Achievement Center of Texas

Benchmark Cares: Achievement Center of Texas



The 2009 Corporate recipient of this prestigious award( is Benchmark Mortgage and their co-founders Bryan Harlan and Stewart Hunter. Two years ago, they created what is known as the Benchmark Loving Cup Fund which assists families and their special needs individuals to remain at the Achievement Center during hard economic times. This fund is based on one dollar contributed for every successful Benchmark transaction nationwide. Former Dallas Cowboy great, and FOX sports announcer, Daryl Johnston presented the award. Johnston received the first individual Champions Who Care Award in 2007 and is a true supporter of the Achievement Center of Texas.

first published at


While we do a lot of work to support our nation’s veterans, we also give to other philanthropic causes.

We have a fund called the “Benchmark Loving Cup Fund” for the Achievement Center of Texas. Marilynne Serie, Executive Director of the Achievement Center of Texas, recently gave us an idea of the reach of our fund in a letter thanking Benchmark for our support. Below is a sampling of the letter to show what it is that the Achievement Center of Texas does, and how the Benchmark Loving Cup Fund helps to support their cause.

“We served 6 students with funds from the Loving Cup which greatly helped them to afford the services here at the Achievement Center. Among the programs that we offered are functional living skills, personal health and hygiene, gardening, sensory motor training, arts exploration (both visual and performing arts), robotics (utilizing our newly acquired robot “Milo” who teaches children with autism). Researchers have found children with autism relate better to the robot than to a human. Our community inclusion program is designed to get students out into their community to experience a world of adventure. As part of this program, students participated recently in World Habitat Day where hey planted seeds, played challenging games, and had lunch with the people of Habitat for Humanity. This year they will visit the Heard museum to see the animals, they will visit a ranch, visit Springcreek Forest Preserve, and will see many new things that they never dreamed of seeing or experiencing…


..While we cannot give the names of the students due to strict confidentiality regulation, I am pleased to tell you that you have ben a godsend to these families. It is heart wrenching to tell a parent that we can’t take their child when they depend  on us so heavily for our services which allows them to work to provide the high cost of care for their disabled family member. We hope that Benchmark will continue to help our families each year. It is a wonderful thing that you do.”

Marilynne Serie
Executive Director

To learn more about the Achievement Center of Texas, we have included a few snippets from their website, or you can visit their website by clicking the Achievement Center of Texas logo, or by clicking the URL below.

Achievement Center of Texas Logo

The Achievement Center of Texas is a licensed non-profit day care and day habilitation center for children and adults with special needs. Every effort is made to offer families their choices in services and to support those choices wherever possible. In providing a wide range of services in the least restrictive environment, students at the Achievement Center can grow and develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially working toward greater independence and more satisfying way of life.

 Our goal is to teach individuals the skills they need to be able to participate in the life of the community and to enjoy the same opportunities available to their non-disabled peers and family members.

Q. Are scholarships available to low income families who do not have HCS or other agency support?
A. Yes. We have the Garland Community Development Block Grant Funds and Benchmark Loving Cup Fund. Each one has special restrictions and these funds are allocated quickly.


15 New Years Resolutions And the Secret to Keeping Them

Happy New Year!

The fresh start of a new year is always nice. The ups and downs of 2015 are left behind, and a bright new canvas lies ahead.

What are your hopes and dreams for this New Year? Maybe amidst all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you haven’t had a chance to make your resolutions. If that sounds familiar, here are a few ideas for inspiration.

15 New Year’s Resolution Ideas for Procrastinators

  1. Of course, the most popular one of all…get in shape!
  2. Read more.
  3. Spend more time with your loved ones.
  4. Get a promotion.
  5. Save money.
  6. Take a class in something that interests you.
  7. Volunteer.
  8. Start a new hobby.
  9. Mend a relationship.
  10. Travel.
  11. Make new friends.
  12. Start a journal.
  13. Learn a new language.
  14. Get more sleep.
  15. Be more thankful.

Making Them Stick

Even more important than making your resolution, is to have an actionable plan to be successful in reaching your goals.

