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Journey of Homeownership

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Emma Marie is a mother, wife, avid reader, educator and Team Neal client. She has lived in and loved four different houses since beginning her journey into home ownership. One ended in foreclosure (and a divorce), one was a fixer-upper, one was a total renovation (and almost ended in a second divorce), and her current one is perfect just the way it is. Along the way, Emma has learned a little bit about the mortgage process and her goal in writing this blog is to give others a better understanding of the complicated but rewarding process of purchasing and financing a home.

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Four Steps to Create the Home Inventory You Need If Disaster Strikes

Posted on January 22, 2018 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (1)

Four Steps to Create the Home Inventory You Need If Disaster Strikes

After a fire, flood or other disaster, your insurance claim needs to list all items that are lost or damaged. Having a home inventory makes this easy—and speeds up the process.

Step 1. Decide between photos and video. Photos need to be labeled with the item’s description and cost—but some smartphones and digital cameras let you add this when saving. With video, you can just say this info while shooting. Apps are also available.

Step 2. Walk through your home, shoot and describe (or write down) the contents. Turn on all lights and open all cabinets, drawers and closets. Count clothing by category—10 shirts, 6 sweaters, etc. Collect receipts, record serial numbers. Ask your insurance agent if jewelry and collectibles need special coverage. Don’t forget pictures, mirrors, ceiling fixtures, basement, attic, garage and off-site storage.

Step 3. Store your inventory in an online storage account or on an external drive kept with paper documents safely off premises.

Step 4. Update the inventory with new purchases.

When you’re ready to give your contents a new home or refinance for an upgrade or lower rate, please text, email or call us any time.  (469) 363-3298

Contracts & New Lines of Credit

Posted on December 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Ever heard of credit card churning? It’s when a person opens a credit card to take advantage of an offered bonus savings and then closes the account instead of using it long-term. The savings you get from that first purchase (or the free travel miles, or whatever offer) is tempting. Who wouldn’t want to save 20% or get 10,000 bonus travel miles? The only thing is, opening these lines of credit can lower your credit score. And if you are in the process of getting a mortgage, these new lines of credit can have some serious impact on your home-buying.

When my husband and I were purchasing our home, we contacted a cable television provider about getting service in our new house. It didn’t seem like a big deal until Team Neal contacted us after the credit inquiry showed up on our profile. We had to sign an affidavit promising that we had not taken on new debt. It didn’t affect our closing, but if something as simple as television service can affect the mortgage process, imagine the impact that buying a new car (or other major purchase) can have. 

Whenever someone applies for a credit card, the issuer checks their credit before giving approval, something known as a “hard inquiry.” Every hard inquiry can lower your credit score by a few points. This can effect your mortgage because getting a home loan is a complex process. There are many factors that are taken into consideration when getting approved for a home loan: employment, income, and credit score, just to name a few. Your lender will also determine your income to debt ratio and you want your financial situation to look as good as it can so that you can get the best mortgage terms possible. You also want to keep your financial situation solid in the time that passes between getting approved for your mortgage and closing, which can sometimes last a month or more.

Here are some other things to keep in mind during the mortgage process: Making big credit changes can keep your loan from closing or delay it. Do not take out new loans or open new credit card accounts. Do not charge a large amount on your credit cards.

Mortgage lenders calculate how much you can afford to borrow with equations that rely heavily on your credit profile and score. If you open a credit card during your mortgage process, your credit score may go down, which can complicate or delay your mortgage. If you are in the process of getting a home loan or planning to get one in the near future, don’t enter into any financial contracts (like credit cards or loans) without first talking to your mortgage professional. If you have any questions or concerns, Team Neal will guide you through the mortgage process to ensure that you are taking the right steps to get the best loan options for your individual or family’s circumstances.

Ten Things You Need for Home Repair Emergencies

Posted on December 6, 2017 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

10 things you need for home repair emergencies

Fire Extinguishers. By the time firefighters arrive, it’s usually too late to save things. Fire extinguishers can prevent fires from spreading, saving property and even lives. Put one in the kitchen, garage and on every floor.

Lights with Fresh Batteries. Keep flashlights and lanterns in every room.

Tarps. Severe weather can damage windows and roofs. Tarps stop rain and debris from entering.

