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