The home-buying journey can be uncertain, full of twists and turns you don’t see coming. Even if you’re using a Veterans Affairs loan—and taking advantage of the unique benefits that come along with it—you could still run into some big roadblocks along the way.
That’s why you need a savvy real estate agent to guide you. And while any agent technically can help with a VA purchase, an agent who’s particularly experienced with military buyers can help you better navigate the process. From pre-approval to closing, a military-friendly real estate agent will know what’s on the path ahead, and remove any obstacles in your way so you can get the house of your dreams.
Read on for five good reasons to consider a real estate agent who specializes in working with VA buyers—and how to find an expert in your area.
1. The agent understands the unique needs of veterans and service members
During the home-buying process, an agent should help you nail down criteria such as square footage, number of bedrooms, price range, and school district. But for many veterans, housing needs go far beyond that, says Twila Lukavich, a Realtor® with Russell Real Estate Services in Cleveland who has specialized in helping buyers use VA loans since 2009.
An agent who has experience working with military clients can help find the right home, with a special eye toward a veteran’s specific situation. For instance, a VA-savvy agent can help disabled veterans find housing grants or a home with adaptive renovations so that they can live independently in a barrier-free environment.
Lukavich also cites many of her clients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and have specialized needs that most agents might not understand.
“An agent who’s not attuned to these seemingly random requests might not be as careful and devoted to understanding how important these requirements are when selecting homes to show a veteran,” Lukavich says. “Sometimes just assuring the buyer that we will be successful and work through any hurdles together is one of the most important contributions I can give.”
2. The agent’s prepared for an accelerated buying or selling timeline
Active-duty service members may have to relocate often and quickly, and that sometimes means buying and selling on tight timelines. Lukavich is used to streamlining the process for her military clients who are moving to the area, frequently performing a walk-through of homes via Skype and video for clients who may end up purchasing a home sight unseen.
“The majority of my active-duty buyers do not have the option to make a trip in person to view the home, which puts a lot of additional stress on them,” she says. “I am literally their eyes and ears with the purchase of their new home.”
And it’s not just about buying—if you have to sell your home quickly, a military-friendly agent can help get it done while not sacrificing on a profit.
3. The agent can steer you toward a knowledgeable lender
Most lenders will say they do VA loans, but those who lack experience often don’t understand the special circumstances or documentation required, says Michael Garcia, broker and owner of TQS Realty in Palm Beach, FL.
“I’ve had numerous veterans who used a conventional mortgage lender almost get denied at closing because they didn’t understand some nuance,” he says.
4. The agent understand the VA appraisal process
In most purchase situations, buyers understand that they may need to make some repairs to the home after purchase to get it move-in ready—from replacing electrical systems to repairing or replacing a worn roof. But to qualify for a VA loan, the house must meet a set of VA-designated Minimum Property Requirements.
While most buyers—and sometimes even agents—are focused on a home’s bells and whistles, a VA specialist has an eye for spotting the red flags that might need to be addressed before a VA loan can close, from broken window panes and rotten exterior wood, to torn flooring or missing light fixtures.
“If you are well-versed in MPRs, you can often tell upfront that in your professional opinion the house won’t pass the appraisal,” says Benny Dinsmore, a Realtor® with Coldwell Banker in Frisco, TX, who has 20 years of experience with military clients.
Property condition problems aren’t automatic deal breakers, but repairs will often need to be made to keep the deal moving forward.
5. The agent will ensure a condo or townhome is approved
Agents who are unfamiliar with VA procedures may be unaware that a condo community has to be “approved” by the VA, which means the organization has vetted the community for the following, among other elements:
- Homeowner association bylaws
- Financial statements
- Any pending litigation
- Occupancy numbers
While you can find the list of approved properties on the Department of Veterans Affairs website, a real estate agent who doesn’t regularly deal with veterans may not know to look.
“You don’t want to visit a place and fall in love, then realize you’ve wasted time and possibly money because your agent didn’t do their research,” Garcia says.
The good news is lenders may be able to help buyers get an unapproved condo development on the approved list. Talk with your lender for more details.
How to find a military-friendly agent
Some agents have earned specialized classifications such as the Military Relocation Professional® certification or Military Residential Specialist.
Besides looking for those specifications, one of the best ways to find a VA specialist is to ask around in your network. And then don’t be shy during the interview process.
While the coursework involved in earning the classification can help crystallize special circumstances that apply to VA loans, nothing substitutes for lots of experience, Garcia says.
“Whether or not your agent has a specific designation, if he or she can’t answer questions specific to VA loans, you should find someone who can.”
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