Article by Jenn Kiefer, Army Spouse
I’m convinced my childhood as an Army brat is what attracted my husband to me. I remember telling him with pride on one of our first dates that I could pack and unpack a house in two weeks-to include artwork on the walls-with no problems or complaints. I had him at “pack.”
But packing is only part of the moving process. Finding a new house can sometimes be the most difficult part, especially for military families who often PCS with little house-hunting time. A good realtor can help you through this process, serving as your personal on-site expert and helping you navigate housing market options even before you arrive at your new duty station. Here are some tips to find the best realtor for you and make your next move easier.
Do your homework
Before you even make contact with a realtor, decide what house criteria are important to you, identifying needs (like number of bedrooms) versus wants (two-car garage preferred). According to Jerry Newman, an Army veteran and San Antonio, Texas-based realtor with Green Home Realty, “The more prepared you are, the more houses a realtor can show you that meet your needs.” When people first call Newman, especially if they’re from out of town, he says “I’ll take their information, customize a search, and start sending them property information to check online. When they actually get here they’re ready to visit houses.”
If you’re planning to buy, it’s also essential to be prequalified for a mortgage loan. This can usually be accomplished for free over the phone or internet with a bank or financial lender. Besides providing you with a realistic price range of the house you can afford, prequalification gives you substantial leverage over other buyers because it shows sellers you’re financially prepared to make an offer. Some sellers won’t even allow people to visit their house without proof of prequalification, so take the time to get this document in hand early.
Research realtor options
Now you’re ready to work with a realtor. If you used a realty company to buy or rent your current house and you liked their service, use them again! Many realtors will help you find new contacts in different cities at no cost to you. Pamela Drummond, a Baltimore, Maryland-based realtor with Champion Realty, Inc. who knows firsthand about PCS moves from her 12 years as a Marine Corps spouse, will interview potential realtors for her existing clients. “I’ll call a number of realtors, pass on my client’s housing requests, and try to find the best realtor for their needs,” says Drummond. She’ll narrow the list to a few realtors that seem most compatible with her clients and put them in contact with each other. According to Drummond, “It’s very common to have realtors do this,” so take advantage of the connection if you have it.
But what if you don’t already have a realtor? One source is the website of your new duty station where military relocation information, including links to local realtors, is sometimes posted. Www.realtor.com or www.militaryreferrals.com are also two great websites to check. Type in some general information, such as city location, property type, and a general price range for a list of available properties. You don’t have to be too specific; this search is more to find a realtor than to find the perfect house. When you see listings you like, contact the associated realtors and talk with them about your situation. Hopefully you make a connection quickly, but don’t feel pressured to stick with a realtor if you don’t feel comfortable.
Make your search time worthwhile
Once you’ve established a realtor relationship, you can turn your focus to visiting houses. To make the most of your on-site house-hunting time, Drummond recommends letting the realtor listen to your first impressions as you walk through houses. “If I hear you talking about how you don’t like the number of stairs or small entry way,” says Drummond, “that might get me thinking about a ranch-style house with a big entry way I visited last week that may be perfect for you. By hearing your opinions of the houses, I can take your information and adjust our search appropriately.”
Small details like hardwood flooring versus carpet or realistic commute times in the area are just as important to discuss with your realtor as timelines and finances. The best realtor relationships are built on trust. They’re helping you with a major financial investment, so you need to be honest with your concerns. If you’re undecided about whether to buy or rent, ask your realtor about housing market trends and discuss whether the area is transient enough to warrant buying a house and re-selling it in just a few years. Realtors can provide an abundance of valuable information worth its weight in gold-and your sanity-about the area you’ll soon be calling home, so take advantage of their expertise to make your move easier and more enjoyable. Happy house hunting!