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Introduction: Our Story

So Cal VA Homes’ Core Values & Distinguished Mission: To do what no other company can do… to do what no other company is willing to do for our men and woman who serve… to be The Ultimate Crusaders for Veterans buying homes.

In 1991, I married my college sweetheart and was working in the loan industry.  Along my career path, I was fortunate to meet a variety of people who  provided opportunities to learn and grow in the financial services industry.  In 1996, I opened my mortgage company One Touch Lending with my partner Shawn Swaroop.  Together, we grew our families and grew our business.  One Touch Lending began working with Veterans after 9-11.  That horrific event altered my career path, pointing me in a direction which I wouldn’t fully understand until several years later.  In the fall of 2008, I started a real estate investment company called SARTRE, LLC.  We purchased thousands of distressed properties and apartment units with cash in hopes of selling them at higher prices.  Then in 2011, I had an “aha moment” to combine the resources of One Touch Lending and SARTRE to create So Cal VA Homes and our Dreamweaver Home Purchase Process TM which delivers a fully custom renovated home to active military and Veterans for no money down and no closing costs.

I originally chronicled our story, from inception to evolution, titled Rewriting the Rules:  The So Cal VA Homes Story.  That document is now available on our website where it highlights my story and So Cal VA Homes’ unique vision for our clients, the VA home buyer. This book that you are currently reading is the extension of my story, and this book’s intent is to provide answers to frequently asked questions by Veterans who want to become homeowners, become investors and who want to create wealth.
The history of So Cal VA Homes is of course interconnected with my own biography.  My son Nick has autism, and my wife Nancy has been running his home educational program since he was a toddler.  Nancy was fortunate to hire an aide for Nick named Michelle.  And at the time, Michelle was dating a young man who she claimed was a genius at real estate (and other things), and she kept insisting that I meet him and interview him.   I said, “Nah, I don’t need to hire anyone right now.”  But one thing led to another and three months later, I hired her boyfriend, Brandon Breshears. as my loan production assistant, and boy, was Michelle right!  Brandon moved beyond his initial responsibilities quickly.  “Young Skywalker,” as I used to refer to him, is a genius in so many ways, and he infected me with an extra dose of enthusiasm that only someone who is twenty years my junior could be capable of!  Brandon and I shared the same dedication and motivation in helping Veterans achieve homeownership, which in turn, propelled forward the goals of So Cal VA Homes.  I was very fortunate to work with Brandon.  He was a valuable contributor for a myriad of reasons, including tech expertise, experience in construction, and property valuation.

I had that lightning bolt moment in the spring of 2011, and I was struck with “The Big Idea” of a unique business model that eventually became the Dreamweaver Home Purchase Process™ of So Cal VA Homes.  At the time, I was monitoring the effects of recent interest rate declines on the housing market.  The drop in rates created more affordable mortgage payments, resulting in an increase in home purchases, and VA buyers began to buy houses again in large numbers.  As rates kept dropping, I refinanced hundreds of VA clients’ loans from 6% down to 4%.  I literally spoke to hundreds of clients about what they did and didn’t get out of their home purchase, and I reviewed their finances in detail.

The history of So Cal VA Homes is of course interconnected with my own biography.  My son Nick has autism, and my wife Nancy has been running his home educational program since he was a toddler.  Nancy was fortunate to hire an aide for Nick named Michelle.  And at the time, Michelle was dating a young man who she claimed was a genius at real estate (and other things), and she kept insisting that I meet him and interview him.   I said, “Nah, I don’t need to hire anyone right now.”

But one thing led to another and three months later, I hired her boyfriend, Brandon Breshears. as my loan production assistant, and boy, was Michelle right!  Brandon moved beyond his initial responsibilities quickly.  “Young Skywalker,” as I used to refer to him, is a genius in so many ways, and he infected me with an extra dose of enthusiasm that only someone who is twenty years my junior could be capable of!  Brandon and I shared the same dedication and motivation in helping Veterans achieve homeownership, which in turn, propelled forward the goals of So Cal VA Homes.  I was very fortunate to work with Brandon.  He was a valuable contributor for a myriad of reasons, including tech expertise, experience in construction, and property valuation.  

I had that lightning bolt moment in the spring of 2011, and I was struck with “The Big Idea” of a unique business model that eventually became the Dreamweaver Home Purchase Process™ of So Cal VA Homes.  At the time, I was monitoring the effects of recent interest rate declines on the housing market.  The drop in rates created more affordable mortgage payments, resulting in an increase in home purchases, and VA buyers began to buy houses again in large numbers.  As rates kept dropping, I refinanced hundreds of VA clients’ loans from 6% down to 4%.  I literally spoke to hundreds of clients about what they did and didn’t get out of their home purchase, and I reviewed their finances in detail.

