After Losing Her Home in a Fire, This Teacher Needed a Fresh Start. A Mortgage Refinance Helped Her Do It

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Teresa Hanni had just moved into a home with her new husband when it burned down during a California wildfire in late 2019. A refinance helped them start a new chapter in another home Hannie owned. Teresa Hanni
Teresa Hanni had just moved into a home with her new husband when it burned down during a California wildfire in late 2019. A refinance helped them start a new chapter in another home Hannie owned.

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Teresa Hanni had a plan for 2020.

The high school math teacher would get married, move in with her new husband, and then begin a transition toward retirement by shifting her work to part-time.

She did not plan on a global pandemic or raging wildfires burning down the northern California house she would move into with her new husband, Robert, in late 2019. The fire, which also claimed the life of Robert’s father, meant the plan would have to change.

“I lost almost everything,” said Hanni, 58. “There were a few trinkets here and there, but I lost pretty much everything I owned.”

Since losing her home and father-in-law, Hanni and her husband have slowly rebuilt their lives during the pandemic — while also figuring out how to get their planned retirements back on track. Part of the new plan included refinancing the loan on the home Hanni still owned from before the marriage to get a new lower monthly payment and some breathing room in their budget. She was able to do it with help from Better Mortgage

A New Plan 

Hanni had just moved in with her new husband when the wildfire burned it down. 

Though she still owned the home she had lived in before, she had rented it to a former Marine. So moving back into that house would not be an option, at least not right away. “We couldn’t just kick him out. He had just signed a lease and I couldn’t do that to him.”

The couple eventually moved into a friend’s RV, which they parked amid the charred rubble of their former home, as they spent several months dealing with insurance and legal issues.

As the calendar flipped to 2020, Hanni had her world turned upside down yet again by the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of the new, unexpected living arrangements and while processing the loss of her father-in-law, Hanni found herself teaching high schoolers via Zoom from her tiny borrowed trailer. 

Hanni and her new husband started thinking about an eventual return to her old home when it would become available again. And with retirement on the near horizon for both of them, Hanni says she wanted to make sure their budget would allow for life’s planned and unplanned expenses.

“That’s when I started looking for a better mortgage rate,” Hanni says of the home she’d originally thought would bring in regular income as a rental property. 

Mortgage rates are historically low right now, after the average 30-year rate hit an all-time low of 2.65% in early January, according to industry benchmark data from Freddie Mac. These low rates mean millions of homeowners have been able to save money by refinancing into a lower rate, and in some cases a shorter loan term altogether. Millions more could still potentially benefit from a refinance.

After losing their home in a California wildfire, Teresa Hanni and her husband lived in a borrowed RV on the property where the home had burned down.Teresa Hanni

The Challenge

To move back into the home she’d owned since 2013 with her husband for retirement, Hanni wanted a lower monthly payment than she had with her original loan. She began contacting various lending companies to find a better deal.

Hanni says she was able to narrow an initial list of five companies down to three just in the course of making initial phone calls to different lenders. Even the bank she’s used for checking and savings accounts for years let her down as she explored her options. “It took them five weeks to call me back,” Hanni says. “That’s not customer service and I certainly didn’t have to do that with Better Mortgage.”

Coming off the loss of her new home, and amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, Hanni wanted a lender that made her feel more like a person than just a new account. She says she eventually found that with Better Mortgage, which kept coming up in the course of her research.

The Better Way

The human touch and people-first tone Hanni found with Better stood out to her from the very beginning. She was also impressed by the ease of use and speed with the online application process used by Better Mortgage.

“I think they’re very humanistic and they look at the whole picture, not just a bunch of numbers on paper,” Hanni said. “I have to thank them for being a company that does that and looks at somebody as a whole and their track record.”

Better Mortgage — recently named one of the best online mortgage lenders by NextAdvisor — is available in 46 states and Washington, D.C. It can pre-approve borrowers in minutes, and charges no origination fees. Better also offers extra incentives for using both Better Real Estate and Better Mortgage, as well as a closing guarantee offering $2,000 payment if Better Mortgage doesn’t close the loan on time.

“I uploaded a few documents and I was locked on my rate within four or five days,” Hanni says. “They didn’t ask for everything at once. It was a little bit here and a little bit there. It really felt manageable.”

With the help and guidance of her Better Mortgage Home Advisor, Eric, Hanni was able to close on her new mortgage just 30 days later. Based on her borrower profile, Hanni qualified for a special refinance program offered by Better Mortgage called RefiNow. The RefiNow program is a partnership with Fannie Mae, and is meant to expand access to refinancing to millions more homeowners who could benefit from a new loan, including those whose income has been affected by COVID-19. It has more inclusive qualifications, and the program estimates eligible borrowers could save up to $3,000 per year, or between $100-$250 per month.

“It’s all online,” Hanni said. “All you have to do is just upload [the information]. It was amazing how easy it was. 

What’s Next For Teresa?

After closing on their new mortgage, Hanni says she and Robert are now able to rest comfortably as they transition to part-time employment, with retirement now on the horizon.

The lower rate they were able to get from Better Mortgage makes for a mortgage payment that fits comfortably within their budget — a priority from the start. “Having a mortgage [like this] makes everything possible for us to realize those dreams and those plans that we would like to have for the rest of our lives,” Hanni says. “This refinance really opens up a lot of opportunities for us.”

(Better Mortgage Corp. NMLS # 330511.)