Entering military retirement is an exciting, but often overwhelming, time — especially if you’re looking for a new home. If you’ve recently completed your military service and are looking to move into a new home, there are a number of factors you’ll need to consider. The right size, the best location, your price range as well as any financial assistance you might be eligible for, and any accessibility modifications you might need are all key to finding the best abode for your family. This guide will cover all the considerations that lie ahead and offer helpful resources to assist you even further. Finding the right home takes time, especially if you’re hoping to start or expand your family, but in the end it will be worth the work!
Finding the Right Home
There are quite a few decisions to be made before you officially begin your search. As you’ve probably heard, the number one rule of real estate is location. Perhaps you’re hoping to move back to your hometown to raise a family, or want a fresh start in a brand new city. If you’re open to all possibilities, start with the basics:
- Do you want to live in a rural area, a large city, or a suburb?
- Do you hope to find a place on the coast, near the mountains, or in a dry, arid region?
- Are you interested in being closer to family?
- Which areas have a cost of living that meets your budget?
These are all great jumping-off points, so discuss them with your partner or ask a close friend to be a sounding board. If you want a totally impartial opinion, your real estate agent can help you figure out exactly what your options are and will likely even offer some choices you hadn’t considered yet.
An important part of your new home’s location will include what your plans are for the future. If you’re hoping to go back to school, you’ll want to live somewhere within easy travel distance of a community college or university. If you’ll be diving right into the working world, make sure you choose a place where you’ll be able to find a job in your desired field. (For example, if you’re a pilot, a home that’s 40 miles from the nearest airport won’t be ideal.) Perhaps you plan to volunteer your time at the local VA giving back to other veterans and want to make sure there’s one in the area. If you have children or are hoping to start a family sometime soon, you’ll want to think about finding a good school district.
There are even important considerations when it comes to your new neighborhood. You might want a neighborhood with a close-knit community — where kids play together in the nearby park, parents carpool and attend their children’s sports games together, and every neighbor knows each others’ names, for instance. Conversely, maybe you’re instead looking for something a little more secluded, like a piece of land where the closest neighbors are a mile away.
Again, it really comes down to how you imagine your future: have you always dreamed of going to block parties and watching your little ones play a game of pickup baseball after school, or do you love the idea of riding your bike on a dirt road into town? Maybe you picture yourself taking the train into the city for work, or living just blocks away from the heart of downtown. It’s entirely possible that you hadn’t considered these questions until now, especially if you’re fresh out of the service, so consider them carefully. Talk to your partner about it at length on more than one occasion so you each have time to process what the other wants, and make sure you’re completely clear about what your biggest priorities are. You may need to make some compromises, so the key is to ensure you both know the most important items on your wish lists.
Buying a home is a major investment, so you’ll want to make sure it’s a good one. Your real estate agent will be able to help you determine the individual factors for each house, but there are a few general ideas to keep in mind.
First, consider how the home you’re interested in and neighboring homes have increased or decreased in value over the years — but, because the market can be so volatile, you should also consider the causes of any fluctuations. For example, perhaps the house you’re looking at previously sold for a lower number than it was originally purchased, but has since seen updates that added value.
Next, take into account the neighborhood. If you’re in a suburb, is the home close to public transportation that leads directly into the city, making it desirable for professionals with families? Is it near the highway and good for traveling, but constantly noisy from traffic? If the city is growing, how will that affect your home’s value? For example, if your home is in a mostly residential area but new businesses are constantly popping up, there’s a good chance the property’s value could increase with time.
School rankings in the area are another good investment indicator, even if you don’t have children. Many people will pay a little more to be close to the best schools, especially if there are multiple levels (elementary, middle, and high) with high rankings in the area. The presence of private schools in the area can also be a clue to a positive investment; whether or not you choose to send your own children to a private institution, these areas tend to have higher home values.
Another investment factor to consider is whether you plan to make any changes or updates to a home you’re considering buying. Whether you plan to remodel the kitchen, give the exterior a fresh coat of paint, or even add a brand new addition, there are dozens of ways to both create your dream home and boost its value. Just keep in mind that in most cases you won’t see a return on your investment until you sell, so you’ll need to plan renovations carefully and with your overall budget in mind.
Assessing Your Budget: Financial Assistance for Veterans
Of course, one of the most significant factors in finding a new home is determining your budget. There are multiple financial aid programs for veterans and their families, and you might even be able to find locally-based assistance programs, as well. Some offer special financing options or eliminate the need for a down payment, but it is important to note any stipulations in order to qualify. Some grants might only be eligible for veterans making a certain salary (or below), and some might be reserved only for first-time buyers. Do your research carefully to find out which programs you’ll be eligible for, and be careful not to factor them into your budget until you’re absolutely certain you’ll receive them.
If there aren’t any programs in your area or for some reason you don’t meet certain requirements, consult your financial institution. Some banks may offer their own veteran programs or financing options. Sit down with a broker for a detailed discussion and don’t hesitate to ask questions. It’s crucial that you walk away from the conversation feeling confident and well-informed about your options — make sure you can answer questions and that your partner shares your understanding.
Considerations for Veterans with Disabilities
If you have a disability, there will be some additional issues to keep in mind throughout your home buying process. You’ll need to find both an accessible house and location to meet your individual needs. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about anticipating any potential changes in your condition — if it’s possible it will change or decline with time, you’ll need to keep that in mind.
Before diving into the specifics of what accessibility issues a new home may have, start with some general rules. For example, if you have limited mobility, you might decide it’s easiest to stick with a single-story home. Driveways with a steep incline can pose a problem to veterans in wheelchairs, especially if there isn’t a sizeable landing toward the entrance. If you have a service dog, your home should have ample walkways to allow both of you easy passage. If you have a vision impairment, you might consider looking for houses with large windows and plenty of natural light during the day. Talk to your doctor about which modifications will best suit your needs, and take your personal experience into account, as well. Think about what obstacles you face in your current home and what solutions would make accessibility easier.
It’s important to keep in mind that there will likely be several modifications you’ll have to make to just about any home — installing grab bars, pull-out shelves, and high-volume smoke detectors, for instance. Still, there are many homes that will have accessible qualities to keep an eye out for like automatic garage doors, easy-to-reach cooktop controls, and low cabinets. Check off as many accessibility modifications as possible as you search, but if you find a home that’s perfect albeit a few minor adjustments, consider working that into your plan. You may even be able to talk to your real estate agent about bargaining for a better deal on the home so that you’ll have the means to make the adjustments.
Do keep in mind that not every home will be ideal for accessibility modifications. You might be able to install a wheelchair ramp for your front porch, for example, but if you’re moving to an area that sees icy conditions in the winter, you might be better off finding a home with a level entrance. Similarly, if you plan to install extra lighting to aid with low vision but the home is older and has somewhat faulty wiring, it might end up a more major expense than you anticipated. Be sure to talk to your home inspector about the kinds of changes you plan to make, and consider hiring an outside contractor for a consultation, as well. A second opinion never hurts, and if you can find a contractor with experience and special knowledge about these kinds of modifications, he or she will likely be able to offer the best insight.
Searching for a new home after completing your military service can be an exciting first step back into civilian life if you take your time with the planning process. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and your real estate agent, and don’t hesitate to voice any concerns along the way. The goal is to find your dream home — one that fits your budget, the hopes you have for your family, and your accessibility — so it’s important you feel confident about your choice. Take the time you need, and before you know it the right house just might find you first!