San Antonio’s next mortgage powerhouse is leveling up.
This article first appeared in the June 2020 edition of Building Savvy magazine, San Antonio's premier homebuilding industry publication.
San Antonio has a long tradition of blending the native blue collar Tejano culture and military service into a unique, upwardly mobile society. With a family-friendly environment highlighted by a low cost of living, Military City USA is a major destination for service members when they exit the military. If a revolution of veteran issues was ever to occur, naturally it would start here. If San Antonio native (and Navy veteran) Chris Cano and his crew at Aligned Mortgage have anything to do with it, they will be the spark that starts a nation-wide fire: creating veteran homeowners.
By starting families, buying homes and starting careers, military veterans quickly become cornerstones of the communities they return to. The VA Loan benefit is afforded to all honorably discharged veterans and makes the transition to civilian life easy: it offers no down payment, no mortgage insurance, and is backed by the federal government. Combine this with very competitive rates and fees, and the VA loan is a blockbuster tool that can unlock doors for first-time homebuyers and more.
There’s only one problem: Today, less than 15% of 23 million eligible veterans use the VA loan. I sat down with Chris Cano to clear the air about common misconceptions builders and veterans may have about the VA loan and to introduce the mortgage company’s newest hire: former San Antonio City Councilman (and Mayoral candidate, as well as Air Force veteran) Greg Brockhouse.
Why would home builders benefit from working with a specific lender for veteran loans?
Chris Cano: “A lot of builders are unclear exactly how the VA loan would work for new construction, and may unknowingly steer buyers to other, more expensive products. Builders have to get educated on the product so they can educate their buyers.
A common misconception is that the VA loan has limits that prevent veterans from affording anything but starter homes. It’s simply not true. In 2020, the VA loan benefit was updated to have no loan limit for fully-entitled veterans, and a $510,000 limit for partially-entitled veterans. That is high enough to buy from almost every builder in the San Antonio area.
Not all VA Lenders have the same fee structures, and having a dedicated company that specializes on veteran loans will allow them to open the door to home ownership to a lot more veterans. That’s what it’s all about.”
Where is Aligned Mortgage headed in 2020?
Chris Cano: “Aligned is currently operating in 6 states (TX [San Antonio, Killeen, New Braunfels], CA, HI, MO, GA, NV) and aims to be operating in 15 states by the end of the year. [We focus on] serving communities with a large military population. We go on base primarily to educate current military members about this option because a lot of them may not even know it exists. [Aligned] is full of great people committed to one mission: to ensure that people who are willing to fight for this country are able to own a piece of it.”
Greg, you had a very competitive mayoral race in 2019. After you recharged your batteries, you have teamed up with Aligned Mortgage. Why here?
Greg Brockhouse: “We ran a hard race and came up just a little short. When I started looking for my next move, Aligned stood out to me as a place where there was that ‘get in on the ground floor’ kind of energy. I really liked their commitment to service and sense of purpose. Also, the commitment to faith here stood out as something that I wanted to be around.”
You used to work in the mortgage industry, before your political career. It’s been a while. What’s changed?
Greg Brockhouse: “From 2000 to about 2012, I worked for companies like Wachovia and San Antonio Credit Union. Obviously, in 2020 the industry has a lot more regulation than before, and that can make it tough to navigate. The cost of building a home has gone up considerably, which affects who can qualify for a home loan. Also, just the perception of owning a home has changed considerably. This country used to measure its economic success in housing starts, not GDP. That has changed since I left the industry.”
As a San Antonio native, what challenges/opportunities do you see to promoting home ownership here?
Greg Brockhouse: “I grew up near Lackland Air Force Base near Valley Hi. I’ve seen firsthand what all the experts say: San Antonio is the most economically segregated city in America. We are one of the poorest major cities in the country. So just the belief that you can afford a home is an uphill battle for a lot of people. People don’t think they have the credit for it, or the down payment.
Also, the city government has focused on incentivizing apartment living. For decades, we focused on downtown too much and ignored the families who live and work around the city. Many parts of the city have been completely ignored for too long. We’ve added so many fees and permits that drive up the cost of building a house, and that directly impacts who and how many people can buy that house. I actually think we should expand the San Antonio Fee Waiver Program (which subsidizes certain construction in economically distressed areas) to the entire city. The city has grown unevenly, and now even builders have recognized the need for starter home inventory and are starting to build that product again.”
Last question: COVID-19 obviously is having a huge impact on San Antonio’s economy. How do we rebuild?
Greg Brockhouse: “Supporting small business and focusing on affordability of housing are going to have to be the City’s focus for the next few years. We have to change the path we are on.” Chris Cano: “[Aligned] stays agile, and we focus on people over profits. Obviously we are in it to make money, but the impact we can make on veteran’s lives has huge effects outside of the actual transaction. Home ownership is just the first step.”