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Boy reading on the living room rug.

A New School Year Means New Opportunities

Boy reading on the living room rug.

As we are in early September, and most school districts have been in session for at least a week, it’s a good time to pause and reflect.

Every year, students begin afresh in a new grade, families return to a routine anchored in a schedule created by the school(s) their children attend, friends are reunited while new friends are made, and a clean slate is delivered with the promise of good marks for academic performance.

For many, this is the reason for the new clothes, new supplies, and general feeling of newness that comes from new investments into materials and time with a purpose. For students, there will be new subjects, new lessons, new teachers, new textbooks, new methods, and new patterns. When a pattern is repeated, it becomes a routine. Routines become habits, and habits build character.

Every New School Year is a Chance to Build Something New

Good choices are made when your student(s) feel secure about who they are. The biggest control factor is you: family time and family dynamics. If you do not typically do these things, this is a good time to start making positive patterns in your life.

1. Meal Time Gatherings

If you do not already sit down together as a family for your evening meal, try to set aside as many days to do this as possible. Eating is a social act, as much as it is practical, and emotions are closely tied with it. This can help give you more quality time together, and help strengthen a sense of belonging.

2. Healthy Sleep Patterns

If you consider yourself a night owl, but the world doesn’t seem to understand why starting later is a grand idea, this is for you. While it is pretty common knowledge that the recommended time for adults is 7-9hrs, school aged children need between 9-11hrs, including those in high school. (src: Sleep FoundationGetting enough sleep is important for cognitive performance, including memory, concentration, and alertness (not a complete list). This is a new school year. Schedule your time to set yourself up for success.

3. Outdoor Activity

When weather allows, spend some time in the great outdoors, even if only for a few minutes. If you are someone who likes to wake up early, a morning walk, jog, or run is a great way to get outside while building your immune system, improving your mood, and enhancing your cognitive function. If that doesn’t sound like you, even going for a walk before or after your family’s evening meal can yield real benefits. On the weekends, try bicycling, hiking, sports, or just going for a walk to potentially improve your well-being.

4. Find and Feed Your Passion

Mark Twain is said to have said, “Don’t let your boy’s schooling interfere with his education.” (but it was probably Grant Allen src: Quote InvestigatorWith so many interests, ideas, and hobbies to explore, it just makes good sense to feed your passion, and to engage in the developing expertise in that which catches your fancy. Some schools offer classes to help this along as a professional pursuit, but if your does not, don’t let schooling interfere with education. A sharp mind is a curious mind.

5. Volunteer

Nothing gives you a vested interest in your community quite like investing your time and energies to give back. Of course, this assumes you can make the time. Not only does it feel good to do good, but this is also a great resume booster for students who will be applying to attend college!

The Takeaway

Every new beginning, just like the start of a new school year, is to make positive lasting changes. Make sure to write the new activities, orders, or plans into your schedule, and stick to it. If you do, they just may become full blown habits by midterms. Happy School year!

New House

Jump in New Home Sales Highest Since 2008

New House
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau, new single family home sales in June grew by 3.5%* over May, and 25.4%** over June 2015. The seasonally adjusted annual rate was 592,000 in June, and 572,000 was the revised rate in May. The rate in June of last year was estimated to be 472,000.

Economists Weigh In

June 2016 is the highest new single family home sales we’ve seen since February of 2008, according to Ralph McLaughlin, Chief Economist for Trulia, who writes, “This is a continued sign that demand for homes remains solid and aptly reflects increasing homebuilder confidence.”

Brent Nyitray, a Chartered Financial Analyst specializing in economics and financial markets, said, “New Home Sales rose to 592k in June, much higher than the Street expectation. The median new home price rose 6.1% YOY to $306,700. There is about 4.9 month’s worth of inventory right now, compared to 5.1 months in May.” (read more)

Home Prices Rose

In June, the median new home sale price was $306,700, with the average sales price at $358,200.

