Defending The Dream

Published: Nov. 11 2019

According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 22 million veterans and active-duty military personnel in America today. Sadly, nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless, an estimated one in 10 of all homeless people. Another jaw-dropping 1.4 million are at risk of homelessness, due in part to lack of resources, education, and information.

Burdened by this vast problem, Dustin Luce; a Keller Williams agent and owner of the Advance Team in the Greater Los Angeles area; and his friend and business partner Son Nguyen; a Navy vet and Realtor; founded the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP) in 2011. Their mission is powerful: To advance and increase sustainable homeownership, economic opportunity, and VA loan awareness for active-duty military and veteran communities.

on left sonny nguyen, on right dustin luce wearing VAREP shirts

In its eight years, the nonprofit has grown to 45 chapters nationwide and is actively transforming the lives of veterans.

To date, they have accomplished the following:

  • Donated 37 mortgage-free homes to veterans
  • Remodeled and sold 315 homes to veterans, first responders, teachers, and civil servants
  • Spent $6.6 million on home rehabilitation for mortgage-free home donations and the Veterans First Resale Program
  • Provided $70,000 in housing-assistance grants for down payments, closing costs, and adaptive-housing construction
  • Educated 5,000-plus veterans about homeownership
  • Helped 2,000-plus families through VA Cares
  • Placed 1,500 veterans in homes
  • Hosted 610 real estate education seminars
  • Hosted 133 veteran housing summits

“I’m proud that we’ve been able to increase the level of knowledge about veteran benefits, to remove barriers and misnomers, and to help veterans fulfill lifelong dreams of homeownership,” says Luce. 

Serving Those Who Have Served

Las Vegas husband and wife team Ernie and Leah Gonzales have been in real estate for 20 years and at Keller Williams for 14. Ernie is a veteran, and Leah, in addition to being married to Ernie, has a father and grandfather that also served their country. So, when they learned about VAREP, they jumped in headfirst. The organization’s mission hit close to home and gave them a sense of belonging after the market crash affected them personally.

ernie and leah gonzales cropped

Leah says, “We saw it as a fulfilling way to give back to the veteran community that we know and care so much about.”

Ernie, who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); a common reality for many vets; adds, “While you’re in the military, you have camaraderie with your fellow soldiers. When it ends, you feel the sudden shift. In order for me to feel better, we found refuge in giving back to the community. It allowed us to find our tribe again.”

Not only that, Leah says that Ernie’s PTSD was a threat to his life and their partnership. VAREP gave them a powerful purpose, and they credit it with saving their business and their marriage.

Dispelling Myths

Now board members for VAREP, the couple are passionate about advancing the dream of homeownership for veterans. Their days are full of joyful work helping veterans move closer to homeownership. And, assisting the real estate community better-serve veterans through advocacy and education around the VA Home Loan Program.

“In order for me to feel better, we found refuge in giving back to the community. It allowed us to find our tribe again.”

A VA loan is provided by a mortgage company or a bank, and since a portion of it is guaranteed, veterans and active-duty military members are able to get better terms for a primary residence. Though the VA home loan program has been in operation since 1944, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t do any outreach. As a result, less than 5% of veterans use their VA-backed home loan. Additionally, millions of veterans and their spouses are unaware of housing programs that can help them build, improve, or keep their current homes.

“Veterans work hard and sacrifice for the American way of life, but are unable to use their benefits because of several deterrents,” reflects Ernie. “That’s why there’s so much purpose in what we do.”

The Gonzaleses travel cross-country, presenting at housing summits and real estate education seminars to dispel myths about the little-used benefit.

“One of the biggest gaps is the myths about the VA home loan, namely that it costs the seller too much money to accept. But, it can actually cost the seller nothing,” says Leah.

“There are certain costs that the buyer can’t pay for, but they can be absorbed by the agent, lender, or the seller. I believe the real estate community is very misinformed on the VA home loan, and are missing out on helping veterans get one of the best loans for them – one with no money down and no mortgage insurance.”

Backed By KW  

The Gonzaleses credit both VAREP and Keller Williams for providing the environment to pursue their passion. 

For the second year in a row, Keller Williams took the top spot in Indeed’s Top-Rated Workplaces for Veterans, and pointed to the company’s revered culture and respect for the entrepreneurial and team-building spirit of veterans among the many reasons why. 

“What Keller Williams is doing as a company for veterans is setting the pace for all other companies.”

Ernie can attest. “We love the culture of community at Keller Williams. We are involved with Military Agents Resource Network (MARN) – a group that incorporates a lot of what we do with VAREP at Keller Williams.”

Members connect online and in-person at Family Reunion and Mega Camp.

“We put on a networking mixer at Keller Williams’ events as another avenue to serve and help veterans and military agents,” Ernie continues. “What Keller Williams is doing as a company for veterans is setting the pace for all other companies.”


Keller Williams is committed to serving our real estate agents so that they may serve their communities and clients at the highest level. Part of that pledge includes an unwavering support of our veterans, those that are currently serving, and military spouses.

We believe that access to homeownership is a critical component of the American dream. This is why we partner with VAREP. Learn more at https://www.varep.net.

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