Are you going to buy a home using your VA loan benefit but aren’t sure what you’ll need to pay in closing costs? In this episode of Hella Smart, I’m going to break down the fees you’ll need to pay as part of your home purchase. We’ll discover why it’s a hella smart move to find out what your fees are going to be before you go home shopping using your VA loan benefit.

Before You Begin Your Search

When you’re buying a home with your VA loan benefit, the loan itself is not free. Because there are costs associated with getting your home, you’ll want to know what these fees are going to be. This way, you can be best prepared ahead of time as a homebuyer. 

The only upfront cost you may need to pay before you find a home to buy is your credit report. This is an outside hard cost that the lender has to pay. Other than that, you shouldn’t be paying anything out of pocket before you find a home. 

Additionally, you also want to make sure that you’re fully pre-approved and know who your lender is going to be. This is important because when you find the right home for you, that’s the last thing you need to worry about. 

The VA Home Loan Appraisal

Once you find the home you want to buy and your offer is accepted by the seller, you then need to start the process of getting your loan fully approved. The first out-of-pocket cost you’ll usually pay at that point is the VA home loan appraisal.

The VA sends an independent third party out to the home you want to buy to inspect it. This will ensure that it’s not overvalued for the home market you’re buying in. This involves an upfront cost that you may need to pay as part of the loan. 

You can find the cost that the VA sets for the appraiser for your county and your state by clicking here.


The next upfront cost when using your VA loan benefit is the VA wood-destroying insect and infestation inspection. This involves a local inspector going to the home and finding out if there is any kind of infestation or infection in the property that’s causing damage to the property. 

They’ll also check to see if there is existing damage that’s been caused by some type of insects or infestation in the past. Your VA loan underwriter will see this report and let you know what repairs—if any—need to be made before using your VA loan benefit. 

Lender Fees And Loan Requirements

The next set of fees you may need to pay is what’s called lender fees. These are are fees that you pay directly to the loan officer’s company. Those can be things like loan origination fees, loan underwriting fees, possibly loan processing fees, and anything else a lender may charge you. 

Again, this is the money going to the lender that they may charge for your loan. You’ll want to talk to your loan officer to find out what fees their company charges. The next set of fees are required for your loan but are not paid to the lender; rather, they’re paid to an outside party. 

These fees can be things like the VA appraisal, loan processing, Homeowner’s Association fees, tax certification fees, credit reports, flood cert checks (to see if your home is in a flood area), and more. Each of these costs is required as part of your loan, but they’re paid to a party other than the lender. Again, check with your loan officer to see which ones apply in your case. 

Insurance, Taxes, And More

The next set of fees is required for your loan, though you get to pick who’s going to provide them. These are things like lender’s title insurance and owner’s title insurance, which protect your interest in the case of a property title dispute. You may also possibly need to pay closing attorney fees if you’re in one of the states that require it.

Other costs include notary public fees to notarize your documents and doc preps. Again, you get to pick who’s going to provide these services, although they are required by the lender. The next set of fees is government fees that are paid as part of buying a home. These would apply even if you’re buying a home without a home loan and includes things like county and city transfer taxes, property taxes that are still due for the property, or property taxes that may have already been paid for this part of the year by the current owner.

Additionally, you may need to pay things like sewer transfer lateral fees, school assessments, park assessments, and anything that’s paid to the city, county, and sometimes state in the area where you’re going to buy. Check with your loan officer and either your escrow officer or closing attorney, depending on your state, to check on what kind of fees you’ll need to pay. 

Prepaid Expenses

The next set of fees and costs are what are called prepaid expenses. These are actually costs that are you pay as part of owning the home which your lender may need you to pay ahead of time. Usually, you’re paying one year of homeowner’s insurance to protect both you and the lender’s interest, if anything were to happen to the home that the first year.

You’ll also probably be paying into what’s called an impound account. That’s where you’re pre-paying a certain amount of your property tax and your homeowner’s insurance. This is so that, when the next bill is due, that impound account has enough money to pay your bills. 

The last group of fees you may need to pay are things that may be specific for the area or the home that you’re buying. This includes things like Homeowner’s Association fees, Mello Roos fees in some areas, and home warranties. If you’re buying something like that, you again want to check with your loan officer and your real estate agent to find out which of these fees you’ll be paying as part of your closing with a VA home loan. 

