And even if you’ve served in the military yourself or are a current milspouse-real estate agent who specializes in this demographic, keeping up on the changing policies surrounding military moves and benefits when you’re running a business can be difficult.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re meeting the needs and exceeding the expectations of your military clientele.
Know all of the options
Military families come to real estate with all kinds of questions about where to live during their tour. Some of these housing options — like temporary lodging, long-term rentals or on-base housing — may not be part of your business model, and that’s fine. But have resources for these topics and be able to point your clients in the right direction.
And don’t assume being military means these clients all want to live the same way or in the same neighborhood. Military clients’ wishes and needs are as varied as anyone’s.
A high-rise condo in downtown near all the action may fit some, while a single-family home in a suburban neighborhood works for others. Given the pay differences between the ranks and additional income available for dual-military couples, your military clients’ budgets will vary widely.
Also, when home shopping with military clients, begin with the end in mind. Know that military families will likely leave in the next three to five years and will be faced with a decision either to sell the home or rent it out, so look for situations likely to make sense when that time comes.
Know the VA loan
And don’t just know the basics of the VA Loan — become a stark raving fan of this valuable benefit that allows service members and veterans the opportunity to buy a home with no down payment. Be able to promote its use enthusiastically to other agents who may not understand or appreciate it.
Take the time to dispel myths about tough appraisers, high property condition standards and loan caps, which have been greatly reduced or eliminated by policy changes over the past few years, making the VA Loan as appealing an option as other loans.
Tailor your intake interview
Real estate agents typically start their client interviews with the nuts and bolts: The number of bedrooms and bathrooms the client prefers, if a garage or a fenced-in yard are must-haves and so on. Those home preference inquiries will all be the same for military families, of course, but agents also need to ask some unique questions.
Will work or deployment restrict your clients’ availability? Are there additional stressors that may mean your clients need extra support or other resources? Does one party plan to stay back and care for the family while the other spearheads the home search?
Understanding who will be taking the lead on viewing properties, dealing with the lender and signing documents is key. If only one party will be available, he or she may need assistance lining up a mobile notary or a power of attorney.
Hit the ground running
Understand military families usually have a tight move timeline, so it’s up to the agent to take the lead and demonstrate how to find the right home in the right area. Most clients will have a limited amount of time in temporary lodging, so get as many of the milestones as you can out of the way before they arrive.
Connect them with lenders early and encourage them to get all of their documents in order before they start packing up. If they need to refinance a property to have more loan flexibility, encourage them to get to work before leaving their initial duty station.
With a budget from a lender in place, narrowing down neighborhoods can start well in advance of your clients’ arrival. Setting up a property search weeks ahead can acclimate the clients to the price points and the appearance of local homes, even if those aren’t the actual homes available when they buy. You can even show homes by video tour before your clients arrive.
Show by video
Live video is an important tool used to build rapport with clients who have not yet arrived at their new duty station. With video, you’re already making a personal connection, building trust and showing clients you’ll make time for them, even though they can’t buy from you that day.
Using video is one way couples can tour homes together even when they’re apart. For example, the service member may have an opportunity for advance travel to the new location, while the spouse stays home.
So, take the fear of missing out away by using video to include the spouse on home tours. This way he or she can still be a part of the process, you can get to know the spouse, and you can be an ally for the one who is absent.
Share your professional network
Real estate agents often share their resources for landscapers, carpenters, cleaners and other home services. That’s no different for military families, but you should recognize they’re more likely to be entirely new to your community and would appreciate an introduction upfront.
Endeavor to make other military-focused real estate agents part of your referral network so you can offer your clients a good match when they move out.
Share your personal network
Research on and by the Military Family Advocacy Network shows frequent moves mean military families feel disconnected from the local community and have high levels of stress about finding spouse employment and child care.
Sharing your personal network with a client is inviting someone into your community and cementing a relationship. You may know people in local companies looking for employees. You can make a list of child care centers in the area. And you can point people who are looking for unique activities in their new community or for ways to enjoy the hobbies they already have in the right direction.
You may remember the feeling of being the new kid on the first day of school. Military kids are those kids over and over again. Ease their transition by introducing them to other families at the same school so they can ask questions and meet some friendly faces before their first day.
Your military clients will appreciate your efforts to meet their needs, not only supporting them with the home purchase and sale process but also helping integrate them into your community and easing the stresses of their transition.