  1. It is also important that you set a realistic goal.
  2. Keep yourself accountable.
  3. Automate when possible.
  4. Eliminate temptation.
  5. Most importantly, be motivated. Without motivation, it will be next to impossible to change your habits. This is also why it is so important that your goal be realistic. Success boosts your confidence to keep going.

Example: If you are want to get in shape, find a work out partner. You are much more likely to get out of bed and get to the gym at 5:30 am (or whatever time you schedule.. which is important.. schedule it!) if you have someone relying on you to be there for them.

Example: If you want to save money, open a savings account, write out a budget plan, and set up an automatic transfer with your bank. If the money isn’t in your spending account, you won’t be tempted to spend it.

A tip to keep yourself accountable without a partner: Post your resolutions in a place it will catch your attention often, and share them with your family and friends who can help you achieve your goals.

A Resolution for Everyone

Last but not least, let’s all make more mistakes this year. You will absolutely love this quote from Neil Gaiman:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

So Here’s to 2016!

Let’s make it a great one full of fun, happiness, and love!


C. Gomez
C. Gomez works at our corporate office as an administrative assistant. She recently welcomed a new addition into her family as she became a new mom! She contributed the foundation for this article. Thank you!

2016 Mortgage Interest Rate Outlook

Home Prices and Mortgage Interest Rates to Rise in 2016

Your home’s mortgage payment is based on the price of the home (minus the down payment), and the interest rate for the loan.

Both prices and interest rates will likely rise in 2016.

Home Prices

CoreLogic anticipates a national 5.2% home value increase for the next year. The percentage varies by state, with WA, CA, NV, UT, AZ, NM, FL, and VT seeing the greatest increase at an average of  7.6% (the highest being CA at 10.8%, the lowest of this group being NM at 6.0%). The lowest forecasted home price increase is WV at 1.3%.  Clearly, the majority of the country is projected to see a real home value appreciation that outpaces currency inflation (0.5% from 2014-2015).

Which reminds one of this post: click here

Mortgage Interest Rates

All four establishments who provide future projections on mortgage interest rates agree that rates will rise in 2016. The following table shows the change for each quarter of the next year.

Quarter Fannie
MBA NAR Average
of all four
2016 1Q 3.9 4.0 4.2 4.1 4.05
2016 2Q 4.0 4.2 4.4 4.3 4.23
2016 3Q 4.0 4.4 4.6 4.6 4.4
2016 4Q 4.1 4.6 4.8 4.9 4.6

So, What’s the Bottom Line?

Since home prices and interest rates expected to increase over the next year, it makes sense to buy sooner rather than later, if you are buying a new home.

We are proud to present our all new website here at New Website Update Has a New Look!

Today, we are excited to release our all new website here at (it was a labor of love, and is long overdue)

The Design Plan for Our New Website at

When we set out to make a new website, we started by thinking about our clients: YOU. We wanted our new website to be mobile-friendly, up-to-date with a clean modern design, and (most importantly) to provide you with tools to make the best decision for you when choosing your mortgage lender.

A Few Highlights

Lifetime Loan Concept

One of the sections on our new website that we want to highlight is our LIFETIME LOAN approach – which is simply our way of doing business. We strongly believe that our job is not over when you finish closing on your new home. We continually monitor your loan and the market for the best next move for your mortgage.

Our Core Values

We also have an entire section on our new website dedicated to our CORE VALUES, where you can learn more about what drives us and our desire to help you in the purchase of your new home, or the refinance of your current home.

Mortgage Learning Center

For those of you who are new to the home buying process or are not sure where to start, we have created the BENCHMARK UNIVERSITY (located under our Resources tab on our new website) where you can find information about the loan process, information concerning gathering documents, select FAQ’s, and four free ebooks for you to download!

Real Client Testimonials

Do you want to read what others are saying about Benchmark, or do you want to let others know about your own experience? Check out our TESTIMONIALS page where you can read testimonials left by others, and you can even leave your own!

We are pleased to finally present this new website to you, and we hope that you find it to be enjoyable, helpful, and easy. Thank you for allowing Benchmark to be your mortgage lender of choice!

-Benchmark Media Team


10 Great Christmas Traditions for Your Family

Merry Christmas!

The trees, the lights, the music, and of course, the meaning behind it all: It really is the most wonderful time of the year!

