When military families PCS, it can be difficult to find a real estate agent near the gaining military installation. It’s important to find an agent who has been trained to work with military families, and is familiar with all the challenges of a PCS move. But where should you start your search? And how do you know when you’ve found the “right” agent for your family? We interviewed Realogy network agent Tanya Ireland of Coldwell Banker Advantage to get her perspective on how military families can connect with a real estate agent.

Most home-buying research for military families takes place from a distance. Where should they begin their virtual search?

Everyone loves 3rd party sites: they can enter their search criteria, and things are delivered visually. However, I do encourage them to use what a local real estate agent can offer. Our market moves so fast that it’s frustrating for clients to fall in love with a listing online that has already been pending for 2 days. The MLS sites are updated before the 3rd party sites, so you’ll get the fastest news and best information from MLS. One of our apps that we provide clients links directly to our MLS. They can compare a real estate agent’s site to the listings on a 3rd party site to see “coming soon” properties and start noticing how quickly things go off the market. We have never seen speed like we do now.

You do need to set a good foundation so people understand the market and the bidding wars. We don’t want a client to feel like we are pushing something on them, but using the tools available can get you to listings faster. We want you to see what’s there and what isn’t, so you can do your own research. 

How can a military family connect with a reputable local real estate agent when they don’t have any connections in the area? 

There are systems in place with organizations like PCSgrades and Realogy Military Rewards that help with this process. I’m very proud to be a part of Realogy Military Rewards. We undergo a lot of training to be held to higher standards for military families. There is a lot of word of mouth recommendations from local Facebook pages and spouse groups. It doesn’t hurt to get a few recommendations and talk to them and see if you make a good connection.

I am more relationship-based than transaction based so I can better serve you and your family. It gives the client more confidence the more people they talk to. Ask another military family moving into the area who they used. Go ahead and interview a few to see if they are a good fit. For some people, especially more experienced home buyers, they may be more focused on the transaction and just want the numbers. But a first time home owner usually needs patience and empathy. Some agents run it like a business from 9-5, but military families need you to be available in the evenings if you can quickly answer a question and ease their minds. 

What questions should someone initially ask an agent to determine whether they will be a good fit?

Ask what style of agent are you? What can I expect from this relationship? It’s so important to have a good, trusted lender. You would do the research if you were buying a car and going to different dealerships, so do similar research by comparing different real estate agents.

All of our contracts are different, and there are unique things to North Carolina. So we want to teach them, but we don’t want to cover everything in the first phone call. We want to send them a buyer’s packet so they can get initial questions. The initial phone conversation is important so you get a sense of whether you will mesh well.

Some clients select me from an Agent Selection tool and I determine it’s the wrong area or a different county, so I can redirect them to a better agent who can show you the home faster. It’s important to be transparent right away if you aren’t the best agent for them. 

What should military families expect from their initial conversations with a real estate agent?

A buyer’s packet will contain answers to your basic initial questions. It can either be mailed or emailed, and includes lender information, details about the contract, earnest money, home inspections, title insurance, due diligence periods, etc. There is basic information on our market and a Cliff’s Notes version of our contract so we can answer questions before they are signing a 15-page contract. I give them a timeline so they know how long it takes to look at homes, be under contract, and the escrow until the actual Closing date. 

I’m not able to understand their price point until they have spoken to a lender. I’m happy to speak to them initially and get an idea of their preferred price and area. But ultimately, I can’t truly help them until we have a sense of their payments to a lender and their pre-approval letter. If you choose to use a larger national bank, it’s good to compare their rates and what they are offering against a local lender so you know your best options. Our local lenders are the ones calling the realtors to work on your behalf. If you aren’t familiar with the local lenders, the real estate agent can recommend or refer you to some.

What information does an agent need up front to help a military family? 

It’s important to have a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) for the VA Loan. So you know your options for lending and closing costs. In the current market, you need to be prepared to pay the VA funding fee and the closing costs. 

For any loan, we need the pre-approval letter to know their price point so they can make an offer.

It’s important to ask details about the PCS: if the service member is leaving quickly, will we need a Power of Attorney? Will it be a remote closing? We start to get a sense of their timeline. It’s important to be prepared for obvious delays like training dates, pregnancies, etc.

Sometimes I’m speaking to the military spouse, and it’s important to get a sense of the service member’s career, their unit location on base, desired commute, their daily habits, etc. Trying to explain commute times is very helpful, so I give reasonable times about how things change with school times, busses, or construction.

Are there any special needs or health conditions of children? Making sure things are lined up and nothing will be affecting their PCS due to medical care.  

Are they doing a DitY move or a door-to-door move where they need to be able to move in right away? It’s important to discuss their plans and their timeline. In the military, dates change all the time. I sometimes relate it to my ER plans: you’re always waiting for the next things, but you want to be prepared for whatever might happen. 

Can new military homebuyers expect an agent to walk them through the buying process? 

Clients need really good video footage when they want to buy a home sight-unseen. They need to think about replacing the less visible things like a roof or an HVAC system so they know all their options and can make the best decision. I try to do video examples of neighborhoods that may work for them, especially if it’s new home construction so they can get information about specific areas. They need to consider how quickly they will move again so they can move into area that is appreciating quickly so they can build equity faster

It’s really hard in our area because the schools are constantly re-zoning. I can show them what their schools are and direct them to the base school site, but some of them have enrollment capped for specific grades. We prepare our clients for rezoning and teach them about the base school. School districts are still important for resale, even if you don’t have kids. We want to be able to get you out of the home at a good price when you’re ready to sell, and school systems are important for that. 

It’s important to “keep your accounts quiet.” Talk to your lender if there is a unique situation like a bonus that would affect underwriting. You may need to submit proof of the payment or submit an LES. Talk to your lender before a large purchase to see if it will affect your home purchase. 

What are some signs of good communication between a real estate agent and a client?

It’s important to start with good communication. My background is a pediatric trauma nurse. I take a lot of what I did in skilled nursing into skilled real estate transactions. It’s important to really listen to what they say, and figure out where the client is coming from and if this is their first move or their first time buying a home. 

You have to be flexible with the military, because a lot is already out of their hands. We have been able to do Zoom meetings and a lot of video that decompresses the file so you can do a 20-minute tour of a home and driving through the neighborhood to give them a general feel of a community.

Most firms will say that communication will be returned within 24 hours, but faster is always better. If it’s something simple, I always respond faster. It’s important to schedule phone conversations to discuss more in-depth topics, but sometimes that has to be at evening times because of kids or work schedules. Having a quick turnaround and being flexible is so important. I’ve had overseas clients coming from very different time zones, so I would plug their time in my phone so I wouldn’t be calling when they were sleeping. I would want to be responsive even if it was late here because it was the middle of the day for them. My family is military, and we respect the military so much.