Buying A House Alone

I’m back from my hiatus!  Before I get back to my craftiness, I wanted to write a post for my fellow milspouses about the process I went through buying our house while Radar was deployed, before I forget all the great advice I have to share 🙂

Last deployment, I bought a car.  I walked into the Honda dealership with my power of attorney in hand, and they never questioned me (in fact, I don’t even know if they made a copy of it!).  It was made much easier by the USAA car-buying service – if you are in the military, I highly recommend using this tool to cut out the haggling process!

This deployment, we knew going in that I would likely be buying a house while Radar was gone – we didn’t want to lose out on the perfect house, even if it was available earlier than his orders were cut.  Once again, I was armed with my POA to help me get the job done.

To start off with, here’s another plug for USAA – they have a program called Movers Advantage, where they’ll set you up with a certified (as in, they take 2 classes a year and have to jump through 100 hoops to keep USAA and you happy) real estate agent.  If you have any issues where your agent isn’t doing exactly what you need, USAA will step in and help you out!  But wait – there’s more!  They will also PAY YOU at closing, just for using their service!  So, yeah, it’s pretty much a win-win if you’re in the military.

So once we got our amazing real estate agent through USAA (if you’re looking in the Pensacola area, Bob Shell is amazing!), we needed to get prequalified for our loan.  Since we have everything else with USAA, we were a little hasty to jump on the USAA home loan bandwagon.  But, turns out, they didn’t have the best rate.  So don’t be afraid to shop around… we ended up with Navy Federal Credit Union, who gave us an amazing interest rate; I even called USAA to see if they’d match it, and they told me to take it from NFCU while it was available.  We did have one glitch later, where they changed the rate on us, but I had our promised rate in writing and they honored it for us.

A note here on loan types.  If you are active or retired military, I highly recommend looking at the VA loan that should be available to you.  The VA loan requires $0 down payment, and no mortgage insurance is required (think $500+ per year in savings over a traditional loan).  There is a funding fee, but they’ll roll that into the loan, so it won’t be due at closing (ours worked out to about 2.25% of the original loan – not too bad).  In every other way, it’s like a traditional loan – so if you qualify for it, I suggest you use it!  For us, it allowed us to keep the money we had saved for a down payment fluid, and we’ll be using it for a few renovations on the new house this spring.

So, once you are pre-approved for a loan, the fun begins!  Whether you’re moving to the other side of the state, like we did, or the other side of the country, let technology be your friend.  Radar and I both searched independently, using suggestions from our realtor and Zillow, to see if we came up with the same properties.  When we found one we both liked, we’d use Google maps to get a birds-eye view and street view of the surrounding area, to get a feel for the neighborhood – surprisingly, this eliminated a lot of homes for us!  When the time comes to physically visit houses, take pictures and videos.  Use email, Google drive, and YouTube to share what you see with your spouse – I admit, I did a terrible job with this and had to face Radar’s frustration because of it!  You may feel silly, but your agent should understand that you’re making a gigantic decision by yourself, so any way your spouse can be involved is helpful.

When it’s time to make an offer, once again the internet comes to the rescue.  Radar and I were able to sign our offer (and counter-offer, and counter to the counter-offer, and 3 rounds further) completely online.  No printing and scanning, no hassle at all – just a few clicks and we were on the way to buying our perfect house!  If you have a realtor familiar with the military lifestyle, they should be able to accommodate you.

The power of attorney was great for getting the ball rolling, but eventually the bank did need Radar’s direct approval to take out a loan in his name – it was just one piece of paper he had to sign and mail to me, basically an addendum to the POA for taking out a mortgage.  He also had to get a letter from his CO, stating that he was going to have a job in the foreseeable future to pay off said loan.  Other than that, I did everything else myself.

Come closing, I brought my original power of attorney and all the other paperwork the bank required.  I also wish I’d had a hand massager – signing closing documents for 2 people is no joke!  I had to sign for Radar with his FULL name, then add “by” my FULL name, and “power of attorney”… about 30 times.  Not even exaggerating, my hand was sore by the end of it!  But they handed me the key when I was done, and I had successfully bought a house by myself while my husband was on deployment!

On a side note, I want to give a shout out to all the spouses who survived military life before the internet.  I can’t even imagine searching for a house without Zillow and Google, traveling to a town you’ve never been to and buying a house within the same trip without GPS or smart phones, and buying a house on behalf of your spouse without email and YouTube to show him where all of his money is about to go.  Those people are a lot braver than I am!  I don’t think I could have hacked the Navy life back then – you have my utmost respect!!

So, to sum it all up, here are the basics of what I learned from buying a house while my husband was deployed:

1. Power of attorney is everything.  You can’t do anything without it (unless you are independently wealthy and don’t need your husband to co-sign the loan with you), so get it before he leaves!

2. Use the tools available to you as a military spouse: USAA Movers Advantage, VA loans, YouTube, email, digital signatures, etc.

3. You will need a couple documents from your spouse, so be sure to find out from the bank what those are early on to give enough time to get them.  And keep track of everything the bank tells you in writing – it may come in handy.