Home prices nationwide rose 5% in May (compared to May 2015), according to the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices.

The Takeaway

New Home sales have seen an increase since last year, and since last month, with the highest numbers since February of 2008, 100 months ago. This has surpassed expectations, and signals that demand really is the driving force in the housing market. With the inventory at only 4.9 months, compared to 5.1 months in May, low housing inventory is still driving values up.

With inventory shrinking, home values are likely to increase. With rates still low, it’s a great time to buy. Call us today!

*(±23.9%), **(±27.9%) – 90% confidence interval includes zero. The Census Bureau does not have sufficient statistical evidence to conclude that the actual change is different from zero.

EU Referendum Result graphic #Brexit

The EU Referendum, Brexit, and US Mortgage Rates

“The sudden stop in employment growth rules out any chance of a rate hike from the Fed at next week’s FOMC meeting, particularly now that the UK vote on whether to leave the European Union appears to be going down to the wire,” said Capital Economics Chief Economist Paul Ashworth.  (source:

Britain’s exit from the EU increases the value of the dollar, which will push U.S. mortgage rates still lower. “This would create another mini refinance mortgage boom at financial institutions as homeowners rush to lock in near-historic low interest rates,” says Steve Rick, chief economist for CUNA Mutual Group. (source:

Fed Not Expected To Raise Rates

As Paul Ashworth indicated in his quote in HousingWire, The Federal Open Market Committee (who determines monetary policy of the Federal Reserve) is not likely to raise interest rates in their next meeting in July.

Futures dropped in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU today, June 24th. This lack of confidence puts more pressure on the FOMC to, once again, postpone a rate hike.

US Dollar Strengthens as Pound is Pummeled

The pound fell to near 1985 levels, making it the lowest value in three decades. According to the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, 1GBP is now down to 1.37USD. (source: WashingtonPost)

When our currency is worth more, it has more purchasing power, which is cause for suspecting that this could make the cost of housing cheaper still.

Is a refinance boom coming? That remains to be seen, but with the relatively high supply in the housing market coupled with a stronger dollar, we may begin to see the supply begin to normalize as homeowners cash out on their accumulated equity.

The Takeaway

No matter your opinion of the EU Referendum result, mortgages are still, historically speaking, ridiculously cheap.

Mortgage prices tend to follow Treasury yields, which have been trending down all year, too. Last week, the interest on 10-year Treasuries dropped to its lowest in four years on worries that Britain would vote to leave the European Union. When the political and economic outlook is uncertain, the world’s money tends to flow into safe investments like U.S. bonds, including mortgages. – Loraine Woellert, Senior managing editor for Redfin research (source:


Is More Housing Inventory On the Way?

Is More Housing Inventory On The Horizon?

Is More Housing Inventory On the Way?
There has been a lot of talk about the rising value of houses in recent years. While some have expressed concern over another 2008 style housing bubble forming, we have dispelled this notion. While economics is a bit more complicated, most moves are the direct result of what you may have learned in school: supply and demand.

The Buyers are Vying

While no-one doubts that the current economy is sluggish (with varying opinions as to why), the demand for single family homes has continually increased. To corroborate that this is not just a timely fad, surveys show that 80%+  still considers home ownership an essential part of the American Dream. (something that we have talked about before). A recent Gallup survey indicates that real estate is considered to be the best long-term investment.

The Owners are Holding

For several years, homeowners may not have been able to sell. Reasons were numerous, including issues such as family finances and lack of home equity. (which isn’t surprising, in the wake of a housing bubble collapse) As a result of this “holding”, the supply of homes is low, as is to be expected. With the steady increase in home values, however, there is reason to believe that incrased motivation to sell will possibly increase the supply. Do families want to sell?

Short of asking, we can look at how long homes have been held, on average, over time.


As the economy continues to improve, even if slowly, and more families approach possession of significant equity (20% or more), we expect to see more homes on the market. As the supply increase reduces the gap with existing demand, home price increases may begin to slow.

