Since my last article, I received hundreds of e-mails from several Military.com members. One of the more common questions came from veterans asking about buying a home in the right area. This depends on the strength of the city's job and real estate markets. But first, I'll start with what it takes to get a VA Loan and what that means, and then offer some location recommendations.
The Veterans Administration (VA) — unlike Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — helps military home buyers by guaranteeing the mortgage to your lender. Many people think the VA actually lends the money — they don't. The VA home loan program is for military veterans and spouses only, and you must apply for a Certificate of Eligibility to present to your mortgage lender. This site, homeloans.va.gov, provides more information.
Next, you want to go where the jobs are. In November 2007, BNSF Railway was ranked the number one employer on a list of the top 50 military-friendly companies, based on their hiring of military personnel, National Guard/Reserve policies, percentage of veterans hired in the last 24 months, and recruitment programs. BNSF is based near Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas — which has consistently been in my top 10 areas to buy homes for the appreciation factor. Another area in Texas I like a lot for appreciation, stability and military "friendliness" is Houston, with an entire e-Government system just for veterans available at http://www.houstontx.gov/vetaffairs/. Their goal is to offer incredible service to those who have done the same for our country.
Another great military-friendly city is Charleston, SC. Some areas of the Charleston real estate market have dropped in price, but not as steep as many other parts of the country. Condos and multifamily homes have suffered the most, while many single family homes maintained stability. In addition, the city itself has a housing initiative to help first-time homebuyers.
Baltimore also has a particularly interesting niche in the real estate and job market. This holds career fairs specifically for military veterans. Baltimore, while beat up in the recent subprime crisis, is showing signs of stability now and has a growing job rate.
Be sure you also check on Section 8 housing and special military credits. A property manager or real estate agent can tell you if credits are available in an area you are interested in, but this can substantially offset the cost of your loan or your rental payment.
In short, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin, Houston, Charleston and Baltimore are all areas that I consider military friendly and would recommend to veterans.
For more home buying advice, visit Military.com's Home Buying channel.