A few weeks ago, U.S. Army veteran Eric Ornelas and his September bride, Marie, went shopping for lights and other Christmas decorations.

Marie and Eric home for the holidays.

For some homeowners, that means picking up more LED strings as they strive to make their homes visible from the International Space Station. Others might scour the clearance racks after the holidays to stockpile discounted lights and décor for next year.

Eric and Marie, however, considered their excursion a life-changing event as newlyweds. They will celebrate their very first holidays in their brand-new home in Fresno. For that, Eric thanks CalVet’s Home Loans program, which has been helping veterans finance homes since 1921.

“We feel a tremendous amount of pride each time a veteran and family realize the American dream of home ownership,” CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD said. “They served with great distinction and made personal sacrifices to protect our freedoms. CalVet understands and treasures their service. Our Home Loans program has been helping veterans and their families find their bliss for nearly a century, and will be there to help many, many more like Eric and Marie as well.”

Ornelas served in the Army from 2004 until 2010 including a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and as an intelligence analyst at Fort Huachua, Arizona. He now works at the federal prison in Mendota. His wife is an appeals analyst for an insurance company.

Last year, Eric and Marie decided to look for a bigger place to live.

“We started out looking for a nice apartment,” Eric said. “I wanted to purchase a home sometime in the future, but we weren’t really thinking about that yet. As we looked for places to rent, the prices were about the same as (the mortgage payment) for a home.”

They found a newly-built home and began working through the builder’s lender to buy it.

“We fell in love with it,” Eric said. “We thought it would be great to be in before the holidays.”

However, credit issues caused the lender to nix the deal, putting their dream on hold. “As soon as we found out good things would happen, our bubble popped,” he said. “It was heartbreaking and discouraging.”

Eric mentioned his disappointment to a veteran friend who financed his home with CalVet Home Loans and recommended Eric do the same.

“It was worth a shot,” he said. “What did I have to lose?”

When he called CalVet Home Loans, Eric quickly discovered the differences in the way CalVet operates.

“Businesses look at the business side, not the veteran’s side,” Eric said. “CalVet Loan Originator Eric Myrdal talked to me as a person – not just the numbers I brought to the table. We talked about the credit mistakes I made, and I was able to explain what I’m doing now.”

Myrdal looked at Eric’s credit history and worked with him over several months to address some of the outstanding issues.

“Eric is a typical CalVet Home Loan borrower in the fact that we worked with him for several months getting his credit right to get approved.” Myrdal said. “We held his hand throughout the entire process. The key was that Eric did what he needed to do. We set a plan for veterans and tell them IF they follow it, we WILL approve them down the road. Eric followed the plan.”

That straightforward approach built trust between them.

“(Myrdal) told us, ‘I am going to work with you. You are going to get this house,’” Eric said. “It was music to my ears.”

A funny thing happened when Eric told the builder he would be buying the home through CalVet. “The (commercial) lender for the builder contacted us,” Eric said. “They said, ‘We work with CalVet.’” After denying Eric’s application earlier, that same lender now wanted his business and offered some financial incentives.

Too late. Eric stayed with CalVet.

“(Myrdal) gave me his word,” Eric said.  “I trusted him. He did everything he said he would. She (the commercial loan agent) works for the builder. I felt better and more confident with Eric. He was going to make it work for us, and he did.”

The deal closed. Eric and Marie received the keys on Thanksgiving Eve. They began moving belongings in that same day.

A couple of weeks later, Eric and Marie set off to buy some new ornaments, lights, and other Christmas décor. “We have a new house,” Eric said. “We wanted to experience everything about it. We even got a live tree. We wanted the new-tree smell.”

This year, they will enjoy a quiet Christmas because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home restrictions. They look forward to the day when they can host family and friends in their humble new abode.

First, though, they needed to get that humble abode. They did, and another great American dream – once nearly crushed – became a reality.

“I had the idea of spending the holidays in our new home,” Eric said. “CalVet brought that to life.”

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