Getting Into Your Dream Home

I hope this video helps you understand which fees or closing costs you may need to pay when you’re using your VA home loan benefit. If you’re buying a home and you want to be hella prepared to use your VA home loan benefit, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help.

You can also subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Hella Smart, my show all about mortgages and real estate. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!

Are you looking for something fun to do this holiday season? In this episode of Hella Smart, we’re going to look at three Hella Christmas things to do in the East Bay area. We’ll explore everything from skating rinks to Santa sightings so you can make the most of your holidays.

Ice Skating At The Veranda

Our first hella Christmas thing to do in the East Bay is located at The Veranda Shopping Center in Concord: ice skating. Nothing says Christmas like ice skating outdoors on an artificial rink, just like God intended LOL.

If you’re hungry before or after ice skating, the ice rink is surrounded by a number of eateries. Also, The Veranda Shopping Center has lots more places to eat a short walk away. This retail center is conveniently located off Highway 6 near the Willow Pass exit. The ice rink itself is near the front of The Veranda Luxe Theater and IMAX.

Candy Cane Lane And Fairy Winterland

Our next Hella Christmas thing to do in East Bay is Candy Cane Lane in Pleasanton. For over 60 years, the homes here have been decked out for the Christmas season with bright lights, decorations, and all kinds of things to show. The neighborhood is in a festive mood, so take a walk or drive down the street and look at all the lights.

The next thing you’ll want to do is visit the Fairy Winterland at Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland. Open from December 17th to the 30th this year, this magical multicultural event is perfect for the young and the young at heart. At 6:30 each night, Black Santa will be there to lead the Festival of Lights Parade, a lot of fun for everyone. 

Additionally, if someone you know has a letter for Santa, they can drop it off in the mechanical mailbox located at the Chapel of Peace.

Happy Holidays!

I hope this gave you a good idea of some of the fun East Bay area events you can experience this season. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to provide more information.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Hella Smart. Make sure to stay tuned for the next episode, and I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season!

Did you know there’s an area of Concord, California that’s an amazing community gathering place? In this episode of Hella Smart, I’m going to give you a tour of Todos Santos Plaza in downtown Concord. We’ll explore everything from its location to amenities so you can plan your visit.

Historic Todo Santos Plaza

Todos Santos Plaza is located in downtown Concord, California. Here, you can enjoy a beautiful park, great restaurants, and fresh produce year-round from the farmer’s market. This historic 2.5-acre park was named one of the three great places in California by the American Planning Association. It’s also a great place to enjoy an outdoor concert or just relax in the East Bay sun.

The Concord BART station is a half-mile away from Todo Santos Plaza, a great way to avoid the hassle of parking. If you want to drive, there is metered street parking around the Plaza and two parking garages nearby on Salvio Street.

The Plaza also has a grassy public park at its center with trees for shade and free Plaza-wide Wi-Fi. So if you need to work or just want to surf the web, you can kick back on picnic tables or benches and watch the little ones run around on the children’s playground.

Fun And Food

Todo Santos Plaza also hosts live musical acts and entertainment on its elevated stage. Want to catch a movie or get a bite to eat around the Plaza? Check out the Brenden Movie Theater or grab some grub from one of the many eateries.

The food around Todos Santos Plaza includes ramen, sushi, New York-style pizza, burgers, chicken wings, cinnamon buns, curry, ice cream, gelato, sandwiches, Thai food, Italian food, boba tea, Himalayan food, Salvadoran food, a bar and grill, taqueria, hot dogs, a brewpub, a tap house, Peruvian food, bagels, poke, and more.

The Concord Farmer’s Market

In addition to ready-made dishes, you can also source the freshest ingredients to create your own culinary creations at home. Be sure to catch the weekly farmer’s market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and more that the Bay Area has to offer.

The Concord Farmer’s Market is home to over 30 local vendors from all over the region. You’ll find booths of food vendors, local produce, ready-to-make food, and other items here. In the summertime, look for strawberries, melons, plums, cherries, tomatoes, and zucchini. In the fall, you can expect apples, pumpkins, winter squash, and Brussels sprouts.

