Nearly two dozen photographs adorn a wall next to Lesa Walker’s desk in CalVet’s Home Loans Division in Sacramento.
Each picture is special to Walker, who joined CalVet as an associate property agent in 2014. They are photos of veterans and their families who became clients, but also became her friends, her extended family, her success stories, and her passion.
One photo stands out: Six members of Eureka’s Gilchrist family, in front of a sailboat at a marina. The photo became the first in her collection. It also reminds her of perhaps her most complex, yet rewarding loan ever.
Never in her years in the lending industry had Walker had encountered a family with so many challenges. Nor had she encountered a mother and wife like Heather Gilchrist, who carried such a burden to keep her physically fragile family alive and together, and who showed such determination and resolve.
“They touched my heart so much,” Walker said. “This lady was taking it on full tiger.”
Consequently, Walker made it her personal crusade help their family get their CalVet loan and own a home.
Heather’s husband, Joseph Gilchrist, spent a decade in the Navy before training himself to become a Microsoft certified systems engineer. They bought a home in Escalon, a small town in San Joaquin County. Back problems rendered Joseph 100 percent disabled in 2012. Meanwhile, their two sons inherited immune deficiencies from Heather that left them severely disabled as well, one with a connective tissue disorder and the other with issues related to rheumatic fever. The stifling valley heat kept their air conditioning running, which drove their monthly utility bills beyond $1,000.
Combined with the mortgage payment, “It ate up all our income,” Heather Gilchrist said. “I was counting pennies for food.” They did a short sale of their home, filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and left the hot valley in their rearview mirror. “We had to go somewhere where my sons could go outside,’’ she said.
The Gilchrists found their nirvana in Eureka, on the North Coast’s Humboldt Bay. The coastal climate benefitted the boys, the parents, and a disabled young friend from the valley whom they took in to live with them. They rented a home and found they loved the town and its climate.
However, the youngest son’s health declined, and he spent several months in a wheelchair. The older son became sick as well. Then, their landlord decided to sell the rental – which had mold issues that Heather Gilchrist said contributed to the boys’ conditions – and gave them 60 days to move. “(The landlord’s realtor) was going to start showing the home,” Heather said. “We couldn’t have strangers traipsing through there. They couldn’t be exposed.”
Her mother had moved in with them to help, and they needed a single-story home with at least six bedrooms. With sufficient disability incomes, and the determination to scrimp and save, Heather knew they could afford to buy a home rather than renting. They found one – five bedrooms with a dining room they could to a sixth bedroom – overlooking the bay.
The bankruptcy, however, haunted them. Banks looked only at their past, not their potential to pay the mortgage, she said. She needed to find a lender – and soon – or be forced split the family up, sending some to live with her husband’s family in Oregon while she continued to look for a place in Humboldt County.
“I called everybody I could think of,” Heather said. Someone – maybe a realtor or a loan agent at one of the banks that denied their application – suggested she call CalVet. She did, speaking directly to Walker in what Heather called a “life-changing moment.”
Why? Because after their long stretch of bad luck and bad health, in Walker they found someone who would take the time and effort to understand the family’s dynamic, and to take the time to thoroughly research their financial history beyond the bankruptcy. She treated them as human beings rather than an element of a lending numbers matrix.
“That woman is an angel,” Heather Gilchrist said. “A force of nature.”
Make that, a force of nature on speed dial. Walker talked extensively with Heather, and following that first conversation sent her a long list of documents, letters of explanation regarding specific issues, and copies of billing statements to understand the family’s financial situation.
“I stayed up all night sending stuff to her,” Heather said. “We were a family worth saving, and she was there for me. She was on our side. She was an advocate. She was kind and nonjudgmental. She took the time to understand what had happened to us.”
Soon after the owner accepted their offer on the home, he received a cash backup offer and looked for ways to discard the Gilchrist’s offer and take a faster track to selling the property. Walker needed to work quickly and efficiently to get the loan in order and make it as difficult as possible for the owner to back out and go with the cash backup.
“Their file is one the thickest I’ve ever written,” Walker said. “Everyone in our office knew about the Gilchrist file. Our common goal at CalVet is to be the best advocate we can for veterans and their families.”
Walker saw that the Gilchrists had the income to make the monthly mortgage payment. The family needed to address some minor credit issues. Walker created a blueprint for that to happen, driven every step of the way for her admiration for Heather, and the family’s plight: their need to stay in one place, together, where they could control their health environment.
“That was why having their own house was so critical to them,” she said. “They couldn’t take chances, moving from place to place.”
The Gilchrists’ landlord was kind enough to put off showing the rental while they worked with Walker to buy their home, which closed in February 2015. The Gilchrists spent a month making improvements and alterations to accommodate the family before moving in. They have made every payment on time, and are paying extra toward the principal each month. They also are healthier, individually as well as collectively.
This all happened because Heather Gilchrist refused to give up on her family’s future, and because Lesa Walker refused to give up on the Gilchrists.
“She called it a live-changing moment for her,” Walker said. “It was for me too, knowing I’d changed somebody’s life. They started my wall.”
The CalVet Home Loans program is the foundational cornerstone of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. For nearly 100 years it has helped veterans build, rebuild, and own homes, and it will continue to do so for well into the future. For more information on obtaining a CalVet home loan, CLICK HERE or call us directly at 866-653-2510, we are happy to help.