Clear Plastic Sheeting. Not as strong as tarps, but good for furniture, and over windows.

Duct Tape. Great for everything from cracked glass to cracked pipes.

Nails and Screws. Have a good supply in lots of sizes.

Plumbing Fittings. Ask your plumber what fittings you need to close damaged pipes.

Spare Parts for Appliances. Ask your appliance repair service what parts are useful to have on hand.

Tools. Adjustable wrenches, claw hammer, screwdrivers, pry bar, tape measure, hand drill.

Extension Cords. Have different sizes to reach areas where power may be cut off.

Please text, email or call us any time for information about financing a home purchase, or refinancing for a lower rate or for upgrades.  (469) 363-3298 

Mortgage rates are still near historically low, so don’t wait to contact us about today’s excellent options.

Moving Time!

Posted on November 29, 2017 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Moving is no fun. I’ve heard that a person can truly find out who their real friends are on moving day. For all the excitement that comes with finding and closing on a new house, moving into that house offers the opposite. It is stressful and hard work. It is a time to evaluate your possessions and decide whether or not you even need them. It can also be a good time to weed your possessions and donate to charity. 

Packing. Loading. Unpacking. In my moving experience, I’ve tried it both ways: packing and moving everything ourselves and hiring a company to do it all. There are positives and negatives to both. The important thing is to make the right decision for your family’s situation. If you have the time and physical ability to pack and move everything yourself, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. Plus, you can rest assured that things are done the right way. No one is going to take care packing your stuff like you. On the other hand, doing it yourself is a lot of work. If you don’t have physical limitations and can afford it, why not outsource the work to someone else?

The first time we moved across the country, my son was eight weeks old and my daughter was two years old. With an infant and a toddler at home, we could hardly find time to wash our hair. Finding time to pack all of our earthly possessions and then load them onto a moving truck was laughable. Without a moving company, we would not be moving. We also had financial considerations (hello children!) and couldn’t spend an exorbitant amount of money. I soon realized that getting a moving quote wasn’t as easy as clicking some boxes and entering some information online. Before they would give us a quote, the moving companies needed to come out and look at our stuff. We chose the most reasonable quote and signed up. On the scheduled day, they came with boxes and supplies, packed everything up, and loaded the truck. When the stuff arrived at our new house 1,800 miles away, they unloaded it all. We were responsible for unpacking. While unpacking our stuff, we quickly realized that we had paid to move a bunch of unnecessary stuff that I like to call “junk.” If we had taken the time to go through our stuff and donate some of it prior to hiring the moving company, it might have cost us less and we wouldn’t have to deal with unpacking (and donating) all of that stuff while moving in. 

Four years later, when we were moving back, we decided to move ourselves. Our kids were older (free labor!) and we had the time and help that we needed to pull it off. This time, we began to weed through our stuff, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. My husband and I seriously considered selling all of our furniture and just buying new stuff for our new house. There was no guarantee that our “old” stuff would work in our “new” house. I’m glad that we came to our senses and kept some of our stuff because, let’s be honest, who has enough money to re-furnish an entire house? We certainly don’t. And our gold sectional couch fits just perfectly in our new home. To complete this job, we rented a U-Haul, loaded it up, and hit the road. It was a lot more work, but cost us about 35% of what hiring a mover would have cost. 

Every time we move, I say that we’re never going to move again. This time I mean it. Unless something too good to pass up hits the market. I do still get those real estate notifications…

5 Practical Steps to Save for a Down Payment

Posted on November 10, 2017 at 8:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Five Practical Steps to Save for a Down Payment

Determine how much you’ll need. Down payments generally range from 3% to 20% of your home’s purchase price, and the rest is your mortgage amount. So, contact us to find out the mortgage amount you qualify for. We’ll then explain your down payment options, so you can decide which option best fits your needs.

Calculate what you need to save monthly. Target when you’d like to purchase, which tells you how many months you have to save. If you’ve already set money aside, subtract that from the down payment amount. Divide this number by the number of months until purchase, and that’s what you’ll need to save monthly.

Open a separate savings account that automatically transfers from your checking account the monthly amount you need to save.

Track your spending. Carefully look at your credit card bills and checkbook to see where you can cut back non-essential expenditures, such as movies and meals out.

Trim recurring expenses. Shop for lower costs for cell phones, cable TV, internet, utilities, car, home, health insurance, etc.

