Johnnie Bowser, a US veteran and North Carolina resident, had been a renter his entire life. He’d been working hard to save up to buy his own home, but it just hadn’t happened. That is, until he met Heather Aucello, a Movement loan officer who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The dream of homeownership
Like many parents, Johnnie’s dream of homeownership took a back seat to his responsibilities making sure his children had a better life and more opportunities. Every cent he saved went to his children’s education. It paid off: his two daughters went to good schools, both became financial advisers, and both eventually became homeowners. So in a sense, Johnnie realized his dream, but for his daughters.
While he hadn’t achieved his own goals of owning a home, things weren’t bad. When one of his daughters decided to move to Las Vegas, she asked her father to stay in the home as a renter. For eight years, Johnnie’s daughter was also his landlord, a relationship that worked perfectly until there was an unplanned hiccup.
A father’s priority
“My daughter came to a point in her life where she needed more money,” recalls Johnnie. “And the value of the house had almost doubled by now.”
Continuing to put his children’s needs first, Johnnie knew that the time had come for his daughter to cash in on the value of her home. He also knew that the best outcome for his daughter might not be the best outcome for him: he’d have to find somewhere new to live.
Home is where the heart is
Johnnie’s sister invited Johnnie and his son to live with her in their beloved grandmother’s old home. It was familiar, but it was tight, and Johnnie knew it wasn’t sustainable and considered it a temporary solution only. The bigger picture was to hunt for a more permanent living space for himself and his two sons.
Although Johnnie was divorced, he was still on friendly terms with his ex-wife. That’s a good thing, as his ex-wife was at that moment working with a real estate agent to buy a new home of her own. They talked about Johnny’s housing situation, and she carefully pushed him to consider buying something permanent instead of renting yet another place. It just so happened that his ex was at the stage where she was finalizing home financing arrangements with a loan officer.
“She talked me into meeting with one of them,” said Johnnie. “That’s when I met Heather.”
An angel and loan officer
Having worked in the mortgage industry for more than 19 years, Heather Aucello has been a senior loan officer with Movement Mortgage for the past five. Heather chose to work at Movement because of one key benefit — access. With no departmental “gatekeepers,” loan officers at Movement Mortgage can reach out to underwriters and team leads as needed to get home loans closed fast. There’s also the community involvement.
“I like saying that I work for Movement because of our culture of giving back to the community,” says Heather. “Movement adds an incredible value to buying a home. We’re not just about doing mortgages, even though we do mortgages really well. Being able to serve the community is a huge deal.”
While Johnnie was resistant to the idea, the two connected. It wasn’t easy. With nearly two decades of experience, Heather has seen it all, and she tried to instill in Johnny that his situation wasn’t as bad as he might think. Johnny, on the other hand, wasn’t as optimistic.
“She told me she knew we could do this and make this happen, even though I told her I didn’t think we could,” remembers Johnnie. “I kept trying to quit on her, and she kept reminding me of why I started this in the first place — my sons. I wanted to be a good role model for them, for them to believe that if your old man can do this, you can, too.”
Roll up your sleeves and get to work
With experience and passion for supporting veterans, Heather was excited to work with Johnny, to get him into a home. She wasn’t, however, entirely expecting all the hurdles they’d have to overcome along the way.
“He was just getting ready to explore the idea of owning his own home.” said Heather, who was ready to do anything and everything to make homeownership a reality for Johnnie. “But he was very, very nervous.”
The pair started working together in May of 2019 and immediately hit a pothole. “He needed to work on his credit,” Heather says. “It’s not uncommon. Many borrowers need to fix their credit before looking to buy a home.”
Not unlike many Americans today, Johnnie was drowning in medical debt.
“I had lung surgery in 2017. Bills continued to pile up. I had to juggle things around and make decisions on what I needed to pay for in those moments.” Johnnie explained.
With such a massive and debilitating surgery, Johnnie wasn’t able to return to work quickly to tend to matters, and short-term disability payouts could only cover so much. “I was trying to support myself and my family,” said Johnnie, “and it ruined my credit.”
Not one to be deterred, Heather pored over Johnnie’s credit history and discussed each incident that was hurting his credit score. She offered some guidance on what he’d need to do to get it to a better spot for mortgage eligibility, and together they made a plan to move forward.
A glimmer of hope
Johnnie was impressed with how committed Heather was, and how the entire Movement Mortgage team continued to step up when he felt defeated. Often frustrated by how long the mortgage process seemed, especially when you’re teetering on the edge of bad credit, Johnnie nearly quit several times. But Heather wouldn’t allow that.
“I have no patience – it’s why I’m divorced,” Johnnie laughed. “Honestly, I nearly divorced Heather three or four times during this process. If I hadn’t been working with someone like her who made me keep going, I wouldn’t be this far.”
Heather pushes most of the credit back to Johnnie. “I felt like we were going to be OK,” she said. “He did what he needed to do. It took him time, but he did it.”
After months of preparations, tough conversations, and convincing Johnnie that they were at a point where it was safe to proceed, Heather placed a call to Johnnie to let him know he had been cleared to close!
And almost immediately, it started to fall apart.
“Did I mess up?”
Heather had received a call from the department working on Johnnie’s file. Right as they were about to send Heather the closing package, they did a final verification of employment (VOE), as is the process, only to find out that Johnnie had quit his job.
“I was nervous,” Heather admits. “I had to call him, and you could tell from his reaction that he had no idea that leaving his job could have hurt his loan application.” Naturally, Johnnie was nervous, too.
It turns out that Johnnie had worked for the same employer for 15 years. After receiving the “clear to close” from Movement, he was offered a job opportunity that was too good to pass up. Like any novice homebuyer, Johnnie was unaware that switching employers — even though you’re already at the finish line of your mortgage approval process — can jeopardize closing on a new home.
Heather quickly collaborated with Johnnie to get specifics about his new employment, and connected with Movement’s internal operations team to see what they could do.
“We were hopeful because a long job history with a previous company can often be a compensating factor for a borrower’s credit qualification,” Heather explained. “But things got really interesting when we compared Johnny’s old job with his new one.”
Johnnie’s new salary, they uncovered, had gone up with the new opportunity. In less than 24 hours, the team at Movement Mortgage was able to fix Johnny’s file and put him back on track toward closing.
“Our underwriters proved why they are rock stars,” said Heather.
Crossing the finish line
After so many years of dreaming the American dream, Johnnie Bowser was now just days away from officially becoming a homeowner. In the final stretch, Heather sent Johnnie a light-hearted but serious text message. It read: “Don’t change anything! Don’t open new accounts. Do nothing until we close.”
Johnnie did as requested, and replied to Heather’s text asking if she’d be present at the closing. “Of course I will,” she texted back.
“I try to go to all of my closings,” Heather confessed. “But in that instance, being there at his closing meant a lot to him, as it did to me. It was a huge accomplishment, and I wasn’t missing it.”
The American Dream. Realized.
“I left the closing and went straight to what is now ‘my‘ house,” Johnnie said, referring to his two-bedroom home with a basement and private yard. “There was no furniture, but I brought a sleeping bag and pillow and spent the night there anyway.”
“Movement Mortgage, and especially Heather Aucello, made a dream come true for me when I didn’t believe it for myself,” Johnnie reflected. “I’ve let all my friends know. I just turned 62, and I now have a piece of America.”
“It’s mine,” he said proudly.
If you, or anyone you know, is interested in homeownership but aren’t convinced it’s possible, we hope this story opens your eyes to the possibility. Contact a Movement loan officer near you to see if your dreams can become reality.