The Takeaway

If you are one of those who have been holding onto your current home over the last few years, now may be a good time to cash in (sell), and find the home of your dreams.

Grant Clinton with his son posing in front of ANW sign

Benchmark Loan Officer Competes on American Ninja Warrior

Meet Grant Clinton.

overcomerGrant Clinton is a Loan Originator and Branch Manager in our awesome branch in Houston, TX!

We are proud to announce that Grant will be competing as an American Ninja Warrior in the Oklahoma City Qualifier on June 20th!




Grant on the rings - gymnastics
With an outstanding history as a gymnast, Grant Clinton was a nominee for the Nissen Emery Award in 2002! Hindered by injuries in a gymnastics career, it is no surprise that he identifies with the title “Overcomer“. To add yet another layer to the name, watch his Submission Video below:

Grant Clinton’s Submission Video


It’s no surprise to us that American Ninja Warrior judges saw this and determined that he was good enough to have a chance in the Oklahoma City Qualifier.

You’ve earned it, Grant!

Cheer Him On With Us!

Grant surveys the course with his son.


Grant’s wife, and son hold signs, cheering him on. T-shirt: “Grant’s the B.O.M.B. (Bearded Obstacle Mortgage Banker)”


American Ninja Warrior Grant Clinton with OVERCOMER shirt watches his daughter walk.


Grant Clinton watches from the sideline.


Grant Clinton is filmed before his run as an American Ninja Warrior contestant.


American Ninja Warrior and Benchmark Mortgage Loan Originator Grant clinton poses with his son in Oklahoma City.

Watch American Ninja Warrior on NBC on June 20th.
Make sure you set your DVR and continue to watch.
If he makes it past the qualifier on the 20th, then the Oklahoma City Regional Finals will air on August 1

Buy a replica OVERCOMER t-shirt  here! (must order by June 5th)

Cheer on Grant, Benchmark’s own Ninja!


DIY Self-Draining Bath Toy Storage


If you have a small child (or small children), you probably have “too many” bath toys, and would benefit from an easy-access storage system. Better yet, an easy-access storage system that drains automatically. Well, you’ve come to the right place.

DIY Bath Toy Organizer

Photo of DIY bath toy organizer

This set up is great! Your little one can reach all of his/her toys, and putting them away after bath time is both easy, and fun! To make this organizer, you will need a few things.

Gather Supplies

  • 1 – tension shower rod (you can get this at any home improvement store)
  • 4 – (or your preferred quantity) plastic baskets with holes in them (you can find these at dollar stores)
  • 2 – per basket – S type shower hooks (metal is recommended for ease of use)

Do you have your supplies? Great! Now it’s time to put our new idea together!

Make It!

  1. Size your rod so that it fits roughly 6″ above the side of your tub along the back wall, and install.
  2. Install the shower hooks onto the tension shower rod.
  3. Decide where your baskets will be placed, and fasten to the rod by using the hooks with the holes in the baskets.

Easy, right? See? You CAN Do It Yourself!

Use It!

You know what to do! If you have toys that can be categorized, have fun placing categories in their own bins. Toss the toys home in a round of bath-time hoops with your little one. The best part? The holes in the bins mean that these cubbies are self-draining.

Like this project? See other projects in our DIY series. click here!


Build A Decorative Mug Plaque!


This post is inspired by:

If you rely on a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, you probably don’t keep it a secret. Let’s turn your favorite dish in the cupboard (the noble mug) into a centerpiece of pride! Have you ever wanted to show off your stunning collection of unique mugs? Do you have a handmade favorite, or souvenirs from special memories, or simply a mug that makes a statement? Show it off!

DIY Mug Hanging Wall Board

This is something that every coffee lover will appreciate. If you are a tea-lover, this is for you too. This is quick, easy, and, not to mention, quite useful!

