By Carla Olivo, Director of Strategic Communications

Military moving makes it hard and sometimes scary to buy a home. A lot depends on your financial situation and where you are in your military career. The housing market where you are looking to purchase is also an important factor.

Will you be at your new duty station for at least two years? Will your spouse be able to find work? Carefully consider the pros and cons when deciding whether renting or owning is best for your family.

It’s All About the Realtor

We turned to our “A-graded” REALTORS® on PCSgrades.com for their tips for first-time home buyers.

One thing they agree on for all buyers, both first-time and repeat buyers, is finding a knowledgeable, experienced Realtor. They recommend finding a Realtor you trust, one who understands your unique requirements as a military family.

Colorado Springs Realtor Harv Singh is passionate about helping military and veteran families to navigate the housing market. This retired Army Officer says it’s important to find a Realtor “who understands your short and long term goals.” He adds, “Whether it’s selling, retiring or turning the home into a rental/investment property, you need a good Realtor.”

If you are lucky enough to get orders to somewhere exotic like Hawaii, you will want to learn as much as you can about the local housing market. Mary Standahl of eXp Realty in Hawaii says Oahu is unique, with most agents covering the whole island. “If you are off island, Realtors who specialize in military relocation will typically offer assistance before you move.” She says a Realtor can preview homes for you, sending you video or even Face timing live while touring a property.

Look for a Proven Track Record (and a great Review!)

“Pick the right team,” says Hamptons Roads Realtor and military spouse Bessie Ostrander. “Interview agents and work with someone who you get along with. You will be spending a lot of time with them.” “It’s not always about who is most recommended on Facebook,” says Ostrander. “Its about who has a proven track record of negotiating deals, problem-solving, and who communicates the way you prefer.”

Army spouse Erin Ward, a Realtor with Keller Williams, agrees. She suggests first-time home buyers work with a Realtor who can help educate them about the local housing market. “Ask your Realtor if they have a first-time buyer education program that offers a consultation of what to expect.” She says you want a program that offers a market overview and the ins and outs of the contract. “For me, it’s important that my buyers are the expert on their home buying deal.”

“It doesn’t cost you anything,” says Karin Carr of Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners in Georgia. She says a good agent will advise you whether the asking price is too high or undervalued. “They will tell you about the area, and help you write a strong offer.”

Suzi Welch, an ‘A-graded Realtor’ in Northern Virginia agrees. “The process of purchasing a home requires an in-depth knowledge of the real estate market. An ability to not only write an incredible offer but negotiate to make sure the offer wins, is a must. Let your Realtor walk you through the entire process.”

Find an ‘A-Graded’ Lender

Getting pre-approved by a lender before you start your house hunt is also recommended as is pausing any new credit activity. First-time home buyers should look for a mortgage lender who offers low down payment options, charges reasonable fees, and is knowledgeable about the VA Home Loan.

Singh says getting pre-qualified helps you understand your budget right from the beginning. “Have your down payment & closing costs saved,” says Meghan Pelley, veteran and San Antonio Realtor. “Talk to your mortgage provider first for an accurate road map on how best to get from point A. To point B.”

Know your credit score and history, compare interest rates and most importantly, get pre-approved before you start house shopping. “The advice I would give to first-time buyers is to get pre-qualified with a local lender,” says Singh. “They understand the local market, timelines and have experience with the military buyer.”

Ask Your Trusted ‘A-Graded’ Realtor

“It’s vital to get a recommendation from your Realtor,” says Ward. “Ask your agent to recommend a lender who’ll take the time to go over the lending process, including all options.” Ward adds, “This level of education is just as important as knowing what to expect from your Realtor.”

Ostrander agrees, “Ask questions to make sure you are getting the best rates on the mortgage. Ask if any of the fees can be waived or negotiated.”

Choosing an online lender may seem like a great way to get a lower interest rate. But online lenders are often hard to reach and deal with. “It’s really nice to have a loan officer you can text on a Saturday with questions versus calling a 1-800 number Monday through Friday and speaking to a call center representative who has no information on your home loan status,” says Carr.

Judy Golddick, an “A-graded” Realtor in San Antonio, says, “Talk to your mortgage provider first for an accurate road map on how best to get from point A to point B. Getting pre-approved lets you know exactly how much you can afford to spend on a home and increases your negotiating power with sellers.”

Check out the VA Home Loan

If you are interested in using your VA loan benefit, you don’t need a down payment, but you will need to set money aside to cover closing costs and a home inspection. Carr always recommends having $3000-$5000 in the bank when you start house hunting.  “The seller may agree to pay your closing costs if you ask them, but they are not required to do so.”

Golddick says, “Buyers using the VA home loan should make sure both their realtor and mortgage lender have great knowledge of this type of financing. “You need an expert.”

VA home buyers should connect with a military specialist that knows the ins and outs of the VA loan and what types of properties will work for their needs. Also, since military personnel usually move every two to three years, it is important the Realtor® is up-to-date on market trends for quick resales and rentals.

Don’t Look for your Forever Home

Many first-time home buyers want to buy the “perfect” home, and many often end up disappointed. Additionally, some have sticker shock from the high prices in locales such as Washington D.C. or Hawaii. Standahl says, “My advice is to not look for your forever home but look for a home that can work for your needs now. Being in the military, keep in mind whether you plan to rent it out when you PCS or sell.”

Ward says, “Be ready to look beyond the seller’s furnishings and paint colors. Look for homes in desirable areas for your budget and ensure you have an agent that will educate you throughout the process.”

Do your Research

All of our ‘A-Graded’ Realtors agree knowledge is power. Before you start searching ‘house for sale in Fayetteville NC’, they recommend potential buyers/renters do their research. Additionally, have a good idea of what you can afford and prioritize your wish list. If you have small children, you might want the master bedroom close to the other bedrooms. If you have pets, a fenced in yard might be a priority. Know what you need and prioritize.  

First time home buyer assistance

There are many factors which go into realizing your dream of owning a home. A great place to start your search for a team to provide first time home buyer assistance 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 military and veteran buyers in states where allowed by law.

Ostrander says finding a trusted 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.

All of our experts say communication is key. Welch says, “Communicate clearly about what you are looking for.” The military buyer needs to take into consideration their current and future plans and needs. “They need to look into the potential for growth in equity or to use the home as an investment vehicle,” says Singh.

Pelley adds, “It’s a wonderful time to invest in your future. Trust in your team to get the job done for you. There’s nothing like owning your own home!”

Carla Olivo has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children. Follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.

Carla Olivo

PCSgrades Director of Strategic Communications