From selling your old home to closing on a new one, the VA loan process can be a whirlwind of paperwork and anxiety. But the new home search doesn't have to be stressful; there are people trained to help you along the way and make the entire process as painless as possible.
Especially when done in the midst of relocating to a different state, these people become key supporters in the search. Though the distance can certainly pose problems, when done right – and in the right order – you'll find buying a house in a different state doesn't have to be so hard.
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Civilians and service members alike don't always have the luxury of determining exactly which city and state they'll be living in. It's often a job that determines much of that for them.
If you're a civilian, chances are you have more freedom to search for work only in locations you like. However, depending on your chosen career field and the job market at the time, potential opportunities may be limited. That could mean accepting a job wherever you can find one – even if it's halfway across the country.
If you're still in the military and relocating on PCS, you'll typically have an even narrower area to choose from.
Either way, securing employment is essential to obtain financing on a new home in a new state. Once you've established new employment, you can narrow in on a location, and your next step will be to select a lender.
Whether it was by choice or by chance, changing jobs prior to obtaining financing is perceived as risky. The mortgage lender you select will want to see a job offer letter or new employment contract to ensure you won't experience a gap in employment or significant loss of income, which could affect your ability to afford a mortgage.
That also means your new job should be in the same line of work as your old job, according to Samantha Reeves, senior mortgage and homebuying writer.
"Say a contractor moves to a new city and opens up a cupcake business, but the contractor doesn't have any experience making or selling cupcakes," said Reeves. "The perceived risk is high. That's why a lender is going to want to see at least two years of experience for any new job."
Selecting a lender is an important part in your homebuying journey. Reading about other borrower's experiences with lenders can reveal a lot about each lender. Third party review sites are a great starting place for comparing lenders, such as Zillow or LendingTree.
As you discuss financing with your VA lender and get preapproved, you can begin the home search in the surrounding areas.
Especially if you aren't yet familiar with the area you're about to move to, it may be best to enlist the help of a professional to find your new home. Ask your lender to recommend a real estate agent – one who has been through an out-of-state sale before, if possible. You can also look online for reviews and recommendations. Either way, it's important to find a real estate agent that both knows the area and understands your needs.
"In your absence, the real estate agent will be your lifeline, so it's important to be able to trust and communicate well with whomever you choose. As a military buyer using your VA loan benefit, it's imperative that you select an agent who specializes in VA loans," said Reeves. "Veterans United Realty can get you set up with an agent in your prospective area who has a track record of success with VA loan buyers."
If you haven't already, you'll also need to list your current home with a real estate agent in your area. While there's no real way to predict how long the sale will take, it's a good idea to start taking offers for your current home before you start making offers on a new one. You don't want to get stuck with two mortgages, so timing is key.
Let's say you start your new job on June 1. Your current house should be on the market in January, according to Greg Chaplain, licensed agent at The Real Estate Group, LLC. That will leave 60 to 90 days for you to get offers on your current home before you begin narrowing down potential new houses in March or April.
While you might be able to specify details like traditional versus modern or urban versus rural, your realty expert can help you select the region of the city that best suits your needs.
It's not always as simple as picking whatever's nearest the military base. Ask your agent to give you the scoop on where to find the safest neighborhoods, best schools or shortest commute, which will all help further narrow down your search. You can also ask any friends or family you may have in the area, or check with the base to see if they can offer any advice on the best areas for you.
You'll have to be extra specific when giving the real estate agent a list of preferences for your new home. Since you can't be physically present for the entire home search, the list will act as a guide for the real estate agent as he or she walks through any potential prospects for you.
"We'll have a lot of conversations up-front. I'll ask some basic questions to determine your criteria, and then comb through properties that meet your criteria the closest," said Chaplain. "It's like peeling back the layers on an onion. We'll peel back the layers on a fine amount of properties – 8, 10, 12, 15 – until we see what's right for your family. Let's say I send you half a dozen properties, and you say, 'I really like this one.' I'll go check it out for you and get you on the phone to walk you through it with me."
As you near the end of your new home search, it's crucial to travel to see the property (or properties) you and your real estate agent have selected. Even the most experienced and trusted real estate agents can't possibly convey every little detail, so you'll want to see for yourself before you purchase a property.
In the months before the trip, your real estate agent will be helping you narrow down the options with pictures and videos, as well as phone and video-conference calls.
"I have to figure out a way to make you see what I'm seeing," said Chaplain.
But trouble can arise with sound and smell, which don't always translate into pictures or video.
"Saying, 'Man, the guy who lived here was a heavy smoker,' can do a lot more benefit than saying, '4 bedroom, 2 bath in the location that you want,'" said Chaplain.
When the decision is down to a couple of houses or less, schedule a trip to your new city.
"You don't want to take the trip in January if you don't plan to move until June," said Chaplain. "Any property you pick in January probably won't still be available in June."
Instead, make the trip one or two months before you're set to move or start a new job. At that point, you should have a buyer under your belt for your current home or at least be in a position to sell soon and be ready to make an offer on a new house during the trip.
"I don't want to set you up to make a trip here before you're in a position to actually do something," said Chaplain.
If all goes as planned during the trip, you'll be ready to start moving once you return.
The move itself, which once paled in comparison to the sell and buy transactions, can now seem just as stressful. While you might be able to do it all yourself for a simple move up the street or to the next city over, it may be best to enlist the help of professional movers when moving to a different state.
If you can, start planning for the move at least two months in advance, generally around the time you make the trip to your new city. Begin by sifting through your possessions, selling or donating everything you no longer use. The less you have to move, the less it'll cost to move. It's also important to stay organized amid the chaos. Make a checklist to keep track of everything you need to do before, during and after the move.
Moving can be taxing, but it can also be an incredibly invigorating experience. It marks the end of an old chapter and the beginning of an exciting new one. Good luck, and let us know if there's anything we can assist you with or if you have any other tips to share!