Buying a home can be a daunting experience. It’s a whole lot of money that you’re expected to pay over an awfully long time. On top of that, finding a house is only the first step of the buying process. As a new military homebuyer, you’re often forced to consider many different circumstances that may affect your purchase (like an inevitable PCS). It can be a little overwhelming.

The good news is, buying a home doesn’t have to be all that complicated. And by taking the right steps and going into the buying process with a few good tips, you’ll be well-prepared to buy your first home. Below are the five top things military folks should keep in mind when buying their first home.

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  1. Utilize the VA Loan

Service members have access to an awesome benefit called the VA Mortgage. It’s a zero down mortgage that’s backed by the Veterans Administration. The VA doesn’t actually provide the loan, but acts as the security on the loan in case you default on paying your mortgage.

What does this mean for you? It means you’re not required to have a down payment, you can oftentimes get a lower interest rate, and there are more relaxed qualifications for getting approved for a loan. This is all good news for you.

This benefit is also fantastic because you can use it more than once. Remember how I mentioned PCS’ing at the beginning of this post? Well, in the event you PCS and sell the home you used the VA Mortgage on, you’ll reinstate the full amount of the benefit, which you can then use on your next purchase. This is important to keep in mind especially if you or your spouse is just starting their military career.

  1. Research and Plan

Buying a home isn’t like going to the pet store and buying a puppy. While it can feel like the same level of responsibility and commitment, buying a home is a much longer and more complicated process. When first thinking about buying a home, do your research. And I don’t mean just getting on Zillow and looking for your dream house.

I mean figuring out your BAH and how much house you can afford; how long you think you’ll be at that duty station; local and state taxes, fees and insurance requirements; mortgage eligibility requirements; the pre-approval process for the loan and more.  

There are also two important things to keep in mind when making your plan: your timeline and your agent. On average it takes about 30 to 45 days to close on a house. So if you think you’re going to PCS to your new duty station and buy a house within a week, think again. Like I said, this isn’t like buying a puppy. Not only will it take time to find a house, but it will take time to process the paperwork and get all the required approvals before you get the keys.

Your agent is probably the most important person in the buying process. New military home buyers often feel lost when it comes to finding an agent. So how do you choose the right agent? Look for someone like an AgentHero, who has lived the military life and regularly works with military families. This type of agent will be able to understand your situation, help you find a home long distance, walk you through the VA Loan process and oftentimes help you do a door to door PCS. (The dream!)

  1. Think Long-Term

Too often military homebuyers go into the buying process only thinking about “today.” They want to get out of the hotel today, they want to get settled in today, they just want a house that works for them today. But military families can’t just think in the present. It’s important to cast your gaze into the future.

When looking for a house, think about your family and your lifestyle. Are you very active in your church? Are your kids in school yet? Are your kids involved with extracurricular activities?  Where does your spouse work on base? Where do you work? Figure out what your pattern of life looks like in the present. Then think about what it’ll look like in two or three years.

Will your kids still be in elementary school? Will they still be interested in their extracurricular activities? Is it likely your spouse will still be working at the same location on base? Do you have plans to leave work or go back to work? These items will have a major impact on your life (and your commute!) so make sure to take them into consideration when choosing your new home.

  1. Buy for More than Just Yourself

When military families buy a home, many of them buy it with only their own families in mind. They look for a place that will suit their needs and fit their lifestyle. But the transient nature of military life requires military families to think beyond themselves.

Instead of just thinking about how a potential home will work for your family, think about how it will work for other families as well. There’s a chance you might have to sell your home or rent it out in the future. Thinking of what other people might like in a home will help better position you to sell or rent out your home when it comes time to move again.

While a two bedroom house might be perfect for you and your spouse, that probably won’t work for a family with two kids. No garage might not bother you, but it’s a must-have for many families. Living 45 minutes from base might be right for your family, but that long commute it a huge deterrent for many military families.

  1. Prepare to be A Landlord

One of the most important things new military homebuyers should keep in mind is the possibility of becoming a landlord in the future. You may buy your home when the market is good but that doesn’t mean it’ll still be that way by the time you PCS again. Being upside down in a house can mean thousands of dollars lost and tons of stress.

Instead of losing all your hard-earned money, consider renting out your home. Of course, that sentence makes it sound so simple. Becoming a landlord is a major life decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But with the right processes in place it’s a great way to pay down your mortgage, build equity in your home and save money if it’s not a seller’s market.

Not confident you can manage your property long-distance? That’s where MILLIE Scouts are a great resource for military landlords. Scouts are military spouses at duty stations across the U.S. who can help you manage your property long-distance. They offer a wide variety of jobs including checking in on your house periodically when it’s vacant, being there to hand off the keys to the new tenants and unlocking the house for repairmen or other service professionals. They make renting out a home manageable for military families.

Buying a home as a new military homebuyer doesn’t have to be scary. By doing your researching and going into the process with a long-term vision in mind, you’ll be able to find the perfect home for your family and possibly someone else’s!

Alexis Miller is the Social Media Coordinator for MILLIE, a website dedicated to making the PCS process easier for military families. Their free information on duty stations, experienced AgentHeroes and helpful Scouts are all resources military families can tap into any time they have to PCS. When Alexis isn’t busy working for MILLIE, she’s doing yoga, rock climbing, fly fishing or traveling. 
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