Buying a home is the biggest purchase most families ever make. For veterans and service members, finding a real estate agent familiar with factors like housing allowances, permanent changes of station (PCS) and the application process for mortgages backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs can streamline the process.
Retired Marine 1st Sgt. Duan Rockette knows firsthand what a difference the right real estate agent can make. After a rough experience buying a home during his own PCS from Okinawa back to the United States, Rockette got into real estate when he retired.
"I wanted to do something I love to do, and that's working with people and helping people," said Rockette, who retired from the military in 2007 after serving for more than 21 years.
Now, Rockette is the managing broker for NP Dodge Real Estate in Omaha, Nebraska. He and the more than 200 real estate agents who report to him often help military families and veterans find homes near Offutt Air Force Base, south of Omaha, and in other parts of the nation.
"I just want service members to know that there are people who appreciate their service and want to help them and will do everything possible to best represent them," Rockette said.
Here's some of Rockette's tips for finding a military-friendly real estate professional:
Work with Your Lender
If you're planning to use a VA-backed loan, the VA recommends that you look for a lender before finding a real estate agent.
Rockette said it's also handy because the right lender often can connect you with the right real estate agent for your situation.
He recommends checking out military-focused lenders, such as Veterans United Home Loans, USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union, and ask about their networks of military-friendly real estate professionals.
If you're purchasing during a PCS move, remember someone in your unit or another military family you know probably already has been to the station you are moving to. Rockette said those neighbors, friends or coworkers should be able to point you in the right direction.
"When someone has a good experience with an agent who provides exceptional service and shows they really care about them, they're going to talk about it -- just like they'll talk about if they had a bad experience," he said.
Use Social Media
Your future duty station's military spouse and support groups on social media might be good places to find recommendations.
Army Capt. Joel Fulsang took to social media during his last PCS from Alaska to Georgia. "I looked at one of the Fort Gordon spouses' groups on Facebook, and there were real estate agents posting their information," he said.
Agents who work with service members and veterans might advertise in base publications or leave information at base resource offices, such as Navy Fleet and Family Support Centers, Rockette said.
Some real estate agents are veterans themselves, so consider asking at your local veterans organization chapters, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion. Rockette said he has found clients through veteran groups he's been a member of, including the VFW and the Marine Corps League.
If there's not a real estate agent in your local organization's ranks, ask other members who they recommend, he said.
With any referral, Rockette said to always do your due diligence.
"It's a combination between what you hear and what you research," he said. "Put your feelers out. Check agents out online and don't be afraid to ask questions."
Look for Organizations Serving Veterans and Military Members
Outside of official lender networks, there are several networks of real estate professionals that specifically help military and veteran communities. Most are concentrated around major military installations and affiliated with larger real estate firms. So even if you're not near base, they still may be able to help you.
Rockette recommended checking out Homes for Heroes, a large network of real estate, mortgage and local business specialists who serve veterans, first responders, health-care workers and teachers.
Another organization, the MilHousing Network, focuses on active-duty personnel and has more than 3,000 pre-screened agents with verified experience working for military homebuyers and sellers.
"The average civilian will move once in 12 years, and the average military family will move three times in those 12 years," said the organization's co-founder, Lindsey Litton, a military spouse who saw a need for "military helping military" in the real estate market.
The Military Movers Real Estate Group also aims to assist service members in the home-buying and selling process to "make their PCS as smooth as possible." The group's website lists its properties, many of which are around military installations in Alaska, Colorado and Florida.
Identify Professionals Certified to Work with Military Members and Veterans
Finally, Rockette said, keep an eye out for certifications that prove a real estate professional has the training to understand unique military situations.
One certification Rockette said he held in the past is the National Association of Realtors' Military Relocation Professional certification.
This certification means that an agent has gone through a specialized course on military housing needs and veteran benefits. Some real estate agencies also might use the acronym VAMRES, or VA and military real estate specialist, to designate agents who have experience with both VA-backed home loans and active-duty changes of station.
-- Aaron Streitenberger is a reporter for Three Creeks Media. Brittany Crocker is managing editor for Three Creeks Media.
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