there are additional monthly expenses to consider when you become an owner. Historically, ownership has bestowed tax benefit on the buyer and that’s been an offset to the higher cost of ownership and because of this, the “rent vs. own” calculation has been used to more fairly compare the cost of putting a roof over one’s head. Rent may be simpler, but ownership is more comprehensive, if more expensive.

Let’s assume that our buyer has done the comparison and decides to move forward with purchasing a place of his own. At some point, his or her mortgage lender will offer a choice (or maybe not…) about how they will pay their property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. There will be two options:

  1. Waive impounds. The owner foots the property tax bill and insurance premium when due.
  2. Impound or “escrow” taxes and insurance.  The lender creates an account through which the borrower pays 1/12th of the tax and insurance bills along with the principal and interest payment (P&I) each month. When the bills come due, the lender pays them instead of the borrower.

What does this mean, how does it work and which is better? Let’s look at all three in plain language.

What Is an Impound Account?

As outlined above, “escrows” or “impounds” are a financial account where your loan’s servicer can collect, hold and disburse your property tax and homeowner’s insurance payments. The servicer maintains this account and documents it on your monthly statement. Escrow accounts are required on government loans, such as FHA and VA, but are elective in many other cases. Here in California, escrow accounts are required on a loan-to-value (LTV) of 90% or greater. Interestingly, in most states across the country, escrow accounts are customary (if not required). But here in CA, it is more common not to have an escrow account. Go figure…

How Does an Impound Account Work?

Escrow (aka, “impound”) accounts are “pre-funded” at the time of purchase and thus can make your settlement more costly. Why is this? Let’s look at California’s property tax year. It runs from July 1 through June 30. Let’s say you close on your home purchase on June 30. You will live in the house from July 1, forward, but you won’t make your first payment on the mortgage until August 1 because unlike rent, mortgage is paid in arrears. Our first installment of taxes is due November 1 and for a six month installment (July through December of the fiscal year). But note that if your mortgage payments start on August 1 and you have to pay your first installment on November 1, you will have only made three payments by the time the tax bill is technically due for six. Unless the servicer “pre funds” at least three months at close, it cannot cover your installment. This is why you’ll see a number of months of taxes and insurance added to your closing when you have a loan with an impound account. It’s important to note that even though your ongoing mortgage payments continue to add a fraction of your total tax and insurance bills each month, your servicer does not pay the county or the insurer monthly. They pay when the bill is due, just like those borrowers who waive an impound account.

Which Is Better, Taking or Waiving Impounds?

As mentioned, some loan types require impounds. Where that happens, buyers must carefully consider and accept the payment requirement. If there is a choice, it comes down to personal preference and budgetary discipline. Those who waive an impound account do have a smaller monthly expense to cover because they are only paying the principal and interest portions of their total monthly housing expense. When their insurance and tax bills inevitably come due, they have to be prepared to pay them in full, and that requires budgetary discipline on their part throughout the year — just as if the loan servicer was requiring allocations for these expenses. So like with most things in the mortgage industry, there are pros and cons but there is no free lunch. No matter how you opt to pay it, your tax and insurance bills will be the same and must be paid in full at the end of the day.

If you have additional questions about escrow accounts for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, get in touch any time. As you can see, there are instances where using or foregoing an escrow account comes down to a choice. If you’re wrestling with the best fit for your situation, it often helps to remove the myths and emotions from the decision making process. We can help you do that and get the facts and math straight, and from there, the choice to take or waive escrows often becomes so much more clear.

Paid in full, 

 

Robert J. Spinosa
Vice President of Mortgage Lending
Guaranteed Rate
NMLS: 22343
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959
rob.spinosa@rate.com

Marin Office: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960
Berkeley Office: 1400 Shattuck Ave., Suite 1, Berkeley, CA 94709

*The views and opinions expressed on this site about work-related matters are my own, have not been reviewed or approved by Guaranteed Rate and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Guaranteed Rate. In no way do I commit Guaranteed Rate to any position on any matter or issue without the express prior written consent of Guaranteed Rate’s Human Resources Department.

Guaranteed Rate. Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee NMLS License #2611 3940 N. Ravenswood Chicago, IL 60613 – (866) 934-7283