Gather Materials

For this project, you will need

  • A wood panel that is 1″ thick, 2′ wide, and as tall as you want. (as long as it will fit where you want to mount it)
    You can cut this yourself (be careful, and follow manufacture instructions on tools!), or have your home improvement center cut it for you. Remember to measure twice, and cut once. 
  • Some paint, stain+finish, or a finishing oil. (I like Danish Oil, as it gives color and protection in one product)
  • Lastly, you will need screw hooks large enough to accept your mug handles.

You can find all of these materials at your local home improvement store.

Build It!


For Paint

Take your board, and paint it the color of your choice. If you want to distress it a little, paint a different color for two coats, and lightly spot-sand for a rustic color-reveal look.


If you are using a stain, lightly sand the board, wipe any dust free, and apply your stain in a well-ventilated area. Apply as many coats as product instructions indicate, and follow instructions for drying time. Once try, apply INTERIOR wood finish according to product instructions.

Finishing Oil

Apply finishing oil following instructions on product container. Certain oils may be buffed for added sheen.

Install Hooks

Once your board has dried, it’s time to install your screw hooks! Lay your board flat, and arrange mugs on it in a pattern that makes you happy. Mark where the hooks will be screwed. It may help to drill pilot holds before screwing your hooks in place. Screw hooks in place.

Mount Your Mug Plaque

If you are mounting this to the side of your cabinet, you can use 3/4″ wood screws to screw into it from inside the cabinet for a clean look, free of exposed fasteners. If you are mounting it anywhere else, use drywall anchors, or screw directly into studs using 2″ wood screws. Make sure your anchors are rated for the weight of the board + mugs.

Use It!

Now that it’s up, hang your mugs, and show your collection off with pride! The next time you stumble into the kitchen to pour your cup of coffee/tea, you will love being greeted by your mug plaque. Your guests will love it too!

Bonus Ideas

  • Using paint, stencil, or any other ideas you may find, paint a word, scene, or picture on your board!
  • Paint your hooks to match your kitchen decor!
  • If hanging directly on an exposed wall, add a row of hooks to the bottom for keys, kitchen tools, towels, or anything else you can think of!
  • Add a small shelf to the top (if you are handy enough) for more ornate detail and functionality!

Like this project? See other projects in our DIY series. click here!


Build A Stylish Dog Food Station


While this may be a project for big dogs, you can certainly adapt the concept to fit your own adorable fur ball! This dog food station nests the food and water bowls into the top, so there is no chance of them being knocked around, or knocked over. Are you tired of cleaning the mess? This plan is for you!

DIY Dog Food Storage and Feeding Station

This is a carpentry project. If you do not already have a few carpentry tools on hand, you may need to improvise. The finished piece is approximately 28.5″ wide, 13.75″ tall, and 20.5″ deep. If you don’t have enough space for something this size, you might see this as simply inspiration for your own idea.

Gather and Cut


  • Table Saw (or Circular Saw)
  • Pocket hole jig (the pocket screws act as clamps, and you can use brad nails with bar or pipe clamps instead)
  • Drill/Driver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Jig saw (for bowl openings in lid. You can probably also use a router, or even a rotary tool with router attachment)
  • Power sander (will certainly make the job go faster, but you can also use a sanding block)
  • Chisel set


  • 1 – sheet .75″ veneer plywood (maple, birch, etc.)
  • 3 – of 1″ x 3″ x 8′ pine boards
  • 1 – .75″ square poplar dowel (6′)
  • 1 – .75″ square poplar dowel (4′)
  • 1.25″ pocket screws
  • 1.25″ brad nails
  • Wood glue (we recommend water-resistant, food-safe glue, like TightBond III or Gorilla Wood Glue)
  • Stain (not required if you wish to only use paint).
    I recommend a finish like Danish oil, which imparts both color and protection. You can also stain, then finish with melted paraffin wax applied with a foam applicator brush. Once dried, scrape off the excess with a putty knife or card scraper for a food-safe (even for knives) finish.
  • Paint (not required if you wish to only use stain/finish)
  • 2 hinges + 1 lid support hinge
  • Wood filler or spackling (optional)