Enjoy Concord Living

I hope this gave you a good idea of everything you can enjoy at Todos Santos Plaza here in Concord. If you have any questions about the area, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to connect.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Hella Smart. Stay tuned to see what I feature in the next episode!

Are you looking to buy a house with a VA home loan but aren’t sure how to start the process? In this video, I’m going to share the story of Evan and Selina, two of my clients that I helped get into their very first home. We’ll find out about their experience and what it was like working with me to meet their goals.

Evan And Selina’s Story

As Evan and Selina’s loan officer, I was able to help them buy their very first home in East Bay, California. Evan is an Army veteran that wanted to purchase his home using a VA home loan. However, using this loan proved to be an extremely difficult process in the Bay Area.

Despite the challenges, I was able to explain the process to Evan and Selina each step of the way. With great communication as a foundation, I was happy to provide answers whenever the pair had a question. This was especially helpful when it came to offering on the house they truly wanted.

Securing A Home

With the home that Evan and Selina wanted, their offer was not the highest. I was able to strengthen the offer so it was the most competitive—and they ultimately got their offer accepted, securing the home they wanted.

The escrow was under 30 days, and a majority of that time was for some repairs that had to be made. However, the pair were still able to complete the escrow in a competitive timeline. Evan believes that without my detailed assistance, it wouldn’t have been possible for them to get into their new home. Of course, I was more than happy to help.

Let’s Work Together

With my knowledge of VA home loans, I was able to tell Evan and Selina exactly what they needed to do to purchase a home in the Bay Area. I appreciate their recommendation, and I was happy to help their dreams of homeownership using a VA home loan come true.

So if you’re like Evan and Selina and are looking for a home, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to help. Don’t forget to also subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of my show, all about real estate. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!


Are you looking for a place with great food, great coffee, and the perfect space to indulge your inner geek? In this episode of Hella Smart, I’m going to take you to Characterz Café right here in Pleasanton. We’ll chat with owner Crystal Diamond to learn all about her unique coffee shop and the fun things they offer.

The Beginning Of Characterz Café

Characterz Cafe is located here in Pleasanton, California on Sunol Boulevard. The café began as a love project created by Crystal with her business partner and best friend Mike Petrak. They’ve been in their current location for six years now, creating a space where people can come with their entire family to play games, have great coffee, and enjoy delicious food. It’s an amazing place for all ages to enjoy.

Crystal’s theme of gaming, comic books, and sci-fi fantasy comes from one word: nerd. She and her business partner and best friends are nerds. When the pair were playing games and getting coffee with three of their older kids, they’d make so much noise that Crystal and Mike would get uncomfortable. The business duo decided to bring together their collection of games and knowledge as coffee roasters to create a unique coffee shop experience.

Their labor of love includes customers that have become friends, adding their input to a collection of things that began 10 years ago. Characterz Café is now a safe place for all the people who were secretly playing dungeons and dragons, gaming, and wanting to argue about Star Wars. It’s become their place to go and revel in their geekiness while having coffee and some yummy food.

Beautiful Local Artwork

Another unique thing about Characterz Café is the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls and includes everything from fantasy and comic books. Crystal and Mike have talented friends, including John and Grant Miller. The pair did the artwork on the coffee shop walls when they were doing the super edition of remodeling. It was a surprise to Crystal, who was floored by the awesomeness of it when she walked in.

There are more individual squares of art on the wall, including canvas paintings done by Characterz’s art class teacher, Stephanie. All of the fun and funky décor create the perfect atmosphere for patrons to enjoy a game while sipping on a tasty drink.

Brews And Bites

Characterz Coffee Shop has a variety of coffee and cold drinks, many of which are sci-fi and fantasy-themed. Among their special beverage selection are a few Star Wars and Harry Potter-themed drinks. As Crystal tells me, they do have a super-secret menu—but it’s not so secret if you go on their Yelp or social media pages.

One example off the Star Wars menu is their signature Stormtrooper, an Oreo cookie blended drink that’s hands down one of the best. Customers can also choose vegetarian or vegan options with a variety of milk substitutes. And if you really want to get into the Star Wars spirit, you can ask for a cup of blue milk—or as you might know it, bantha milk. It can be made with any of their milk or milk substitutes and is both fun and delicious.