I’m one of those people who starts listening to Christmas music on November 1, and don’t be surprised if I put decorations out before Thanksgiving. I love Christmas and everything about it!

This particular Christmas was extra special for my family, as we had just welcomed our first baby into the world four months ago. Having our sweet new addition around had me feeling more of the Christmas spirit than usual (if that’s even possible), and made me want to make the most of the season. All of these warm fuzzy feelings had me thinking: what kind of new tradition could we start with our new little family?

Here are 10 Fun Christmas Tradition Ideas for Your Family

  1. Individually wrap 25 Christmas themed books and put them under the tree. Starting December 1, have your child open one each night before bed, and read it together as a family.
  2. Invite the family over for a day of making gingerbread houses! If your family is like mine, this will quickly turn into a competition!
  3. Make or get some hot chocolate and hit the road for a night of looking at Christmas lights.
  4. Volunteer at a soup kitchen together.
  5. Have a cookie baking and decorating day. Then deliver them to your local fire or police station.
  6. Give your child a gift to be opened on Christmas Eve—include Christmas pajamas, a Christmas book, movie, hot chocolate, and candy canes.
  7. All year long, empty spare change from your pockets into a jar. When Christmas comes, decide as a family who to anonymously give the jar to.
  8. Give each child $5 to spend at the dollar store to buy gifts for family members.
  9. Hide candy canes around the house and have your kids go on a Candy Cane Hunt.
  10. Have every family member write down their favorite memory from that year on a small piece of paper. Put them all into a clear ornament and label it with the year.

We would love to hear YOUR Christmas traditions! What do you look forward to most about Christmas each year? Whatever it is…we hope you had the best one yet.

Merry Christmas
(and Happy New Year)

C. Gomez
C. Gomez works at our corporate office as an administrative assistant. She recently welcomed a new addition into her family as she became a new mom! As an avid fan of Christmas, she was excited to share this article. Thank you!

Homeownership = wealth accumulation

Homeowner Average Net Worth 3,600% Higher Than Renter

Not only has the housing market made a strong economic recovery, but also in consumer and expert confidence in home-ownership as an investment.

Not Because of a Difference in Lifestyle

In the New York Times, an editorial entitled, “Homeownership and Wealth Creation” explains:

“Homeownership long has been central to Americans’ ability to amass wealth; even with the substantial decline in wealth after the housing bust, the net worth of homeowners over time has significantly outpaced that of renters, who tend as a group to accumulate little if any wealth.”

The Federal Reserve’s Own Research Agrees

While we have referenced this article before, many of the claims that the article makes are backed by the research that the Federal Reserve has conducted in their Survey of Consumer Finances. The study found that,

the average net worth of a homeowner ($194,500)
is 36x greater than that of a renter ($5,400).

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) expanded on the Federal Reserve’s research and projected that,

by the end of 2015, the average homeowner will have nearly
41x the net worth of a renter.

That’s nearly 4,100%!

The Gap Widens

Their findings are detailed in the graph below:

One reason for this large discrepancy in net worth is the concept of ‘forced savings’ created by having a mortgage payment and was explained by the New York Times:

“Homeownership requires potential buyers to save for a down payment, and forces them to continue to save by paying down a portion of the mortgage principal each month.” “Even in instances where renters have excess cash, saving a substantial amount is difficult without a near-term goal, like a down payment. It is also difficult to systematically invest each month in stocks, bonds or other assets without being compelled to do so.”

The Takeaway

“As a means to building wealth, there is no practical substitute for homeownership.”

If you are a renter who is considering making a purchase, talk with a Benchmark Mortgage professional who can explain the benefits of signing a contract to purchase over renewing your lease.

click here to find yours

A good realtor has the heart of an educator

Find A Great Real Estate Agent The Easy Way

Looking to buy or sell your home? You may have noticed the vast amount of information available in the news and on the internet about real estate. When trying to make sense of it all, one can easily get overwhelmed or confused.

You need an agent who can help navigate the current housing market. If you are looking to sell, you need an agent who can help you price your home correctly and appropriately. If you are looking to buy, you need an agent who can help you determine what to offer on your dream home (without overpaying or offending the seller with a below-market offer).

