Buying a home is a significant milestone for anyone, but it can be particularly unique for an active-duty service member. Frequent moves, deployments, and the specific financial benefits available to military personnel all play a role. 

But don’t let those factors deter you! Homeownership is absolutely achievable for those in the military, and in many ways, it’s even more attainable thanks to programs like VA loans. With the correct information, careful planning, and a network of support, you can successfully navigate the real estate market and find a place to truly call home, even with the demands of military life. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to leverage your military benefits, make smart financial decisions, and overcome the logistical hurdles that come with your unique career path. Whether you’re dreaming of a starter home near your current base or planning for your post-service life, this blog post will equip you with the knowledge and confidence to make informed homebuying decisions. 

VA Loan Benefits for Active-Duty Military 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) created VA loans in 1944 to aid veterans and active-duty service members. VA loans are only available to active-duty servicemembers, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses, providing tremendous benefits to homebuyers. 

Benefits of VA loans include: 

  • No Down Payment Required: Unlike conventional loans, the VA loan often doesn’t require a down payment, making homeownership more accessible. 
  • Lower Interest Rates: VA loans typically have more competitive interest rates compared to traditional mortgage options. 
  • No Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): PMI is a monthly fee often required on conventional loans with less than 20% down, but it’s not required with VA loans. 
  • Flexible Credit Requirements: While you still need sufficient credit history, the VA loan may be more lenient than other options. 

To qualify for a VA loan, you’ll need a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) that proves your service requirements have been met. If you are currently serving, you need to have been enrolled for at least 90 days. 

Remember the VA Funding Fee

Instead of closing costs and monthly mortgage insurance payments, there is a VA funding fee. This is a one-time payment that is made on a VA-backed or VA direct loan. The funding fee helps to lower the cost of the loan for U.S. taxpayers since the VA home loan program doesn’t require down payments or monthly mortgage insurance.

The amount that you will pay will be determined by the type and the total amount of loan that you get. It is charged as a percentage of the total cost. You have the option of financing this fee or paying it at closing.

You may be exempt paying a VA funding if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • VA compensation is being paid to you due to a service-connected disability.
  • You are eligible for VA compensation for a service-connected disability, but you are receiving retirement or active-duty pay.
  • As the surviving spouse of a Veteran, you are receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
  • You received a proposed memorandum rating prior to the loan closing date indicating your eligibility to receive compensation based on a pre-discharge claim.
  • Documentation that you provide proves that the Purple Heart was awarded to you either before or on the loan closing date.

If you are later awarded compensation based on a service-related disability, you may be refunded your VA funding fee.

How Military Housing Allowances Impact Your Purchase 

Your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and the potential for Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders are two critical considerations that will significantly shape your home buying journey as an active-duty service member. 

Your BAH is a non-taxable allowance designed to cover the cost of off-base housing. The amount you receive is based on your rank, dependency status, and the cost of living in your duty station. Your BAH rate is an excellent starting point for determining your housing budget. It gives you a realistic estimate of what you can comfortably afford in monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance. 

As a service member, you’re likely familiar with the concept of PCS orders. These orders can necessitate a move at any time, which naturally raises questions about the timing and location of your home purchase.  

If you anticipate receiving PCS orders in the near future, it’s wise to factor in the resale value of homes in your potential new locations. It’s a good idea to choose a home that is likely to hold its value or even appreciate in a market that caters to military families. This strategy can protect your investment and make for a smoother transition if you need to sell in the future. 

Work with a Real Estate Agent that Specializes in VA Buyers 

Working with a real estate agent is an essential part of the homebuying journey. Even more so if you are buying a house in an area that you are unfamiliar with.  

A military-friendly real estate agent understands the unique needs of service members. They can help you navigate VA loans, understand the local market, and even negotiate with military-friendly sellers. Ask for referrals from fellow service members or look for agents with certifications like the Military Relocation Professional (MRP) designation. 

As of June 11, 2024, the VA also announced a temporary fix to allow VA homebuyers to pay their real estate agent’s commissions. This fix came as a result of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) settlement to allow military homebuyers to remain competitive in the current housing market. 

Before you start house hunting, you should always assess your finances, determine your budget, factor in closing costs, and create a savings plan. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage will give you a clearer picture of what you can afford and strengthen your offer when you find the right home. 

At First Heritage Mortgage, we pride ourselves on helping our brave servicemembers achieve their dreams of homeownership. Get started on the path to owning the home of your dreams by scheduling a free consultation today! 

First Heritage Mortgage is not associated with the government, and our service is not endorsed by the government, including HUD or FHA.  First Heritage is not acting on behalf of or at the direction of HUD, FHA, or the federal government.

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The included content is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as professional advice. Additional terms and conditions apply. Not all applicants will qualify. Consult with a finance professional for tax advice or a mortgage professional to address your mortgage questions or concerns. This is an advertisement. Prepared 06/13/2024.