Another special drink is their BB-8 drink, aka the Orange Circle. This delicious beverage features white chocolate and orange whipped together, which will help you get you rolling if you add a shot of espresso in it. Characterz also features hot drinks, and you can even purchase cold brew by the bottle featuring their special blend. It’s just $13 for the first bottle and $10 for every refill. It’s a great option to take on a trip or have on hand at home when you can’t make it to the café.

Aside from their signature drinks, Characterz Café also has a delicious food menu. Their breakfast sandwich is the most popular item, a build-your-own option with a variety of choices. Whether you want a croissant with bacon and cheddar or a bagel with tomato and egg whites, you can make their sandwich your own. Lunchtime options are equally delicious, and you’ll find Mike’s secret sauce—a little spicy, a little garlicky—featured on their sandwiches. Their grilled cheese is another popular option, great to eat while playing games with friends.

Activities And Events

Characterz Café offers a variety of activities and events throughout the week. Every Tuesday night from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, the café hosts an adult gaming night. Every Friday is a D&D night, where people can sign up for a game on Characterz’s social media pages.

Additionally, every first Saturday is an art day where you can learn to paint new stuff. The second Saturday of the month is a crafters fair, where customers can purchase unique gifts for themselves or their families. The third Saturday is live music with the Bay Area Academy of Music, and the fourth Saturday of the month is the café’s tournament play. Games rotate monthly, and those who sign up and win get their name on a trophy.

Come Geek Out At Characterz Café

I hope this gave you a good idea of all the great coffee, food, and fun you can have here at Characterz Café in Pleasanton. Be sure to stop by and grab a Star Wars-themed drink to sip on while you a game with friends and family. You definitely won’t be disappointed.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my channel for more great local features. Stay tuned to the next episode of Hella Smart to see where we go next!

Are you looking to buy a new house and wonder if you qualify for a VA home loan? In this episode of Hella Smart, I’m going to walk you through the requirements to use your VA home loan benefit. I’ll also explain how you can take advantage of this amazing loan to get into the house you want.

Eligibility For The VA Home Loan

The VA home loan is one of the best tools for you to use as a current service member or veteran—but you have to qualify first. You’re probably wondering about a lot of things, like how do I know if I’m an eligible service member or veteran? Can my spouse help me qualify for a VA home loan? What kind of credit score or downpayment will I need? We’re going to break that down for you right now.

So how do you know if you’re eligible to use a VA home loan? You must be a current service member or veteran with enough service time. You also need an acceptable character of service to use the VA home loan benefit. If you served after August 2, 1990, then you’re probably in one of these groups to be eligible to use this benefit.

The groups include veterans and current members of the Selected Reserve or National Guard with at least six good years of service and enough points accumulated. It also includes your active duty with at least 90 days of continuous service or a select reservist who has been activated for at least 90 days. Current National Guard members who were activated under Title 10 or Title 32 orders and were activated for at least 90 total days, including 30 days of continuous service, also qualify.

Additionally, if you were discharged for a service-related disability or are the surviving spouse of a deceased service member or veteran, you may be eligible to use the VA home loan under some circumstances. Be sure to check with your home loan officer to help you research this, as you may still be eligible for a VA home loan if you’re not in one of these groups. If so, we would need to help you research that to find out.

Do You Qualify?

You can find out if you meet these requirements by ordering your VA certificate of eligibility or COE. This is the document that shows that you’re eligible to get a VA home loan. It also shows how much VA loan entitlement you have. Your entitlement determines your maximum loan size for a given county. You may be able to order a copy of your CSV from the VA website, or we can help you order a copy.

Another question you may have is if your spouse can help you financially qualify to use a VA home loan benefit. The answer is yes. Another eligible veteran or service member’s spouse can help you financially qualify to use this benefit. Also, a non-veteran or non-spouse can be a co-borrower with you on your VA home loan. This type of home loan is called a VA joint loan. It has additional requirements, and it does require a down payment to buy a home with this. We’ll talk about that in a future video.

