Working with a REALTOR® that’s a good match for you as a veteran or an active service member is key. Buying a home is no small feat, and it’s important that there is an advocate on your side who understands the unique needs of military home buyers and the ins-and-outs of the VA funding and appraisal process.
So how do you find out if your REALTOR® is armed with the knowledge you want behind you during the homebuying process? Below, are three questions you can ask during your search to help you find out.
ARE YOU CERTIFIED TO WORK WITH VETERANS AND/OR ACTIVE SERVICE MEMBERS?
If you are only going to ask your REALTOR® one question, it should be “Are you certified to work with me?” A REALTOR® that can answer yes to that question is one that has spent time learning how to best serve you and your family.
There are a number of certification programs created to educate REALTORS® on how to work effectively with military home buyers, but the Military Relocation Professional certification (MRP) that’s taught by The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is one of the most well-known.
If your REALTOR® has completed MRP training they’ll be coming to you with a thorough understanding of the VA loan process. The Military Times article, Do your homework on military-friendly real estate agents, explains that in the MRP certification course “Attendees are walked through the with an eye toward helping their customers, but also toward educating fellow agents who may steer clients away from VA-related deals based on outdated information or speculation.”
MRP certified REALTORS® have been shown how to deftly handle the needs of active duty service members, like last-minute home relocations. Additionally, they are well prepared to provide resources and find homes for veterans that might need accommodations due to physical injuries or PTSD.
Before NAR grants an MRP designation to a REALTOR®, they must demonstrate that they are proficient and fully prepared to help you by scoring 80% or higher on the final exam. To make it easier for military home buyers NAR provides a searchable directory of REALTORS® that have completed their MRP certification.
DO YOU KNOW THE LATEST VA HOME LOAN AND APPRAISAL REQUIREMENTS?
Asking the first question about certification ensures that your REALTOR® has received solid, initial instruction around VA home loans. However, because there are always ongoing changes being made to the VA home loan and appraisal process – you’ll want to work with a REALTOR® that is making it their priority to stay current.
For example, the website Military.com explains that a new law called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is expanding VA disability benefits for veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. However, because of the way the law is structured it will actually benefit all future VA loan applicants.
At the time this article was written, there is a VA loan limit of $484,350 when no down payment is being made. (This figure is set by the FHA and varies yearly and may be higher in Alaska and Hawaii.) But once the Blue Water Law is put into place that limit will be lifted entirely.
“Starting Jan.1, 2020, when the new law takes effect, the VA will not cap the size of a loan a veteran can get with no money down, paving the way for veterans to buy higher-value homes.” A REALTOR® who is aware of changes like this one will be able to present you with a bigger range of homes.
Areas with low housing inventories can pose a big challenge for veterans and service families trying to purchase homes with VA loans. Kelly Hendrickson, a real estate broker and President of the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP), gives an example, “Because the Seattle-Tacoma area is a sellers’ market, many home listings have requirements like ‘conventional loans and cash offers only’, making finding a home feel like an impossible task for military families and veterans working with a VA loan.”
Kelly explains that “One of the reasons sellers prefer cash offers and conventional loans over VA loans is because of how long it has been taking VA approved appraisers to come out.” To combat this, the Seattle-Tacoma VAREP office has been conducting Lunch and Learn sessions that bring real estate professionals up-to-date on the latest VA loan updates.
“One of the exciting changes we are able to convey is that VA appraisers were given a pay increase that puts them on par with what conventional appraisers make. A more desirable income has increased the number of available VA appraisers and incentivized the existing ones, speeding up the appraisal process.” REALTORS® armed with this knowledge are now better equipped to fight objections to VA loans.
ARE YOU A GOOD COMMUNICATOR?
There are several reasons that you should consider putting this question forward. The most obvious is that you want to work with someone that understands the importance of being available to you.
Veterans that have been displaced or disabled may need their REALTOR® to be available to multiple support sources. For newly discharged veterans, there may be potential career opportunities they want to discuss with their REALTOR®. Quite a few recently discharged veterans are finding that house flipping is a career path that aligns with the skill sets they learned in the military.
The article, 5 Reasons Veterans Make Great House Flippers, states “Flipping a house can be a very stressful experience for the average person, but for our men and women in uniform, it’s a perfect fit of skill and temperament.” Veterans choosing this path need a REALTOR® who will be responsive about quickly sharing new property listings.
Active service persons value communication because of the uncertainty of their timelines. The article, 9 Things a Military Family Wants Their Realtor to Know, sums up the situation well, “We have no control over anything with a military PCS. No control over dates, or the timeline, or how long we’re going to be there. None whatsoever.” Military families need to be able to get in touch with their REALTOR® and launch the home buying or selling process at a moment’s notice.
Military home buyers also shared that they value honest, straightforward communication because they may need to buy a home without ever having set foot in it. “We need the truth, up front, all of it.”