For more down payment advice, and any other information about financing a home purchase, or refinancing to lower your rate or fund improvements, please text, email or call us. (469) 363-3298

Understanding the Process

Posted on October 23, 2017 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The mortgage process is complex. There are many pieces that must come together when securing finances to purchase a house: income, insurance, appraisals, inspections, credit scores, to name just a few. Each piece comes together like a jigsaw puzzle to complete a home loan. And, like a puzzle, if just one piece is missing, the entire process is incomplete.

The first step of the mortgage process is completing your loan application. In addition to preliminary disclosures and information about the current interest rate, you’ll be given a list of documents that your mortgage team needs to begin your pre-approval process. Then comes the loan set-up. This is where third-party documentation like your home appraisal and title search is ordered. Before your loan can progress, a loan processor puts everything together to send to underwriting for approval. An underwriter reviews and evaluates all of your documents to determine if it is a good idea to loan you money for a particular house. If something is missing or incomplete, the underwriter will send your application back and you’ll have to work with your loan processor to fix or resolve any issues. Things can be delayed if something has been overlooked or forgotten by your mortgage team.

Once your loan application gets approval from the underwriter, the final loan papers are sent to the title company. The title company prepares a settlement statement that includes the final amount of money needed to close on the house. A good mortgage team will make sure that there are no surprises at closing and that everything falls into place at the right time.

Throughout the mortgage process, things occur sequentially and many of the steps are dependent on the thing before. Your mortgage team acts as a coordinator of each piece to help ensure that everything is falling into place and getting done. If something is missing or incomplete, your mortgage (and therefore your move-in date) can be delayed. It is critical that your mortgage team stay on top of things as your loan progresses. No one wants to have their closing date delayed because of an oversight or paperwork error. Getting a mortgage is a complex process and you can trust the professionals at Team Neal to be reliable and keep you informed about each step of the process. 


Posted on October 4, 2017 at 10:40 PM Comments comments (3)

Acronyms are everywhere and in every profession. I’ve worked as an educator for nearly fifteen years and every school year we get brand new, cleverly-abbreviated terms: STAAR, TAKS, NCLB, TAAS (I bet you remember that one if you went to school in Texas in the 90s). The mortgage process is no different. When you begin to discuss loan types and options with your mortgage team, you’ll start to hear so many abbreviations that you just might begin to feel like you’re texting a teenager: FHA, FICO, MI. OMG, WTH?

During the home-buying process, the first acronym you’ll probably encounter is FICO. This refers to your credit score, something that is pretty critical when buying a house. I’ve written quite a bit about credit scores and repair; for more information, read some of my earlier posts.

FHA and VA are two acronyms that refer to loan types. FHA stands for Federal Housing Administration and is a mortgage program that is managed by HUD (there’s another one!). HUD stands for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a part of the federal government. VA is a loan program for members of the military (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs). There are also USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) loans for rural borrowers. 

When considering mortgage options, there are also loan types with acronyms. ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgage loans) have changing interest rates (as opposed to fixed-rate loans). MI (Mortgage Insurance) is another term that may come into play when you’re purchasing a house. 

If all this confuses you, consider yourself normal. The experts at Team Neal can answer all of your questions and walk you through every step of the process to help you make the best and most informed decisions about your mortgage. If you’re considering purchasing a house, give them a call and they can tailor a mortgage that is right for you. And they’ll do this while answering any questions that come up along the way.

12 Tips to Dial Up Your Online Security

Posted on October 4, 2017 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

12 Tips to Dial Up Your Online Security

1.  Install updates immediately. They often patch the latest viruses.

2.  Get anti-virus software for all devices.

3. Watch devices. Hackers can install spyware in under 30 seconds.

4. Strengthen passwords.Use caps and lower case, numbers, punctuation marks. Write in an address book. If hacked, change passwords. Never re-use passwords.

5. Get two-factor authentication. Adds an extra step at log-in, usually sends a text with a code. You’ll know if anyone tries to log in from another device.

6. Avoid free Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi draws hackers. Make your smartphone a password-protected mobile hotspot and connect.

7. Keep data to yourself. Don’t store credit card info and passwords on sites or browsers. Enter it each time.

8. Don’t click on a link in an email or text, even from someone you know (hackers hijack contacts). Hover your mouse over link, or copy and paste it into a search engine, to see where it goes.