Cut List

  • 1 – .75″ plywood – 24″ x 16″
  • 2 – .75″ plywood – 17.5″ x 13″
  • 2 – .75″ plywood – 24″ x 13″
  • 1 – .75″ plywood – 27″ x 19″
  • 4 – 1″x3″ boards – 17.5″ (cut to fit)
  • 4 – 1″x3″ boards – 27″ (cut to fit)
  • 8 – 1″x3″ boards – 8″ (cut to fit)
  • 2 – .75″ square dowels cut at 45deg, 28.5″ on the long side (cut to fit)
  • 2 – .75″ square dowels cut at 45deg, 20.5″ on the long side (cut to fit)

Build It


  • Drill .75″ pocket holes into each short side of the front and back panels (24″ x 13″ plywood pieces)
  • Drill .75″ pocket holes into each long side of the bottom panel (24″ x 16″ plywood piece)
  • Glue and screw the front and back panels to the bottom panel.

The screws provide the clamping pressure. If you don’t have a pocket hole jig, you can use an extra square dowel (24″ long) in the inside corners of the joint, then glue the contact sides and fasten both panels to it with brad nails, then clamp.


  • Glue and attach the side panels (17.5″ x 13″ plywood pieces) with 1.25″ pocket screws.

The screws provide the clamping pressure. If you don’t have a pocket hole jig, you can use an extra square dowel (16″ long) in the inside corners of the joint, then glue the contact sides and fasten both panels to it with brad nails, then clamp.


  • Measure the true width of the sides, and cut your 1″x3″ pieces to fit the top and bottom widths of the side panels. Glue and attach with brad nails.
  • Measure the true heights along the sides of the side panels between the trim boards you’ve just attached, and cut your 1″x3″ pieces to fit. Glue and attach with brad nails.


  • Measure the final width of the top and bottom edges of the front and back of the box (length should include the 1×3 trim boards that you have attached), and cut more 1″x3″ lengths to fit. Glue and attach with brad nails.
  • Measure the true heights along the sides of the front and back panels between the top and bottom trim boards you’ve just attached, and cut your 1″x3″ pieces to fit. Glue and attach with brad nails.


  • Measure the outer diameter (excluding lip) of your dog food bowls, draw the circles on the lid (27″ x 19″ plywood panel) accounting for equal space between them and the edges of the panel.
  • Cut the .75″ square dowel pieces to size. Glue and attach them to the edges of your lid with brad nails.
Tip: you can find the center of your not-yet-drawn circles, and tap a nail in place. Tie a string to it, measure the length to the radius (half the diameter) and mark the length on your string. Using a pencil, use your new “compass” to draw a perfect circle.


  • If you are painting the box, you can fill in any gaps or holes with wood filler and/or drywall spackling.
  • Sand all surfaces of the box and the lid.
  • Paint and/or stain your surfaces, and allow time to fully cure. (read instructions on container for dry/cure times)


  • Attach the lid to the box using the hinges of your choice, and the lid support hinge. (it’s a good idea to drill tiny pilot holes for your hinge screws)
  • Place the 10 gallon storage tub inside, and fill with dog food, and snap its lid in place.
  • Drop the food and water bowls that you measured into the holes that you cut into the lid. (they should be supported by their respective lips)
Tip: If your hinges mount to the inside of the hinged joint (hidden), it’s a good idea to chisel out enough of the back panel for the hinge to nest in so that the lid will close flush. After chiseling, sand, and paint/stain the newly exposed area.
Tip: You can measure, then build small open boxes to attach to the lid under your dog bowls to prevent any spills from entering the main storage bin.
Paint the inside of these open boxes to repel moisture.

Use It!

