Trying to shop for a house across the country, or even in another country, is a major undertaking no matter what. It can get even more complicated if the servicemember is deployed, or because of work scheduling, and even childcare concerns. Here are a few tips to make your hunt for a home more successful.
You have received orders to your new duty station and it is time to plan for your move across the country, or even across the planet. Under perfect circumstances, which of course don’t exist, this is a major undertaking. And moving gets considerably more complicated when the military member is deployed and mom or dad cannot participate in the house hunting trip because of childcare concerns, work schedules or deployments. This article expands on a critical aspect of our “Military Home Buyer’s Checklist.”
By now you should have carefully selected your realtor through referrals and phone interviews. With the desired outcome of finding the right home for your family and obtaining a ratified contract on that home, here are key elements of making the trip a success:
- While the military does not cover your house hunting expenses, they do give you “permissive leave” (up to 10 days) to conduct the trip. When appropriate you and your spouse may choose to use “Military Space Available” travel to get to your new duty station. *See note below in regard to “Military Space Available.”
- It is not unusual for military members to house hunt during conferences or other events at their new duty station. Viewing and selecting homes, writing and negotiating a ratified contract can take several very busy days. Dedicating a complete week to this process is not overkill! Be sure to schedule ample, uninterrupted time for this process.
Do your homework in advance. Ask your realtor for local detailed street maps, especially in large metropolitan areas. Take advantage of their automated e-mail listings to plot these listings on the maps, and to “calibrate” your expectations of the local market. Do your research on schools, commute (ask your associates at your new duty station), and other family concerns. Before your arrival, work with your realtor to prioritize the areas of interest.
Consider your realtor as your teammate! Good realtors are busy with multiple clients so help them help you:
- Schedule ample time “in town” for your trip.
- Give your realtor as much advance notice as possible (weeks or months if possible) and ask them to block out your entire time in town to work with you. Keep them updated on any changes to your schedule.
- Prioritize your requirements and make sure your realtor knows what they are!
- Don’t be bashful about letting them know if they are focusing in the wrong area! They need your input and know that performing well may lead to repeat business, referrals, and a long term friendship with their clients
Touring 10 homes in a day can be tiring and stressful for adults, even more so for children. If you add multiple time zone changes to the equation, it can be even more exhausting. When possible, plan your trip without children or ask your realtor for assistance in arranging childcare in the local area.
Be sure to bring with you the following:
- Your pre-approval letter from a REPUTABLE lender. In some areas, contracts will not be seriously considered by sellers with out a pre-approval letter. Smart realtors representing the seller will be very skeptical of Internet and/or unknown lenders! Remember a pre-approval letter DOES NOT commit you to any specific lender, so it is prudent to bring the other documents listed below just in case you find a local lender with better rates and terms.
- All W-2 forms (member and spouse) for the past two years.
- At least the two most recent months of pay stubs (member and spouse).
- ALL PAGES of at least two most recent months of your primary savings and checking accounts statements.
- ALL PAGES of other accounts that may be used for earnest money and / or down payments.
- Your checkbook. This may sound odd, but a growing number of people bank on- line almost exclusively and/or use credit cards for normal purchases and do not carry checks. However, checks are still the most accepted and convenient means of placing earnest money on a home.
- If one spouse cannot make the trip, be sure to execute and bring a general power of attorney for the absent spouse (see your local military legal office). This is usually acceptable for purposes of writing the contract, but the actual settlement will PROBABLY require a more specific POA for the lender’s and/or settlement company’s purposes. Check this with your realtor.
- Your digital camera if you have one. While your realtor should also have one, this can be extremely helpful in evaluating a large number of homes at the end of a busy day! Perhaps more importantly, in cases where one spouse cannot make the trip, emailing pictures can be very helpful in keeping them in the process.
Note: Military Space A travel is a great way to save money. Post Sept. 11, 2001, schedules are rarely found on web sites and you must contact the departure point for updated information. It is now more cumbersome, but persistence in learning the system can save big travel dollars.