9. Don’t download unexpected attachments. Call the sender first.

10. Back everything up. Use outboard hard drive, cloud service, or both. Then ransomware criminals can’t hold your data for ransom because you always have an up-to-date copy.

11. Use a credit monitoring service, such as EZ Shield, Identity Guard or Lifeflock. If hacked, freeze accounts at all three credit bureaus.

12. Slow down! Hackers love people in a hurry. Carefully check details.

If you’re looking to buy a home, or refinance for a lower rate or to fund improvements, please text, email or call us... (469) 363-3298

Mortgage rates are still low, but don’t wait to contact us about today’s excellent options!

Professional and Confidential

Posted on September 22, 2017 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (1)

What do a priest, therapist, and mortgage professional all have in common? Confidentiality. You can tell your priest and therapist anything (except that you are going to hurt someone or yourself) and they are ethically bound to keep it between you and them.

When you apply for a mortgage, it feels like you are getting very personal with your lender. Your mortgage agent will ask questions about your finances that you’re probably not used to being asked. Not the kind of stuff that friends casually discuss. Your mortgage agent will need to know details about your life because they are brokering a loan worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But don’t worry-- the information you share with them is private. They will not share it, sell it, or (if you’re like me and have made some not-so-smart credit decisions in the past) judge you. They objectively look at your financial position and use the information to make an informed judgement about what kind of loan is best for you, how much of a mortgage payment you can support, and other details of what is quite possibly the biggest purchase you’ve ever made.

So what can you expect to be asked? First off, you’ll need to give information about your employment and income. Your mortgage team will need to know where you work and how much money you make, as well as how long you’ve been at that job and how steady the income is (salary? commission?). If your income is commission based or irregular, Team Neal is expert at tailoring a loan for you. When my family made a cross-country move a couple of years ago, we needed to purchase a house but we were both starting new jobs as teachers in the local school district. This complicated our mortgage process, but Team Neal was able to evaluate our circumstances and get us into our new home without any complications.

You’ll also need to discuss your debts. What debts do you have and how much are your monthly payments for automobiles, credit cards, etc.? Team Neal will use this information to determine a debt-to-income ratio that will inform their loan tailoring process. There will also be questions about savings and assets, and you’ll be required to provide copies of bank and brokerage statements. Finally, there will be questions about why you’re buying a home, how you’re going to use it (residence, rental, etc.) and how much money you plan on putting down. It is important to be forthright and honest so that your mortgage professional can determine the best loan for your needs. 

24 Preventive Maintenance Must-Do's

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 11:35 AM Comments comments (0)

24 Preventive Maintenance Must-Do's


Smoke, Carbon Monoxide Detectors. Check operation, replace batteries.

Fire Extinguishers. Make sure they’re accessible and have adequate pressure.

Dryer Vent. Clear out lint that could catch fire.

Wires. Replace frayed cords.

Railings, Steps, Walkways. Fix unsafe conditions.


Roof. Check and repair shingles, flashing, eaves, soffits.

Chimney. Repair cracks, clean flue if needed.

Gutters, downspouts. Clean, check slope, add extensions to take water away from foundation.

Drainage. Grade soil to drain water away from foundation.

Faucets. If you get freezing temperatures, shut off supply valves, open spigots and drain. Put hoses away.

Windows, Doors. Repair, caulk cracks, replace weather stripping, install storm windows if needed.

Paint, Siding. Check, repair.

Decks. Repair, reseal.

Trees, Shrubs. Trim away from house and power lines.

Driveway. Seal cracks that could later expand.


Attic. Check insulation, leaks.

Ceilings, Walls. Check and repair cracks and water stains.

Tile, Tubs, Showers. Repair grout, caulking.

Kitchen, Bath Fixtures. Repair leaks.

Refrigerator. Vacuum and clean coils.

Central AC. Schedule annual service, cover outdoor units in cooler climates

Heating. Schedule annual service, change filter in forced air systems, bleed radiators in hot water systems.

Hot Water Heater. Flush, remove sediment.

Basement. Check for cracks, dampness, mold.


If you’re looking to maintain another home, or to refinance for a lower rate or fund improvements, please text, email or call us... (469) 363-3298