The MILITARY Advantage from
The MILITARY Advantage from
Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Your VA Loan Benefit
There’s a lot that is less than fantastic about military life. Missed birthdays and anniversaries. Worry during deployments. Picking up and moving time and again. But there are also perks to military life. One of those perks is the VA Loan Benefit. What’s not to like about a 0% down loan with no mandatory private mortgage insurance (PMI) and often with lower rates than a conventional loan? If you are eligible for this benefit, it’s one you should take advantage of.
Keep in mind: While it’s called a VA Loan Benefit, the VA does not provide home loans. What the VA does is act as the security of the loan, meaning the VA guarantees to cover the bank’s losses if there’s a default on the mortgage. This is added peace of mind for lenders!
Do you qualify? Did you or your spouse serve on active duty during wartime for 90 consecutive days? Or serve on active duty during peacetime for 181 days? Or serve in the National Guard or Reserves for six years? Were you or your spouse discharged from the service under honorable conditions? Or are you the spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related injury or disability? If you can respond with “yes” to one or more of these requirements, you should be eligible.
Prove you’re eligible. You’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to establish that you are indeed eligible for a VA Loan. You can do this yourself by completing a Certificate of Eligibility Request Form (VA Form 261880). Sign onto ebenefits.va.gov with your CAC card (ID card) to complete this form. This part of the process will require you to create an eBenefits account if you don’t already have one, or to login with existing credentials. Once on the site, click on the link entitled “Certificate of Eligibility for a Home Loan” and follow the instructions. Make sure to print out at least two copies of the COE—one for your own records and one for your mortgage lender.
Any questions or technical issues? You can contact VA/DoD at 1-800-983-0937. You can also ask your lender for assistance with obtaining your COE.
Speaking of lenders… While most lenders can offer VA Loans, it is to your advantage to choose a lender who specializes in them. One of the advantages of working with a military-serving real estate agent is that he or she knows and works with lenders with experience and expertise navigating the VA Loan program. This means smoother sailing for you!
Get your other documentation in order. You’re no stranger to needing documentation. Here’s where you’ll want to ensure you’re tracking which documents you’ll need: A DD-214 will verify an honorable discharge. You will also need to demonstrate that you have steady income sufficient to cover your mortgage payment and monthly expenses, so you’ll want to make sure you have your pay stubs or other proof of income readily available. While individual lender requirements may vary, you will likely be asked to produce bank statements, tax returns, W-2s, and orders (if you’re PCSing). Your lender will communicate any additional documentation that is necessary.
Pro tip: Put this information aside before you’re packing up if you’re in the middle of a move.
Once you’ve obtained your Certificate of Eligibility, put together your documentation, and assembled your dream team—an agent who is a pro at working with military families and a lender who’s comfortable with VA Loans—you’re ready to move forward with your home purchase. And in the process, you’ll be able to reap the financial rewards of a hard-earned benefit.
Six Reasons Why You Should Use a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home
Your next home relies on the sale of this one. Unless you are in the unique position of having discretionary spending enough to cover the cost of two mortgages concurrently, you need the proceeds from the sale of your current home to purchase your next home. And when you can’t move forward with plans for your next home, that means you also are not able to coordinate where the children will go to school. Or what service providers you’ll use to fix your car or treat a sick family member. Or where you will seek employment, if you are a military spouse uprooted from a job with your PCS. This can create a snowball of logistics that are on hold pending the finalization of the sale of your home. You need to sell your house quickly so that you can start working to set your family up for success in your new future home. And real estate agents expedite that process because they are in tune with the local marketplace and trends.
You’ve got enough on your plate already. A PCS means having a checklist of your checklists. You have possessions to inventory. Household goods to move or store. Vehicles to arrange transport for. Records to obtain from medical providers, employers, and schools. Commitments to end. Utilities to arrange. Insurance policies to revisit. Pets to vaccinate. Accounts to move or close. Finances to coordinate. Future home research to conduct. Family and friends to connect with before you leave. If you spent all day of every day working out the details, you’d still wake up every morning with an overwhelming feeling of all that is still left to do. Selling your home on your own in the midst of all that? That’s a tremendous number of balls up in the air, with a strong likelihood that something will be forgotten or come crashing down.
You need a reliable timeline. There is more to selling your home than giving tours to potentially interested parties. There are inquiries on your listing to manage, showings to coordinate, and screenings of potential buyers to determine if they are in fact pre-approved or at least pre-qualified to make a purchase. There is legal paperwork to complete, contracts to negotiate, several kinds of inspections to manage, and more. If selling your home is not your full-time job, then you will be trying to fit these activities into an already full schedule, which means that the number of potential buyers who see your home is limited to your availability to engage with them. Selling your home is your real estate agent’s full-time job.