IMG_3394

Proud owners of a new house!

If you are embarking on the homebuying journey solo, good luck!  I know you can do it, and I hope my advice helps out!

Advertisements

Pillowcase Quilt

I’m going to start off this post with a celebration: IT’S TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT HOMECOMING!!!!!!!  WAHOOOOO!!!!!!!  Now that I’ve done that…

It is a long-standing tradition in the VP community that we make gigantic pillowcase quilts for our sailors’ homecomings.  I know it sounds a little weird, but when you’re decorating a huge hangar it’s a fun way to make it more festive!  Historically, volunteers would use about 10,000 safety pins (that may be an exaggeration, but I’m sure that’s what it felt like!) to put it all together, but it would sag and not look so pretty.  Last homecoming, though, one of our more brilliant wives thought of sewing them together instead, and the result was amazing!  The down side is that we don’t get them back, but for me, as long as I have a photo of it, I’m happy.

It can be a little difficult to get started.  You want to make something unique, but words and pictures need to be visible from a good distance, so you’re sort of limited in what you can do.  In this post, I’m going to share what I did this year, and some other inspiration from last year and others’ pillowcases.  I’ve also hosted a couple of pillowcase parties in the past, which are a ton of fun and a great source of new ideas!

This year I kept the message simple – Welcome Home!  I added my own twist by making his name out of different fabrics that are special to us, or that represent something in our lives.  I drew each letter on a 3″x5″ note card and cut them out.  Then turn them upside down and trace onto the paper side of some Heat N Bond Lite.

IMG_3525Trim around the edges, but don’t cut the letter out completely.  Iron onto the wrong side of your chosen fabric (pay attention to where the patterns are compared to the letter you traced).  Then cut out your letters!  Iron them onto your pillowcase, then add details (drawn, painted, etc).

IMG_3526Usually, these quilts tend to be a sea of white, with a few colored cases among them, so I choose to be one of those colored cases!  Monster insisted on the dark red when we were at Walmart, so I had a little more trouble – only light colors would show up.  That’s why I went for the fabric iron-ons, and I used light blue and white puffy paint to make the Welcome Home letters (you know, like red, white, and blue).  Puffy paints are definitely one of the best ways to put your message on a pillowcase!

IMG_3530Another easy, cheap way to decorate your pillowcase is fabric markers.  But these will only work if you have a light-colored case.

IMG_3529If you’re not particularly crafty, you can get printable iron-on transfers to create your design (note: they’ll only work with an inkjet printer because lasers are too hot).  Or use hot glue to add embellishments – googly eyes, pipe cleaner letters or shapes, the sky is the limit!  Since it doesn’t have to go survive washing, you’re only limited by your imagination.

If you have kids, it’s so special to let them make a pillowcase for Daddy or Mommy.  Regular old craft paint (97c at Walmart) works great – it doesn’t have to make it through the laundry, so it works just fine.  Monster totally went to town on his pillowcase for Daddy, and had a BLAST doing it!  I learned from painting pumpkins at Halloween, though, that I need to offer only one color at a time, or it all ends up being a grayish mess.  If your kid is younger, or not so much into painting, hand and footprints are always popular, too!

IMG_3528Here are some more pillowcases from last homecoming.  The first is a flag motif, just glued onto the pillowcase with spray glue.  On the second, I thought my sign idea was pretty clever!  The third one was made by a friend of mine for her husband, playing on his call sign.  And the fourth was made by my in-laws for Radar – we are a little Georgia Tech crazy in our family!

Last YearIf you’re looking for more inspiration, I don’t recommend searching for pillowcase ideas; instead, look up homecoming signs.  A couple of my favorite lists of inspiration are here and here – you may just find some ideas for yourself there.  Just remember, you’ll want to keep it G-rated!

I’ll take a moment here to acknowledge the ugly white boxes all over my photos.  I am protecting my own privacy, as well as the privacy of others I made pillowcases for, both for OPSEC (operational security) and just because we don’t all want our names splashed all over the internet!  Sorry it’s not pretty, but I think you can still get the point 🙂

At home, we had a banner waiting for Radar, made by Build A Sign.  It was free, I just had to pay shipping (it was somewhere in the $10-15 range).  If you’re getting ready for a homecoming, definitely take advantage of this offer!  Just keep in mind it can take 4-6 weeks to receive it.

IMG_9350 I was also pretty proud of Monster’s homecoming outfit; it was semi-DIY.  Last homecoming for us was in November, so mustaches were all over the stores with no-shave-November.  I bought an adorable mustache onesie and added words with a fabric marker to make it personal for homecoming!  For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s tradition for the guys to grow mustaches on deployment (and in our household, he is required to shave it off in order to get a ride home!).

IMG_9416

Monster was so tiny! Just 8 months old here (and teething up a storm, hence the drool on the shirt!)

And since I’m getting geared up for homecoming, here’s my favorite photo from our last one.  Can’t wait for another “first” family photo, this time with 4 of us!!