Credit Scores And Down Payment

Another common question is, what kind of credit score and downpayment will you need to use a VA home loan? The minimum FICO score required by the VA to use this benefit is none. The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t set a minimum FICO credit score for them to insure a VA home loan. However, the money for these loans comes from private lenders who usually do have a minimum FICO credit score that they’ll work with. Be sure to check with your loan officer to find out what’s the lowest score that they’re able to work with, as this will affect your interest rate pricing.

Finally, the minimum downpayment needed to use a VA home loan is zero. This isn’t some kind of downpayment assistance or grant that you have to pay back later. Rather, this is a true no downpayment loan option that you earned with your service. While a bigger downpayment can save you money on total loan costs, eligible veterans and service members can use this as a true no-downpayment-required loan option.

What To Expect

Now we’ll look at an example of how you qualify for a VA home loan and what needs to be done next. After speaking with you and finding out your goals, we would help you order a copy of your VA certificate of eligibility or COE. Remember, this shows if you’re eligible to use a VA home loan and if you have enough entitlement for the VA home loan size that you need.

Next, we’ll put together a full loan package for you and your spouse. This means paperwork on your income and employment, credit report, financial assets, and other documents that might apply to you. We work with you to put together a great interest rate, closing costs, and loan program for your needs. My team uses this to put together a full loan pre-approval package so you can make a strong offer on the home you want to buy.

I hope this has helped you understand what requirements you need to meet to use your VA home loan benefit. If you’d like to learn more, make sure to reach out to me and I’ll show you how this all works. Don’t forget to also subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Hella Smart!

Are you thinking of buying a house but are confused about how a VA home loan works? In this episode of Hella Smart, I’m going to give you a simple explanation as to why using a VA home loan is a HELLA smart move if you qualify. I’ll explain the qualifications and terms so you can see if this is a loan program you can take advantage of.

Understanding The VA Loan

A VA home loan is a mortgage that’s funded by private lenders and insured by the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs. This gives the VA home loan a few advantages.

First, these types of loans are more forgiving on credit scores, credit history, and income requirements compared to other home loans. There are no monthly mortgage insurance payments. Also, VA home loans usually have lower interest rates compared to other loan programs. With all of these advantages, how do you know if you qualify?

First, you must be a current service member or veteran who qualifies based on the character of your service and your amount of time in service. Also, the surviving spouse of a deceased service member or veteran may be eligible in certain situations.

Second, to buy a home with your VA home loan benefit, it has to be the principal home that you’re going to live in.

Third, you must financially qualify based on your credit, income, debt payments, and financial assets.

A Case Study

Let me give you an example of a home loan I funded where I helped the service member take advantage of his VA home loan benefits. When I met James, he was an Army Staff Sergeant and was transferred to an assignment in San Francisco. He planned to buy a home across The Bay in Contra Costa County.

My team talked to him about what he was looking for in a home. Next, we collected paperwork like his bank statements, credit report, leave and earning statement, a statement of service letter from his CO, and his Certificate of Eligibility from the VA.

The VA Certificate Of Eligibility, or COE, is your golden ticket when using a VA home loan. You can’t get a VA home loan without one. The VA Certificate Of Eligibility shows that you’re eligible to use a VA home loan and details the maximum VA home loan size you can use if you financially qualify.

My team verified James’s information and we Pre-Approved him for the price range he was looking for. After finding a home and getting his offer accepted, James was able to finish his purchase, contract, and move in—all in less than a month.

Is A VA Home Loan Right For You?

If you’re interested in learning more about VA Home Loans, I’d be happy to put together a step-by-step outline for you to show you how it works. We’ll go deep into your goals, address any current issues you need help with, and come up with a plan that’s tailored to your needs. Whether it’s figuring out how to use your VA home loan now or in the future, learning about all your home finance options is how you make a Hella Smart and disciplined home purchase.

So make sure to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help. Don’t forget to also subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of Hella Smart. Stay tuned to see what real estate tips I feature next!

As a local real estate agent here in the Bay Area, I feel it’s my job to give the uncensored truth about all things The Bay, yes, that includes the bad with the good! So, this is the kick off video to my show, and will give you the lowdown on what it’s all about! Check out the video and let me know what you think! Or tell me what kind of content you’d like to see next, you can expect a range of videos about all things bay area coming soon!