Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A beautiful Houston morning.

Houston in the morning.
Today brings cold weather and sunshine to the beautiful skyline of my city.

As a hometown boy who returned to the great state of Texas, specifically my home city of Houston, I sometimes forget how beautiful it can be here. I have been living in Germany for the past four years where we did not need air conditioning, but relied on open windows and standing fans. While that was essentially beautiful in its own way, I was missing something while I was gone.

It wasn't the mosquitoes or scorching summer heat. It wasn't the cowboy hats or rodeos. But those things are part of the overall package when a family decides to live in Texas.

Texas has an aura of hospitality and big personalities which I believe, is a large part of what welcomed me back home.

When I stepped off the plane that first night back in the USA, 3 months pregnant wife in-tow, I had only a vague idea of what challenges we would face in the coming days. The roller coaster of life is still in full swing today, but I count my lucky stars that perseverance and determination were qualities that military training only enhanced for me.

I did not know that I would be working in the mortgage industry. I did not know that I would meet a team of civilians who are passionate about helping Veterans while building a business. I really didn't think that I would have the chance to interview with big named companies whose names would be impressive on any young adults resume. I won't toot my own horn with specific name dropping, but I will take the opportunity to publicly praise the "Hiring our Heros" job fairs for all the work they are doing to train and hire Veterans.

A Hiring Our Heros job fair.
Without HOH, I most likely would have not been able to shake hands with so many great recruiters and speak with countless human resources professionals doling out advice like Santa's helpers on Christmas Eve.

I write about my transition because it is important to me to share the story of my new adventure and my new successes only so that another Veteran might benefit from hearing about the challenge and struggle to find work once discharged.

I was able to secure employment within 6 weeks of my return to Texas after taking only a single day off, to include weekends. This actually plays a significant part of my home buying process because when a Veteran is out of work for more than 30 days in a year and attempts to make a VA loan application, the loan specialist must justify to the underwriting department why the Veteran was not working and explain how the Veteran's new position is the same as their previous one.

That might have been a bit confusing so let me explain further. I was a combat photographer assigned to a public affairs office and held a few different leadership roles within the unit during my time there. When I was discharged, I knew that I wanted to follow the same career path so that I could utilize the expertise I learned while serving. I have witnessed to many young Veterans toss away their skillset in order to pursue new opportunities.

While this is an admirable practice and takes extreme dedication to be successful, this can actually prevent you from getting a home loan if you apply the same year you switch jobs. This is due to the underwriter's wanting to ensure career stability of the person who is receiving the loan.

A home loan is usually the largest purchase a person will make in their entire lifetime. Unless you are Warren Buffett.

So thankfully for me, I secured a position working in the same type of career as I was in when I left the service. This grants me the opportunity to place my family into a home without having to wait a full 12 months. If I chose to go into the oil business turning wrenches after service, I may have had a great high paying job, but I would still have to wait 12 months before I could move my wife and children into a home because of the career change.

This is something for all Veterans to consider prior to discharge and prior to making large career changes in the same year you would like to buy a home.

My search continues this afternoon when I take the wife and kids to see a couple of properties inside the beltway, close to the new City Centre area of town. Hopefully, one of these homes will be my American Dream.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Areas to live in Houston.

When discussing new ideas for where to live in the city of Houston with my wife and family, a few specific areas always come up.

The Galleria area, the Westchase area, and the Memorial area.

All of these areas have a little something unique about them that make them appealing to a young couple with an average household income and a fairly small amount of debt. Things like outdoor recreation areas, family dining restaurants, and reputable child care centers are all attractions that cannot be missed by a young family.

The areas are all a bit more on the older side but with that comes numerous benefits like classic architecture,  mature trees, and ever increasing property values. With homes listing for $200K just a single block from homes listing for $1.1M, plus new businesses and restaurants, you have the right mix of city and suburb to help keep property values climbing.

As a young Veteran, I think it is a smart thing to pay attention to investments within my local community. If we return home from the military and reinvest in our communities then we can ensure the growth and development we want for our children's children.

We must take the skills we learned while at war and apply them to applicable situations in civilian life.

The search continues.

So I continued the search for my new home even through the weekend. Ryan Ward, my realtor, was out of town showing properties to other clients in Dallas, Tx, and I needed time to interview local nannies to take care of the kids in the future, so it all has been working out. Although, I have been searching for two months now and am still struggling with finding the right home for my family and I.

Here's what all we have gone through so far...

The standard prequalification process where both my wife and I gathered all documents necessary to obtain our loan. That was easy thankfully. Just tax documents, W2's, most recent pay stubs, a current mortgage statement from the house we own in Louisiana, a copy of our bank statement, my DD214, and copies of our ID's and social security cards. Not hard at all, just time consuming and a little bit intimidating because it is a whole lot of personal information. The fact of the matter is though, when asking to borrow six figures from a bank, you have to be ready to turn over your financials in order to show the lender that they are making a smart decision by allowing you to borrow that kind of money.