Market exposure is important. The military community is a great resource. You likely have a wonderful village of people who will be happy to share your home listing with their friends and family. What you don’t have is exposure to the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) database and to all the other sites receiving data from that site. Your village’s friends and family aren’t all in the market for a home. But the thousands of potential buyers in the database? They are. And like you when you PCSed, in a military community your next buyer is not likely coming from down the street. A sign in the yard and an ad in the paper isn’t enough. Global reach is important. Using a real estate agent gets your listing in front of significantly more eyes than you could ever hope to. Your village just got a whole lot bigger.
Inexperience can be costly. Even if you’ve PCSed half a dozen times already, even if you’ve bought and sold more houses than you care to think about by now, know this: The average real estate agent sells about twelve homes per year (National Association of Realtors 2017 Member Profile). And we know you won’t be using just an average real estate agent because you’re a pro PCSer who will have done your homework, gathered your intel, and found a great military-savvy agent to advocate for you. [CAN TIE IN LINK TO OUR PREVIOUS “THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A REAL ESTATE AGENT” PIECE HERE]. In other words, you’ll want to work with someone who has been through this process numerous times—someone who knows how best to price a property, how to avoid expensive mistakes, and how to negotiate exceptionally well. The investment in a trained and experienced real estate agent can very easily cover the cost of their commission.
Speaking of commission… A seller-agent relationship is one of mutual benefit. Both parties profit when you get at or above your asking price. You share the same desired outcome: top dollar for your property. Real estate agents are incredibly motivated to see you both do well, and it’s their job to make that happen.
Staging Your Home to Sell During the Holidays
The idea of staging and showing your home over the holidays perhaps has you less than enthused. One more thing to deal with during an already incredibly busy season, right? Besides, who’s looking at houses this time of year anyway? You might be surprised to learn that this can, in fact, be a great time of year to show your home. Anyone who is voluntarily subjecting themselves to a home purchase over these next couple of months is inclined to be someone serious about buying. Like a military family with a particularly difficult PCS window.
Potential buyers with a deadline, fewer homes on the market, and a magical time of year? These can all work to your advantage when you’ve got a home to sell during the holidays.
Make sure the basics are covered first. You’re likely already familiar with this “to-do” list for showing your house. Fix the broken things. Clean the dirty things. Get rid of the unnecessary things. And that’s all sound advice year-round. But once those tasks are taken care of, here are some tips unique to staging a home during the holidays.
Consider what puts you in a festive mood. Is it the smell of hot cider or cocoa? The sounds of holiday tunes playing in the background? Stockings on the mantle? Mistletoe over a doorway? That feeling you get when you sense those things is the feeling you want your home to give.
Don’t be a Scrooge. Perhaps you’re not feeling particularly festive. Or you’ve got complicated feelings about what may be your last holiday in your current home. If you’re unmotivated to decorate, don’t pass on the holiday cheer just yet. You can project a warm and inviting feel with even a few small touches around your home—a couple strings of lights, an apple spice candle, a simple wreath on your front door can all make it feel like a special time of year without requiring any major decorating effort on your part. For a potential military-connected buyer, who has no doubt spent his or her share of holidays celebrating with stockings in a motel room while living out of boxes mid-move, those small touches will have a big impact.
But don’t go overboard either. Those people who start decorating in October to get all ten thousand figurines in their yard in time for the holidays? Their houses are great to visit, but they aren’t the house a buyer wants to see when pulling into your driveway. If in doubt, think elegant, timeless, and classy rather than penguin family on a sled. Save that for the front yard of your next home.
Be mindful of diversity. Yes, it’s the holiday season. But it’s not a one holiday season. You want as many prospective buyers looking at your house as possible. And Christmas may not be the reason for the season for all of them. Choose more neutral trimmings over those with religious connotations. Clear lights, evergreens, etc. are flattering to all homes and unlikely to be off-putting to a potential buyer. Remember that staging your home for the holidays is more about what will be appealing to a buyer and less about what is meaningful and significant to you and your family.
Remember your goal. Your end goal is to sell your house. The trimmings and good tidings are a fun and beautiful part of the season that can also put your house in the best light. But at the end of the day, a potential buyer still wants all the things that buyers want—open spaces, nice lines, counter space, etc. Make sure that whatever additions you make in the name of decorating don’t conflict with that.
Involve your real estate agent. She has shown her share of houses. He knows what will make your home more appealing to a prospective buyer (and what to hide). She has a vast network of local vendors and businesses and likely her own supply of furniture, accessories, and decorations that can brighten up your space. Ask your agent to walk through your home and provide feedback about staging it to show its full potential. You won’t regret it.
Potential buyers want to imagine themselves and their families living in a house and creating their own special memories there. With the right touches, they’ll be picturing their first holiday season in their new home when they walk through your door.
I Pledge to Serve Those Who Have Served
Every real estate agent has a responsibility to provide the best home buying experience and resources available to his or her clients. That’s why I’ve pledged to ask every client “Did You Serve?” As a Veteran, you are eligible for many benefits earned through your service, among them is the advantages of the VA Home Loan program. It’s my privilege to educate you on these home buying benefits and to help make those benefits accessible and attainable.