If you’re a service member, you know that when things happen in the military, they happen fast. And that’s especially true for prospective buyers during a Permanent Change of Station, or PCS—when you’ll suddenly be buying a house and making a hurried move to a community you know little or nothing about.
Without the luxury of time to stroll through open houses and compare neighborhoods, you might feel uncertain whether you’re making the right decisions.
Don’t worry! There are a few things you can do to help yourself nail this fast-paced move—with no regrets.
1. Find an agent who’s experienced with military moves
Although any real estate agent can help you with a military move and Veterans Affairs loan, it can help to work with someone who knows the process inside and out.
A real estate agent who specializes in working with military buyers understands every step of your home-buying journey—from checking that a home has the VA-designated Minimum Property Requirements to making sure closing is a breeze.
To find the right agent for you, start by checking for specialized certifications such as Military Relocation Professional® or Military Residential Specialist. You can also ask another veteran for a referral, or get help from Veterans United Realty to find a pro.
And remember: Nothing is as important as asking potential agents how they’ve handled military purchases in the past—and how they’d handle yours.
2. Have your paperwork in order
As soon as you get your PCS orders, make sure to get a mortgage pre-approval in hand.
This crucial document gives you a clear picture of your buying power so you don’t fall in love with a place you can’t afford. Plus, a pre-approval can give you a leg up, proving to the seller that you’re both willing and able to purchase the home, says Realtor® Bobby Middleton with Texas Premier Realty in San Antonio.
But even if you’ve been pre-approved, don’t assume you’re good to go, Middleton cautions.
“Pre-approval doesn’t mean that your lender won’t check your credit again,” he says, warning would-be buyers not to open a new credit card to buy appliances, or to ignore a credit card payment in the chaos of moving. Middleton’s seen a number of cases where an approved loan went south at closing when a buyer’s credit was checked again.
You’ll also want to get your Power of Attorney finalized, in case you aren’t able to be present for key events, like closing. Talk with your lender about the type of power of attorney you might need.
3. Make good use of technology
Once you’ve nailed down your budget, it’s time to start searching for homes. This is where things can get tricky—but they don’t have to be.
Use an online home search to narrow down the homes that check all your boxes and your budget. Then ask your VA-savvy agent to check out the properties—and take you along for the visit. Thanks to the magic of video-chatting apps (like Skype and FaceTime), being out of market doesn’t mean you have to purchase a house “sight unseen” anymore.
“My client might say, ‘Show me what the pantry looks like or how big the kitchen really is,’” Middleton says. “We go through the house with such a fine-toothed comb that they feel like they are there; it can be almost as good as an in-person view if you take adequate time.”
Even if you’re able to swing a visit, an early video tour will help you rank properties so you can spend extra time in the houses you like and not waste time on the nonstarters.
In addition to the house tour, try using Google Earth, recommends Twila Lukavich, a Realtor® with ProSmart Realty in Peoria, AZ.
“This tool truly gives you a real-time, bird’s-eye view of the street and the neighbors’ homes that surround the house that interests you,” Lukavich says.
4. Do some homework
Sure, driving the streets and talking to neighbors are an important part of house hunting. But doing some research might give you a better picture of key details—and make you feel like you’re almost there.
Your first stop should be the city’s chamber of commerce website, Lukavich says.
“The majority of them will have a section with information on the area that will help you get a feel for the community—from what sorts of shops and services are available to what local events they host,” she says.
And make sure you do your homework on the community’s crime stats, sex offender registries, and any other details that might be of concern; because of the Fair Housing Act, your agent actually isn’t allowed to answer these kinds of questions.
Don’t overlook the local schools—even if you don’t have kids now, the reputation of the school district has direct bearing on your future resale value. Check out GreatSchools for information on everything from test scores to school diversity and experience level of the teachers, Middleton suggests.
Finally, if the home is in an HOA community or a master-planned community, look for a Facebook or Nextdoor community page.
“There is no better insight to a community than a localized social media page,” Lukavich says.
5. Factor in time to sell your current home
Make sure you’re not so laser-focused on buying that you forget about offloading your current home.
“While selling a home is no easy task for anyone, it can be even harder when you add the stress of being active-duty and ordered to relocate to a new area within a very short timeline,” Lukavich points out.
If you’re not in a seller’s market, you might have to make a few concessions to move your home fast: Price your home to sell. Be willing to negotiate. And spend a bit of money to stage it and make it look irresistible (this is especially important if you’ve already moved and your home is vacant). You can even try writing a personal letter to potential buyers explaining the reasons you bought the home, including the amazing neighborhood, schools, and any other amenities that stand out to you.
Finally, put your house on the market as soon as you learn you may receive PCS orders to a different area, Lukavich suggests.
“You can note in the listing that the sale is contingent upon the sellers receiving the actual PCS orders,” she says.