Home and neighborhood searching on securityamericanrealty.com, har.com, trulia.com and zillow.com.  Each one of them has their own look and feel when searching for homes and neighborhoods. Since I am originally from the Houston area, I have not needed to spend much time doing neighborhood searches. I know pretty much what part of town I want to live in based on my desire to have a short commute for both work and "play." A new dynamic for me though is schools. I have been using greatschools.org to help me find out what parents rate their local neighborhood schools on a scale from 1 to 10.

Plus, we already had a home under contract and then walked away from the deal after an appraisal returned with the home being under value. The sellers had a stated value which we made an offer on, but they overpriced the home so much, that when the appraisal returned, it was 8 thousand less than our offer and they refused to negotiate any further. Thankfully, with my VA loan, I was able to walk away from the property and terminate the contract. The home was not nice enough for me to enter it under value.

After the contract on that home fell through, we decided to look at mostly builder properties. New builds and inventory homes from multiple builders in the area. We assumed that we would not have the same problems we had with the previous home and we were right, but we ran into new challenges with negotiating with builders. After speaking with Dave Mitchell, a VA loan specialist from my office who used to be employed as a builder sales representative, I had a new perspective.

Dave informed me that as a sales rep. he would take the total amount of materials used in home upgrades and multiply that number by 1.6 ... this was what the builder would attempt to charge all customers to earn profit. So if you know that going in, you are more armed to negotiate with them.

Well, even with that knowledge, the home we ended up liking was not going to be ours. The builder sales rep. Angela did not want to negotiate all with us and even attempted the "lender steer" towards a mortgage bank that is known for being predatory.

Yet another situation where we had to walk away. I'm not making a $200,000 mistake.

So here we are and its Monday. The weekend passed with hours spent taking care of my twins and searching for more homes in the Westheimer and Richmond area of Houston, just south of Memorial. I am focusing on the old adage, "location, location, location", in all of my current searching.

I figure that I can save some money on gas by spending a little bit more on my mortgage. Especially with rates being so ridiculously low. Take a piece of advice folks, buy now! I may sound like a salesman but you are crazy not to listen. BUY! Don't rent. Don't wait till a rainy day. Don't save for another year. Mortgage rates have not stayed this low for over 50 years. Look at the history behind it and you'll see. Now is the time to refinance and buy more. Real estate is an investment. Look at old Donald Trump. That guy may be crazy, but he's crazy rich because of all of his real estate.

I would love to own 6 or 7 homes and have them all be income generating properties. It's just good business.

Now, on to the next home. My American dream awaits!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blog practice.

"Blogging" as a practice, is very new to me. I see it as some what of a diary posted in a public place on the internet, for the whole world to see. Those of you whom are more familiar with blogging already understand this concept. I'm still learning. :-)

The past two days have gone by in a bit of a whirlwind. From juggling work events and phone calls, taking care of my twins(Sophia and Dustin), to making the time to go out and house hunt, this time has flown by and I have to catch up on my posting. I will be honest with anyone reading this, this is a challenge!

I have challenged myself to write at least 6 entries a week. I have the desire to make it one per day, but maybe that isn't the best way to handle it. Maybe the best way to tell you, my reader, about my home hunting/buying experience is to just write them as I see fit throughout the week in conjunction with the major events that spawn creative thought for me.

I had a few events working with a couple of non-profits(Wounded Warrior Project and Texas Sentinel's Foundation) and a few talking to realtors about serving Veteran clients. All of which were successful and fun to participate in. Little did I know that everything negative going on with readjusting to normal life after my return from Afghanistan in the summer of 2010 would lead me to the amazingly positive place I am in today. I guess it reinforces the resilience of a military trained human to succeed at whatever we put our hands into.

I credit every second of success to my military training and the culture that was fostered by my senior leaders within the Defense Department. You see, I was given the opportunity to work in joint environments throughout a large portion of my career, and those opportunities with the Marines, Army, and Navy, helped influence what I like to call my "sense of team."

Each place I have worked, both in the military and now out, I attempt to approach in a similar fashion. Learn the key members of the team in each division of the organization. Develop relationships which enhance productivity. Learn and become familiar with each respective career fields specialty. Determine new ways where my skill set can be integrated with theirs. And hopefully, at the end of the day, this will lead to increased productivity throughout the team.

Without a team, I see people fall and stay down. Without a team, I see individual emotions rear their ugly heads and sometimes prevent mission accomplishment. I know for a fact, that I want a team, always.

Rambo is only in the movies.