“The Big Idea” business model was to create a fully custom renovated home, a Veteran’s dream home, which we would purchase with cash, renovate to their specifications and liking, and then sell to the Veteran using 100% VA financing with no out of pocket costs.  

That effectively enabled the Veteran to have all the buying power of a cash buyer.  

When buying homes, Veterans are often at a disadvantage in the real estate marketplace.  Real estate agents and sellers prefer cash buyers and conventional buyers who can offer faster closings and substantial good faith deposits securing the commitment to close.  The marketplace is typically not receptive to requests for closing costs from VA buyers.  The market is also aware of VA appraisal restrictions, longer time frames to obtain financing, and generally a lower probability of success when entertaining an offer to purchase from a VA home buyer.

SARTRE, LLC was looking for a way to enhance our real estate investment business in California. So, I surveyed my clients and asked them, “What if you could buy a fully custom renovated home instead of being turned away because your VA Loan puts you at a disadvantage in a marketplace that prefers cash and fat conventional offers?”  100% of my clients and prospects answered with a resounding “YES, YES!  Where were you when I bought my home?”  “The Big Idea” then became our business plan.  So Cal VA Homes makes cash offers to purchase the home on behalf of Veterans, then renovates it the way they want it with upgrades and features they choose, and then sells it directly to the Veteran who uses their VA Home Loan Benefit to close, with zero down and zero closing costs.  

In the spring of 2011, there were more foreclosures available at what appeared to be discount prices.  Two years later in 2013, the market had turned into a seller’s market, and inventory of homes for sale decreased dramatically. As a result, fewer homes that presented “renovation opportunities” were available for sale.  So in an effort to always re-write the rules and provide our Veterans with the best options available in a competitive real estate market, we launched our Veteran’s Angel Program SM.  With this program, So Cal VA Homes represents our client as a traditional real estate agent would, making a “VA offer” but with some innovative, high-performance additives!  The Veteran’s Angel Program SM deploys three, very stealth and powerful tactics to secure purchase contracts while making a “VA offer” on behalf of our VA buyers.

What I’ve learned through the whole process of refinancing hundreds and hundreds of VA homeowners, and now working with a volume of VA purchase transactions, is that the VA market is tremendously underserved!  There might be a handful of lenders who claim to only serve Veterans, but there is no real estate company that I’m aware of, anywhere in the country, that exclusively sells homes to Veterans.  And there is a very good reason for this disinterest in the real estate community.  It would be a tremendously risky and herculean task to build such a real estate company on a national level.  To have success, you’d have to work in a marketplace, such as Southern California or South Florida where the concentration of VA buyers is high, relative to the total volume of transactions.   For instance, in Southern California, in the Temecula Valley, the amount of VA transactions is literally 20% of the marketplace thanks to the Marines at Camp Pendleton and to the Navy in San Diego AND all the Veterans from both.  That’s a really high concentration of VA buyers.

However, imagine you’re a real estate agent working only with active military and Veterans.  You are often facing the most difficult and stringent transactions due to the VA appraisal process and VA underwriting criteria.  VA loans are often the riskiest loans to get into escrow and to close, and the clientele you are servicing often has the least amount of money for down payments and reserves.  And with government loans such as FHA and VA, clients often have lower credit scores than conventional borrowers.  Collectively, all these factors combined are the reasons that listing agents and sellers prefer to stay away from VA homebuyers in general.  This creates a steep, up-hill battle for the agent or real estate company that may wish to be “exclusive” and only represent this community of buyers.

To serve those who are currently under-served, our VA home buyers, a company would need to have exclusive realtors all over the country or region that only do VA business.  Such a company doesn’t exist and most likely, won’t open due to these stumbling blocks. If you are going to build a business with active military and Veterans, you’re really choosing to work with the most challenging group of clientele out there!  Business builders typically choose an easier path, not the path of greatest resistance!  And it’s just not practical on a national level.  A few individual agents in random markets might choose to cater to VA buyers as a percentage of their total transaction volume, but no one is going to devote a season of their career, let alone their entire career, to just serving VA buyers.  That could be described as business suicide.  Ironically, this is exactly what So Cal VA Homes has chosen to do!

Embarking upon such a challenge would have been impossible if I didn’t first have a jump-start with several hundred VA refinance customers in my client list.  In addition, my experience in VA financing with my mortgage company and a successful real estate investment company that has cash to spend buying homes was necessary to facilitate the business model and make the process successful.  Finally, my team of knowledgeable experts who know how to evaluate homes, buy homes, and renovate homes on budget was already in place and ready to serve VA clients.  With these strengths, So Cal VA Homes is able to successfully serve our VA buyers in this unique way.  We are choosing to do what most people would consider business insanity.