Your new self-made wooden dog feeding and storage station looks great! No longer will your dog’s food and water bowls slide around on the floor as they dine. No longer will you have to make extra steps to refill the food bowl!

Alt Use

This project makes a box that is quite sturdy.

Have kids? Build this without the holes in the lid for use as a toy chest!

Decorative storage? Add a cushion to the top for a stylish storage bench! You can use this in a mud room, or in a guest room to store linens pillows, and blankets.

Use your imagination!

Like this project? See other projects in our DIY series. click here!


Make Your Own Decorative Key Holder!


Do you love whimsical decorations? What about decorations that are also useful?

If you have ever misplaced your keys, you may have tried to assign a place for them. The plan, anyway, is to always know where they are (at least when you’re home). Did it work?

The best way to actually benefit from your new organization tool is to encourage yourself to use it.

You will address this problem in two ways.
1: You will LOVE the way it looks, and you will actually WANT to hang your keys.
2: You will make this new key holder YOURSELF. Who doesn’t love to take pride in using their own creations?


The best way to actually benefit from an organization tool is to encourage yourself to use it. Click To Tweet



For this project, you will need:

  1. A frame.
    Sure, you can use almost any wood (or plastic, composite) frame, though why not get creative? It’s easy to find vintage or upcycled frames in antique stores, or online. Find one you like!
  2. A screw driver.
  3. Screw hooks.


Prepare the Frame

  1. Remove any glass and backing from your frame. We want your frame to be free of accessories.
  2. Plan out and mark where you would like your key hooks to be placed on your frame. Remember to space them appropriately for your specific keychain.

Make the Holder

  1. Drill appropriate sized pilot holes for your screw hooks.
  2. Screw in each hook, making sure to be aware of the angle (don’t forget what they’re for).

Hang the Holder

Find a space on a wall near your entry/exit path, and hang your hanger!


With any good organization tool, it doesn’t work unless you use it. You have set yourself up for success by choosing a great location, making your key holder yourself, and using a frame that you love. Great job!


Can you think of other ways to use your new creation?

Like this project? See other projects in our DIY series. click here!

Sold on for-sale sign in front of house.

Low Housing Inventory Driving Values Up

Many people may have been watching home values steadily rise over the past year, and notice that it isn’t slowing down.

Another Housing Bubble?

Is this the aftershocks of 2008? Has sub-prime lending made a comeback as the Federal Reserve has hesitated to raise interest rates? Are new homeowners soon to be upside down on their young mortgages? No. Some have speculated it. Don’t believe it.

Purely Supply and Demand

After the bubble crash 8 years go, demand dropped first, then supply followed. In the market’s rebound correction (that we are still in the middle of), demand is driving the housing market once again.

In this case, demand growth is outpacing the housing supply. The result? More people want the housing that is available, and the competition drives up market value.

While this does make it a difficult time to buy, it may also be a terrific time to sell!

What’s A New Buyer To Do?

When prices are going up, and are projected to continue to increase, it is good to remember that interest levels are still low. This is when it makes sense to consider the true cost of waiting.

True Cost of Waiting

Consider this:

If you were to buy a house right now, with a $250,000 mortgage at 3.68%APR interest, your Payment (P&I) would be $1,147.88

If you were to buy the same house Between January and March (estimate) in 2017, your same mortgage would be $263,750 at (estimated) 4.5%APR interest. Your Payment (P&I) would be $1,336.38

By buying now, your net worth would automatically increase by $13,750 (not including the principle payments that you would be making to shrink the balance/increase your equity)

The difference in monthly payment would be $188.50. Can you afford an extra $188/month in exchange for… uh… well… …hesitation?

Over the course of 30 years, you would end up paying $67,860 more as a result. What could you do with an extra $68k?

Lock It In, And Watch It Climb

The general convention, as we have mentioned before, is to buy as early as you can. You may be better off in terms of both equity and housing costs.

Ready to get started? Give us a call!