I am writing about my past and my present to lead into talking about what it takes to get my family and I into a home. I have a realtor, Ryan Ward, a VA Loan Specialist, Jed Manuel, and a team of experts in the office who perform what I see is the backbone of the operation, the loan processors.

I think of the loan processors as I would a guard at the pearly gates of heaven... they know pretty much everything there is to know about the loan and you, and they are not letting you in the house till you provide everything they request. End of story! They see through the excuses and delays, and fight like tigers to make sure the rules are followed and standards are kept high. Kind of like non-commissioned officer's in the military.

Whenever any of you reading this decide that its finally time for you to buy that home of your dreams, please remember that it takes a team effort to get the best possible results. And taking care of your team, is priority one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Another afternoon of searching for a home.

So today was fairly busy for me with organizing a few different sponsorship opportunities for the company I work for, Security America Mortgage.

I packed in a good days work as early as I could today, with the hope that I would find time in the afternoon to continue my search for a home. It was a productive afternoon I think with me being able to look at four different homes, all within about 2 miles of one another, in the "Energy Corridor" section of Houston.

We visited all of the homes with our realtor, Ryan from Security American Realty, and he was able to help us take a look at a new builder's selection of inventory homes. KB Builders has a very interesting selection of open and flowing floor plans.

Out of all the homes we looked at this evening, the one that was the most interesting, was the "3410". Which is the name of the floor plan, but also lets you know that is is a 3,410 square foot home! The homes KB builds all meet Energy Star certifications for "Green" homes. All appliances are Energy Star rated and the homes are built with all of the newest energy efficient technologies.

Double pane/low emission windows, tech shielding, radiant attic barrier, digital control thermostats, etc. All of the energy saving features make this type of property a great value and contribute to reduced energy bills and what seem to be happy customers. I had a couple of neighbors wave while I was outside looking at the front of the home. That was actually pretty refreshing considering I want to move into a community, not just another old neighborhood.

I was impressed with the unique open floor plan with a great room and vastly open space right as you enter the front door. It felt like a home that should be priced about $50 thousand more than what it is priced at, but hey, I'm moving out to the burbs and my property taxes will be low!

Property taxes are a new little monster for me as I initially like most people who have never purchased their own home usually did not fully understand what pieces of financing go into a final mortgage computation. Thankfully, my VA loan specialist at Security America Mortgage taught me every detail about my monthly payment. Right down to the dollar that is counted as profit. That type of openness with all clients is just one of many reasons I am happy that my company is doing my mortgage.

When you work for people who are willing to be transparent in their business dealings, so that both employees and clients understand what is going on throughout a process, usually all parties involved will have a more positive experience.

More home searching tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Search for Home

Today began the first day of my new home search, at least for this week.

You see ... I lost out on a deal that we worked on for about a month after finding out that the property we looked at did not appraise for a value close enough to the asking price for me to actually go through with the deal. After spending time and money to negotiate 10 thousand dollars off of the asking price, the home still did not appraise for what we offered (198K offer, appraisal value of 191K).

So we realized that the home was going to be more of a problem than we originally thought at first glance. And we decided to walk away. Thank goodness for VA financing and the ability of the loan product to protect the Veteran. (It also doesn't hurt that one of my bosses is doing my loan for me.)

I must admit that going through the home buying process is pretty stressful. I have never purchased a home before, and am usually not intimidated by much (I am a combat Vet). But, I am quickly realizing that doing all of the research necessary to purchase a home is like having another full time job. Great, just what I need after getting out of the military after 12 years, having twins, and moving back to the USA after 4 years in Germany all in under 6 months!

Now I am fairly lucky with my chosen career path in public relations. I have an occupation where my actions can directly impact the lives of Veterans across the US. I have the freedom to prioritize and choose how to execute goals set by both myself and my partners in business. It is apparent to me that professional opportunities like this one do not come around often, so I do my best to juggle both work and family time, although I must admit that I am a bit of a workaholic. It is already 1130 p.m. as I sit and type this entry, but I told my coworkers earlier in the day that I would have one done after my activities this evening. And I am a man of my word.

So today's home showings with my realtor Ryan Ward from Security American Realty, went pretty smoothly. We went to a couple of properties, two to be exact, with the first one being a starkly different type of home than the latter. Both homes were over 3K square feet, but one was 3 bedrooms and the other was 5. Another stark contrast was the price... $153K to $189K respectively.

Both are filled with fairly standard builder upgrades, and both were very nice homes. But neither one of them screamed BUY ME!

I think I will know when I walk into that home and finally feel HOME.

Unfortunately, neither one of these stuck me as that place where I want to hang my proverbial hat.

On to searching for more places to bring my new twin babies home to. Tomorrow is another day.