By Carla Olivo, Director of Strategic Communications

It is not just active duty families on the move each year. Veterans and military retirees also often move their families as they relocate for a second career or to their forever home.

One of the keys to making a smart choice of whether to rent or buy a home for your family is knowing the local real estate market. Moving every couple of years per the military lifestyle can intimidate anyone out of buying a house. Yes, it can be a gamble, but thousands of mil-families roll the dice so to speak and come out with an excellent investment. We bought three homes during my husband’s military career, and we don’t regret buying any of them. At the time, they were all a great alternative to base housing or renting.

HAMPTON ROADS HOUSING MARKET

To look at the current housing market in Hampton Roads, we turned to some of the “A-Graded” REALTORS® on PCSgrades.com. Bessie Ostrander likes to be the eyes and ears for her military clients. She often does virtual tours of houses so mil-families can see every detail of their potential new home. A mil-spouse herself, Bessie is also a local Ombudsman and full of useful information about military life in the Hampton Roads area.

Erin Ward, with Keller Williams, is an Army spouse who supports fellow mil-spouses through her work with several non-profits to include: The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network and Corporate America Supports You. With 16 PCSes under her belt, she understands military moving.

IS NOW A GOOD TIME TO BUY IN THE HAMPTON ROADS/NORFOLK AREA?

Ostrander wholeheartedly says yes. “The market is strong here, and home values overall are going up.” Ward agrees and goes a step further saying she thinks 2019 may prove to be one of the best times to buy in the coming years. “Rates are still fantastic. Even with small increases, they are at historically low levels.”

IS IT A BUYER’S MARKET OR A SELLER’S MARKET?

Both of our experts agree now is the time to buy if you are a buyer. Ward says, “Hampton Roads is still seeing low inventory; however, buyers often get their closing costs covered, making it a great market for VA buyers.” Ostrander concurs, “We can typically get all closing costs covered for buyers, so their out-of-pocket expenses are very little in most cases.”

STATUS OF INVENTORY

Inventory is currently low throughout the Hampton Roads/Norfolk region. Ward says it’s been great for buyers utilizing the VA Renovation Loan Program. “This is allowing buyers to buy smart and make the mark on homes through VA Loan financed upgrades. Watch out Chip & Jo these buyers are just as savvy with their upgrades!”

Ostrander says. “Currently, in Virginia Beach alone, 150 homes are priced $275,00 and below.” She says the spring and summer months are a busy time for the market, so she expects more homes to come on the market in the coming months.

AFFORDABLE HOMES – MEDIAN SALE PRICES

Median home prices in the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads/Norfolk area range from $236,00 to $266,000. Home values have gone up 3.7% over the last year.

WHAT IS THE COMPETITION LIKE?

With low inventory, both Realtors say they are seeing multiple offer situations. Ward says, “It’s important to present a strong offer, paying close attention to price, contingencies and having a strong pre-approval letter.”

Ostrander agrees, pointing out new listings that are priced within the median BAH will hit the market hot. “I always suggest to put your best offer first on a new listing; it might be the only chance you get.”

OPTIONS FOR RENTERS

There are a decent amount of houses for rent in Norfolk, VA as well as other rentals available, but less inventory when you are looking for a pet-friendly rental. The median rent price in Virginia Beach is $1,495, which is higher than the Norfolk/Newport News Metro median of $1,375. Ward says, “Be prepared to make sacrifices on your wants list to ensure you are keeping within your budget. There are many apartment communities, but they too can often have high price tags.”  

LEASE BARGAINING POWER

Ward says some apartment communities offer incentives to new tenants. “Parking spaces are usually included, except for apartments found in the city areas of Norfolk or Virginia Beach Town Center.” Ostrander says there are not usually incentives offered for private rentals, “but there will always be apartment complexes which offer incentives.”

AVAILABILITY OF NEW CONSTRUCTION

There is a lot of new construction in the areas of Chesapeake and Suffolk. “You will find stand-alone new construction homes in Norfolk & Portsmouth,” says Ostrander. “There is less new construction in Virginia Beach, and those homes are in the higher $300-400,000 price range.”

Ward recommends potential buyers look around and explore the area. “We are seeing a huge amount of growth in new construction in the area. New construction, single family homes, townhomes, and condos abound.”

ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS

Before you start searching ‘houses for rent in Norfolk VA’ or ‘houses for sale in Hampton Roads,’ both of our ‘A-Graded’ Realtors agree knowledge is power, and they recommend potential buyers/renters do their research. “Pick the right ‘team’. Interview agents and work with someone who you get along with,” says Ostrander. “You will be spending a lot of time with them. It’s not always about who is most recommended on Facebook, but who has a proven track record of negotiating deals, problem solving, and who communicates the way you prefer.”

Ward suggests working with an experienced Realtor knowledgeable about the local market who can help educate you. “Ask your Realtor if they have a first-time buyer education program, one that offers a thorough consultation of what to expect, a market overview and even the ins and outs of the contract. For me, it’s important that my buyers are the expert on their home buying deal.”

Ostrander says a good home inspector is also vital to a good home-buying experience. “Follow your home inspector around the house and learn as much as you can.

A Mortgage Lender is another key person to help you realize your dream of owning a home. Ostrander says, “Ask questions to make sure you are getting the best rates on the mortgage and if any of the fees can be waived or negotiated.”

“It’s also vital to get a recommendation from your Realtor,” says Ward, “for a lender that will also take the time to go over the lending process and all options, including options outside of the VA loan.” Ward adds, “This level of education is just as important as knowing what to expect from your Realtor.”

A great place to start your search for a team to help you with your home-buying experience is PCSgrades.com where you can learn about local neighborhoods, schools, as well as find military-friendly Realtors and Mortgage Lenders. All Realtors participating in PCSgrades offer a 20% cash rebate to buyers in states which allow rebates.

IS IT EASY TO RESELL IN A FEW YEARS?

Both of our experts say reselling is relatively easy if you buy smart. Ward recommends making sure your Realtor knows the market and utilizes market data to help you buy a home with resale or rental investment potential in mind. Ostrander says you can usually break even after three years of owning. “There are always exceptions to this.”

OVERALL ADVICE

“It’s a good time to buy if you have decent credit, and are ready to start investing your money instead of paying someone else’s mortgage by renting,” says Ostrander. “I think buying is a great financial decision.”

Ward agrees, “The great news is that we are seeing a strong economy and a housing market that is healthy and leveling out. It’s a great time to buy, but to buy smart.”

Carla Olivo has garnered numerous journalism awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, News Writing, and Documentary Reporting.  She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children. Carla Olivo

PCSgrades Director of Strategic Communications