So why are we on this mission to serve our active military and Veterans in a way they are not being served now?  It’s a question I ask myself all the time because the answer digs deep down into the source of my motivation. First, it frankly just seemed like a great idea!  My associate Brandon and I had a blast just dreaming of such a company.  “What if we could pull this off?  What a great end result, and for the most deserved of people.”  Serving men and women, who literally sacrificed careers, sacrificed everything to serve our country, serving this community, certainly stirred a wave of patriotic feelings in our souls.

These feelings grew deeper until we were on a mission.  We executed several “fully custom renovated home” transactions which were very, very difficult.  It was both taxing and exhilarating at the same time.  Purchasing a home, renovating it, managing the expectations of our clients, and creating financing that they were pleased with was a monumental task.  Unfortunately, there are so many moving parts in such a transaction that several things could go wrong.  Yet, part of our Client Induction Process is to describe all those moving parts, so that So Cal VA Homes and the homebuyers really become like partners.  All parties move with the objective of creating a fully custom renovated home for the VA buyer.  The work can be a nightmare of making custom renovation choices, adhering to timeframes, working with contractors, and staying on budget.  But I love a huge challenge.  I’ve always been a hard worker in everything I’ve done in my career, especially in real estate and the mortgage business, and I love doing things that others think can’t be done.  Sometimes, taking an idea from concept to execution is just a matter of working hard and getting it done.

I’ll never forget presenting our first, fully custom renovated home to Brian and Lisa Doudera, from Imperial Beach, California.  They got an incredible deal!  They were paying $2200 in rent for an 1800 square foot property.  So Cal VA Homes helped them own their new home with an $1800 mortgage payment and 2300 square feet of living space.  They also got $8000 worth of appliances AND $20K worth of equity, all for zero down and zero closing costs!  But the best was fulfilling Brian’s request for a flat screen TV.  “Could we include that in the renovations,” he asked?  The look on Brian’s face when he saw that $5000, 80 inch, SHARP LCD TV on the wall was priceless!  He asked for it…we delivered!

They were in awe… speechless… in disbelief and more than THRILLED! For me, it was the best day of my career.   And I was looking to repeat that experience.   We were onto something big.
I didn’t serve.  My father served in the Army in the 1950’s in the Korean War as an accountant.  My father-in-law served in the Vietnam War as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and saw some combat.  My interest in the experience of the American soldier and being in the U.S. armed services grew and grew, in part due to getting to know so many admirable people who did serve – our clients.  I began to read books:

War by Sebastian Younger; also made into the documentary movie Restrepo
American Sniper, by Chris Kyle.
Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell
13 Hours, by Mitchell Zuckoff (an account of the Benghazi attack) 
For Love of Country, by Howard Schultz (founder of Starbucks)
Always Forward, Always Faithful, by Dick Couch (former Navy Seal and prolific author
Fearless, by Eric Blehm – SEAL Team SIX’s Adam Brown’s life story, an inspiration to all Americans

I gained much admiration and appreciation for all branches of the military, especially the Special Forces.  The amazing and selfless acts of valor by all service people still leave me in awe.  The brutal conditions under which they so incredibly and valiantly protect our country are shocking.  Their commitment appears unparalleled by anything in civilian society. The few books I’ve read are packed full of just horrendous accounts, in the context of incredible human interest stories about the attitude for service that soldiers and other people have, about their experiences, and about how they live their life in that manner.  

I almost became jealous of the camaraderie that is shared and the adrenaline that is experienced.  If you ask a combat solider about the most incredible emotional experience they have ever had and are willing to share, they will probably tell you that it was in the midst of a serious firefight - mortal combat - making decisions regarding the possible sacrifice of their life for the life of their buddies.  I don’t think you could imagine a situation anywhere on the planet were you could admire someone more.  What a “steel-wrapped” bond, born of intense adrenaline and camaraderie.

When I start adding all of this up, it makes me feel really small.  It makes me feel insignificant in comparison to the people out there who really commit to lives and careers of service.  They choose to serve perhaps because they love it, and because they get so much out of it.  So, what drives me and my company forward is literally the ability and the challenge to go “there” and do things in the marketplace that no one else will do, no one else will choose to do, and no one else can do because they are not in the position to do it.  Because most of all, this effort is about serving our community - a difficult one to serve.  The economics and logistics are very challenging.  I feel compelled to rise to this challenge and to do what has never been done before, in service of those who have served.   And you might have noticed the word Veteran has been capitalized.  As it relates to book, the word and title, Veteran, will always be capitalized no matter where it appears in a sentence.  I believe that it is a title of honor and respect. 

We’re on a mission to fill a need. We are very fortunate to have the resources to do it, and it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun.  Come join us on the ride!

Call a Sr. VA Home Loan Technician today!

(949) 268-7742

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