Webinar: Buying and Selling in 2022
by Lizann Lightfoot - January 14th, 2022
Announcement from MJ Boice: After hosting the PCSgrades weekly webinars for 2 years, MJ has accepted an offer for a new position helping military families through the VA. She will remain involved with PCSgrades as a member of the Advisory Board. We are sorry to see her go, and grateful for all her energy and enthusiasm interviewing our webinar guests over the years! She will be replaced by Lizann Lightfoot and Tessa Robinson.
Lizann Lightfoot is a Marine spouse, mom of five kids, the writer behind the "Seasoned Spouse" blog, and has been the Content Editor for PCSgrades for two years now. She’s a writer and published author who is excited to come out from behind the scenes to interview our guests each week.
Tessa Robinson is a mom of two kids who spent 13 years working in intelligence, and is now a writer and editor supporting the milspouse community. She has done several military moves, including one to Guam!
Our Guest, Rena Stephens: I’m a Coldwell Banker Southern Coast agent, a veteran, and a military spouse. I joined the Army in 1999, met my husband in ‘03 and married in ‘04. I have a set of twins who are 16 and a little guy who is 8. We have PCSed 11 times, all within the US, and have our first overseas orders this fall. We did some additional moves where we bought off base then moved onto base. In the real estate community, there are a lot of classes to help you become a military relocation professional, but after taking those classes, people don’t always understand our lifestyle. So that’s what prompted me to become an agent a few years ago.
What can we expect from the real estate market in 2022?
Projections are that the market is not going to slow down. Interest rates change daily, but even if interest rates go up to 6%, we aren’t going to see a change in demand, so this peak PCS summer season is not going to slow down at all. Anticipate how it was in 2021-- a competitive seller’s market--and expect that to continue.
What does this mean for military families PCSing this year?
If you know you will PCS this year, it would be good to reach out before you get your RFO (Request for Orders, Army term). In Fort Stewart, for example, you could live in 3 different counties and still commute to the base. So get familiar with neighborhoods and local schools, and consider your commute. PCSgrades can help with all this research!
Next, consider your timeline. Find that local real estate agent, and consider whether you are going to request to live on base. The more information you have, the quicker you can make decisions.
What do families need to know about buying a home this year?
Get to know your market. No two areas are the same, and the price points aren't the same either. This year, the BAH went up. In some areas, homes are only on the market for a few days before they go under contract. When it’s time to look at home, you need to be prepared and have your pre-approval in hand, decide different clauses you are willing to use, and know how you plan to compete in that market. Having a good real estate agent and good lender to walk you through will help make a big difference. Know the neighborhoods, the crime rates, and the school system, because things are very competitive and are moving quickly.
40-60 days out before the move, you should begin identifying those areas and looking for homes. Closing times are as quick as 19 days. Typically, once you purchase a home, you won’t pay a mortgage until the following month, so that gives you some space so you don’t end up paying for housing at both bases at once. Some bigger banks can take longer and take up to 45 days to close. So start looking at the area about 3 months before you want to move.
Don’t come into the market with high expectations, because it may take a few offers before you get in. You need local expertise to know what you can do to stand out among 20-40 offers. Prepare yourself for a cutthroat, competitive market.
What advice do you have for families selling a home this year?
Get your home ready. If you’re in a VA loan market (near a military base), make sure you have identified any issues that would negate the appraisal process during the VA Loan. Make your house like a hotel room--clean, less cluttered, and a place where buyers can picture themselves living there. A lot of sellers are residing in their property even after they sell the home, which makes it easier to do a door-to-door PCS move. Know your timeline and the days you want to report and move out. Transportation can be challenging, even if you do a full Dity or PPM (Personally-Procured Move). So plan out your dates and consider your various move options.
Many military families have to buy a home sight-unseen, or from a distance. What strategies do you recommend for them?
Find an aggressive agent who will take your calls at night, or upload homes to your inbox before they even hit the market. Last year, about 80% of my clients did not see their house until several weeks after they bought it through a Power of Attorney. You need a trusted home inspector to explore the property, so you won’t have unpleasant surprises when you move in. You need an agent with good ties to the community who can answer your questions, and take their time with the walk-through videos. Go to the PCSgrades site to get info about schools, and contact local police departments to learn about the community.
You can also go to social media to get feedback from fellow military spouses. Ask questions in the local group to help you narrow down the area, learn about local activities, help you research a Homeowner Association, or be your eyes when you purchase.
PCSgrades has Area Guides to help you learn about a new base, and we have neighborhood reviews for both on-base and off-base housing that can help you decide what will be the best home for you.
Tessa once helped a milspouse friend purchase a home from a distance, and her one request was that someone go into the house and stick their head inside the dishwasher to see if it smelled! She had a bad experience before with a dishwasher that smelled and made all her dishes smell like fish. So Tessa did that for her! A trusted friend or real estate agent will stick their head in the dishwasher for you!
Do you recommend a conventional loan or VA Home Loan, and why?
It depends where you are. With a VA loan, it is fully funded and you don’t put anything down, but you will probably pay closing costs as your only out-of-pocket expense. The VA appraiser is pickier than the conventional FHA, so they may require more repairs or improvements to be done. With the FHA, you may be required to put 3% up to 5% down. And you will usually have to pay mortgage insurance until the loan is paid down. You need to speak with a lender, pull the numbers, and know whether you even qualify to use the VA loan on the property. The lender can recommend which is the best fit for you.
It’s important to shop around and find a lender you are comfortable with. You have to be educated and stay on top of things to make the timelines for closing, so it doesn’t interfere with your Household Goods getting delivered.
PCSgrades connects you to a military-friendly real estate agent, and after the home is sold, you receive cash back based on the home’s value. It’s our way of saying thank you to military families, and also thanking real estate agents like Rena who understand the military lifestyle and go above and beyond to support us during PCS moves!
What qualities should military families look for in a real estate agent?
You need to find someone you can talk to openly, and who will talk to you openly. It’s important to find a personality that is a good fit for you. If you aren’t getting trust and transparency from your real estate agent, it’s okay to keep looking for someone who will be in your corner.
You can begin by searching on social media. Ask spouses who have PCSed to the area to recommend someone local. You want a real estate agent who is passionate and aggressive, who will be proactive, take the reins, and do some of the work for you.
What are some tips for preparing a home for sale?
Don’t do modifications that will cost a lot. Focus on decluttering, and take military affiliated awards off the walls so your buyers don’t know anything about you. If you have crazy paint colors, you might want to paint over and tone it down. But sometimes it’s better to do an Open House first and get feedback. Look at what else is on the market and see what color patterns and style they have. Carpet stains don’t necessarily have to be replaced. See what the buyer wants to do, because they might rip out all the carpet anyway. You could offer closing credits to help them replace the carpet, or you could offer to do a professional cleaning. If there are older appliance, offer a 1-year home warranty to cover the appliances so you don’t have to replace everything.
If the house is empty, focus on the days on market before you consider staging. If a family PCSes and it is only on market for a short time, there is no need for professional staging because it will go under contract soon. It does depend on your price point, because it costs a few thousand to do professional staging. So higher-priced homes may benefit from staging to show how rooms can be used, traffic flow, etc.
What is the craziest experience you’ve ever had while selling a house?
I once was selling a house with a renter, and I had permission to enter from the owner, but they forgot to tell the resident I was coming. So they called the police and reported me for breaking and entering! Everything was fine, but I did have to go to the local police station, so that was crazy!