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What We’ve Learned From Our First Year as Homeowners


In July 2020, we shared the home-finance story of Zach Hursey, an honorably discharged Veteran of the North Carolina Army National Guard who was a Sergeant/E-5, 19D Cavalry Scout when enlisted, and his fiancee Lauren, 26. The two purchased their first home in Elizabethtown, North Carolina last spring with a VA Home Loan from AAFMAA Mortgage Services LLC (AMS). In this followup article, we asked Zach what they’ve learned during their first year of homeownership, what challenges they’ve faced, and whether (or if) they plan to refinance their VA Home Loan.

Buying a first home comes with lots of firsts: your first summer barbeque, your first trick-or-treaters, your first Thanksgiving, your first Christmas tree.

For Zach Hursey, and wife Lauren, the pandemic has definitely complicated some of those traditional observations in their new home. Their wedding, held October 3, 2020, was a scaled back and socially distant affair. For Halloween, they joined with other neighbors in leaving candy out front for trick-or-treaters to minimize contact. At Christmas, they held separate and small gatherings with their parents instead of the larger family events they’d held in the past.

Benefits of Downtime

But all that time spent together and at home actually gave the newlywed couple more time to work on renovations and improvements to their new house.

The all-brick 1,500-sq.-ft., two-story home has a large backyard and was priced below market, and needed to be “opened up a little,” says Zach. The two tore out barriers to make the kitchen a little larger and purchased new appliances. They also added a bathroom downstairs and recarpeted the upstairs.

The result was a larger, more-open and usable interior that maintains the home’s original character and charm, he says.

Working Within a Budget

The Veteran and his wife did a lot of the cleanup and renovations themselves, which helped save money. Plus, they were able to use some of their stimulus checks to help pay for improvements.

Those savings were helpful because other expenses cropped up. “Most of the places I’ve lived before I didn’t have to deal with fixing things when they stopped working -- I could get somebody to deal with it. Now, if something breaks, that’s on me to get it going again,” says Zach.

“Also buying groceries wasn’t a big deal when I was living by myself. Now that we’re married it’s a bigger deal than I thought it would be.”

The couple worked together to develop a budget that lets them spend on home improvements while still having enough at the end of each month to pay their bills, including the mortgage. “The biggest thing for me and Lauren both, is making sure we’re aware of what each other are buying and spending,” he says. “We’re doing a pretty good job of that but it takes constant attention to keep things running, pay the monthly mortgage, and renovate the house.”

Getting Ready for Spring/Summer

The two are already working on some updates outdoors -- mainly trimming greenery and cutting the grass, so they’ll be ready to enjoy their yard during the spring and summer.

“We have such a nice spot out here that it will be perfect for summer barbecues,” says Zach. “Hopefully we’ll be out of the woods with Covid-19 by then.”

Both of their families and plenty of friends live nearby and are very complimentary about the house and the work the two have put into it. “It’s great that they love the house as much as we do,” says Zach. What’s next? Not much, he says. “We’re still adding some personal touches here and there but that’s going to be about it.”

Refinancing When the Time is Right

The two have discussed refinancing their mortgage and recently reached out to AMS Military Mortgage Advisor Scott Betz to run the numbers. “We came to the conclusion it wasn’t the right time for them to refinance just yet,” says Betz, noting that Hursey’s current VA Home Loan carries an interest rate of 3.65%.

“However, I have a note in his file to look at the figures again in a few months to see if the fees for refinancing the loan would be worth him paying to lower his interest rate and payments.” (View our refinance calculator.)

We’re Here to Help

Established in 1879, the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association (AAFMAA) is the longest-standing, non-profit financial solutions provider supporting military families and veterans with advice, information, insurance, financial planning, investments, mortgages, survivor assistance, and other benefits.

If you’re interested in purchasing a home, or refinancing your current mortgage, call us at 844-244-0564 or contact us for current rates and additional details.

Please Note: the borrower story above is an actual customer's experience working with AAFMAA Mortgage Services LLC (AMS), and they were not compensated for their testimonial. Your actual loan experience may differ, and all loans are subject to credit approval and interest rates, terms, and fees will vary based on your credit, state, and type of loan. Please check with us for details.