How high should you price your home? How much should you offer on a listing? A great agent can help you determine these numbers, and help you come out on top.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey says,

“When getting help with money, whether it’s insurance, real estate or investments, you should always look for someone with the heart of a teacher, not the heart of a salesman.”

An Agent Who Knows Your Market Can Make Your Experience Easier

We admit, this seems rather obvious. But, how do you know whether an agent is really up-to-the-minute on what is happening in your real estate market? How do you know if they will take the time to simply and effectively explain what it all means and how it may affect you?

A simple way to find out is by searching through a real estate agent’s social media channels. What kind of material are they sharing? Are they using their social media platforms to share current, helpful information or are they just posting trendy recipes and inspirational quotes?

The best agents spend time educating and informing so you can be confident when buying or selling your home. What they share online will help you to determine whether an agent meets the description advised by Dave Ramsey above:  

“…you should always look for someone with the heart of a teacher.”

Do you know a great agent like this? What other tips do you have for us? Share this article with your additions.


Is it a Good Idea to Rent Rather than Sell Your Home?

With more homeowners considering that now may be a good time to sell their home, we thought it would be a good idea to consider whether renting might be a better idea.

According to Fannie Mae’s June 2015 National Housing Survey, 52% of respondents said that now is a good time to sell. Perhaps more interestingly, 59% of respondents expect home rental prices to increase. 

Naturally, when you are considering selling your home, and you notice rental prices elevating, you are likely to consider renting. And who wouldn’t? Residual income on an owned asset, or having your house work to pay for itself sounds pretty good, right? This is when it makes sense to ask the question:

Are You Ready to be a Landlord?

Before you jump head-first into the world of being a landlord, take a look at this list. Sometimes what seems to be an obvious benefit can come with some hidden challenges.

10 Questions to ask before renting your home

  1. If your tenant says they can’t afford to pay the rent this month because of more pressing obligations, how will you respond? (This happens most often during holiday season and back-to-school time when families with children have extra expenses).
  2. Because of the economy, many homeowners cannot make their mortgage payment. What percentage of tenants do you think cannot afford to pay their rent?
  3. Have you interviewed experienced eviction attorneys in case a challenge requiring one does arise?
  4. Liability is greater in a non-owner occupied home. Have you talked to your insurance company about a possible increase in premiums?
  5. Will you allow pets? Cats? Dogs? How big a dog?
  6. How will you actually collect the rent? Electronically? By mail? In person?
  7. Repairs are part of being a landlord. Who will take tenant calls when necessary and/or emergency repairs come up?
  8. Do you have a list of licensed tradesmen readily available to handle these repairs?
  9. How often will you do a physical inspection of the property?
  10. Will you alert your current neighbors that you are renting the house?

The Takeaway

If you are prepared to handle the responsibilities that come with being a landlord, renting your home could be a great investment. Historically, renting residential real estate has been just that. However, if you are planning to sell before too long, the responsibilities that can come with renting your home may make any short-term economic benefit not worth the hassle.

Homeownership still the American Dream

Seeking the American Dream of Home Ownership

Are you living the American Dream?

Most of us have a pretty good idea about what the American Dream is. In case you don’t, we looked it up:

[quote]“The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. – source:[/quote]

If we carry this definition further, we find that many Americans see homeownership as an important part of that dream. Let’s look at some recent statistics.

Existing home sales in May of this year were 9.2% higher than the same time last year. Home sales in the Midwest and Northeast saw gains of at least 10%.

If the growth of home sales alone isn’t enough to convince you that owning a home is “living the American Dream,” there’s more. Studies have shown that purchasing a home is making an investment that will appreciate over time. What does that mean? Let’s look at an example. If you already own your home, you are enjoying an average of 7.9% gain in the value of your home just in the last year!

In addition to the financial benefit, owning your home is a slice of freedom. No paying rent to a landlord. No sharing an apartment complex floor with 30 other people. It’s yours.

As the housing market continues to show signs of strength, now could be the best time to invest in your piece of the American Dream. Whether you are looking for a home that is worth $100K or $1M, at Benchmark, we are here to welcome you into the rising trend of homeownership. You will receive more than just another set of keys…you will be given the keys to your HOME.

Fact Sources: NAR’s Existing Home Sales Report 6/22/15