IMG_9511

Monster was testing the theory that orchids are edible

If your homecoming is approaching like ours, congratulations!  If you are just at the start or middle of a deployment, I know you can do it, and that first hug and kiss are so worth the wait!!

Care Package Tips

I’m working on my 3rd care package to send to Radar, and wanted to share some of the tips I’ve collected through our two deployments so far.  Some of them are common sense or very popular (especially if you’re on Pinterest), but I like to think that a couple of them are more original.  So read on to get some ideas to treat your loved one who is deployed!

One of the things Radar loves the most is keeping up-to-date with the magazines he subscribes to.  He enjoys reading his AOPA Pilot magazine, and the Family Handyman helps him as a creative outlet when he can’t have his tools – he plans all the things he’s going to build when he comes home!

Now that Monster is in school again, I also include all of his artwork from school in care packages.  Monster gets so excited to put them in Daddy’s box when he gets home from school, and I know Radar likes being connected to what’s happening at home in this way.

I’m going to pause here to say that we don’t have a typical deployment.  Radar is not in the desert, he’s not on a ship, and he’s not in a really awful place to be alone.  He’s on an Air Force base in Japan, with access to a BX and Commissary that are arguably better than what we have at home.  So it’s really a challenge sometimes to spoil him, as he has all the comforts he enjoys at home, and he doesn’t even have to deal with the screaming kids!  But having recently spent some time away from the kids (on my trip to Arizona over Peach’s birthday), I truly don’t know how he does it.  I couldn’t leave the kids for that length of time, even if I were going to a 5-star resort!  So the most important thing I include in every package I send him looks like this:

sd-card

An SD card

Radar loves looking at pictures of the kids, and seeing them grow makes the separation just a little bit easier.  But sending pictures, even without frames, clutters his room and makes moves even harder (they have to vacate their rooms if they go on a detachment for more than 72 hours).  So we got a digital picture frame, and I add a new set of pictures on an SD card with every care package I send.  It’s easy to move, and he gets to feel like he’s missing just a little bit less while he’s gone.  The SD cards are cheap, and he usually gets about 100 pictures at a time!  I don’t even need to send a whole package to give him a card; I can just tuck it into a greeting card and mail it with a regular stamp to his FPO address.  It’s an easy, cheap way to keep your loved one feeling at home while they are away.

I’m not a big shopper, but when I go to Walmart or Target, I always find fun little gifts to send to Radar.  He likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old goofy ones, not the new mean ones), and I stumbled upon an insulated coffee cup and a plastic tumbler decorated with them, so I included them with my last package.  That package also included the Michaelangelo turtle screen cleaner, so I ended up with a theme for the package.  I’ve seen all these adorable ideas on Pinterest for decorating the inside of the box.  And you know I’m crafty, but I don’t feel like taking the box apart to wrap the whole thing, or pulling out paint to attempt to make something pretty with my lack of art skills.  So I came up with a simpler (lazy-man’s) version of the cute care package.  I find images that I want to include, then print them as 5×7’s on my color printer and glue them to the flaps of the box.  The TMNT box had photos of the turtles, pizza, and the rat (I can never remember his name).  My first care package had funny flight-related memes that I found.  It’s just a little something fun that brings a little sunshine to his day, because let’s be honest – he’s a guy, and it’s what’s inside the box that he cares about!

I try to include things that he may be able to get, but would never buy for himself.  I’ll send Brookside chocolate covered fruit because I know he loves it, and it’s a nice treat.  Or I’ll get him treats at Trader Joe’s, because who doesn’t love their stuff??  I also love to include things I make, such as the fox mug I sent in his first package.  Nothing too expensive (I mean, we have a budget to stick to!) but just some little things I know he’ll enjoy.

And that’s the key to the care package.  It’s not about spending a lot of money on them, or even stuffing the box full.  It’s a reminder of home, a way to let them know that you’re thinking about them all the time, and bring a little light into those hard days away.  I can’t imagine doing what Radar does, and if I can make it a little easier for him, I’m going to!

Those are my tips for ideas to put in a care package, but I have one more secret to share.  Anyone who sends care packages internationally is oh-too-familiar with the customs form.  I don’t know about you, but I hate filling them out.  And I usually have to fill out 2 (and occasionally 3) because of the varied items I put in each box!  It’s a pain in the butt to fill out the same information every time (and often multiple times) for every package.  So now, I print labels!  As long as the information requested is on each carbon copy, the post office doesn’t care how it’s done.  The labels I found work the best are 1-1/3″x4″ (Avery makes some) – but that’s the biggest that will really fit in the little boxes.  I print a bunch at the beginning of deployment and save the Word file, so if I need more it’s super easy (each form requires 5 labels with sender and receiver).  Saves me the time and frustration of writing the same information over and over in those tiny little boxes.  You could probably even make one label with a space in the middle that includes sender and recipient information.

IMG_3022

Obviously I printed all our info, I just didn’t feel like broadcasting our addresses over the internet!

For now, those are all my little secrets and tips for care packages.  If you have anything to share, please comment and let me know!  I’m always looking for more inspiration!