By Jen McDonald
House hunting for military families is a bit different than what our civilian counterparts go through. We’re usually working on a compressed timetable due to a PCS move, may deal with negotiations long distance, or have one spouse accomplishing much of the legwork while the other is deployed or away for duty.
Whatever the reason you’ve decided to buy a home, whether it’s a long-term investment or your “forever home,” start with these tips for your best househunting experience!
- Consider taking a pre-PCS househunting trip.
You may choose to visit the area ahead of time to get a feel for the area and neighborhoods and do some preliminary home shopping. This can help you narrow down potential areas to live before you’re in the PCS time crunch. MilitaryByOwner’s post, Tips to Make Your Pre-PCS Househunting Trip a Success, will give you more detailed tips for your trip.
- Do your research.
While it’s fun to view home listings online and begin filling your dream home Pinterest board with decorating ideas, it’s also important to take time to research schools, crime rates, and other facts about the area, even the amenities that are important for your family to have nearby. Is it a jogging trail, golf course, community pool, convenient shopping, or something else? Do as much research as you can ahead of time.
Sites like Military Town Advisor feature reviews from other military families who’ve lived where you’re headed and can be an invaluable source of information. Base or post pages and social media groups can also help.
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you begin house hunting.
Getting your finances in order well ahead of time and pre-approved for a mortgage can make the home buying process go much more quickly. Know the important differences between mortgage pre-qualification (an estimate of how much home you can afford based on self-reported answers) vs. mortgage pre-approval (a much more extensive credit and financial background check which gives you a conditional commitment for an exact amount for a home).
Having a pre-approval in your back pocket could push your offer above others when the time comes, which will be a great thing if you’re working with limited home shopping time.
- Once you begin viewing homes, determine a system to keep track of them.
While you may tell yourself there’s no way you could ever forget the beautiful kitchen and granite countertops of home number one, trust me when I say it will run together with home number 11 if you’re viewing multiple homes!
While it’s not recommended you take photos of a home you’re viewing, unless it’s unoccupied, come up with a system for keeping track of what you don’t like/like about each home. If you’re working with a buyer’s agent, they’ll likely give you a printout for each home that you can make notes on (in our recent home shopping experience, I wrote comments as varied as, “entrance is weird” to “LOVE this kitchen” to “no way” as reminders to myself).
Listings will always show the most positive side of a home, so you’ll want notes to refer back to in order to remind yourself of the weird smell or busy highway right behind the seemingly picture-perfect home portrayed in photos.
- Don’t be afraid to look around.
Walk into the garage and the back yard. Open every door and drawer, check closets, try light switches and automatic doors. You may stumble across an issue on this first viewing that takes this home off the “potential” list. You’ll want to check out all the nooks and crannies to really see the home.
- Then take a second look.
Once you have your big list narrowed down to your favorite few homes, rebook a second (or third!) viewing to take a more careful look at the differences between your top contenders. This also will be the point that neighborhoods, local schools, distance to your duty station, and other little nuances will come into play. Making a pros/cons list of your final few homes will help you see the objective differences between each.
- Don’t skip the home inspection.
If you’ve made it through the offer and negotiating phase, now is the time for a home inspection. You will pay out of pocket for this, but it is worth it as a much deeper dive into the basic issues of a home: roofing, foundation, electrical systems, plumbing, and so forth. You should be with your inspector as they go over the house, a process which usually takes at least 2 hours.
Your inspector will let you know what issues need to be brought up to code or repaired, and if you’re working with a buyer’s agent, they can recommend which issues should be renegotiated with the seller. It’s worth taking the extra time for a home inspection and protecting your investment rather than being surprised by a broken water heater, leaky roof, or other major issues months later.
Are you starting the home buying process? MilitaryByOwner is here to help! Learn more about getting your finances in order, using your VA home loan benefit, househunting tips and tricks, making an offer on a home, and closing day with our new series of free home buying ebooks. Click below to download!