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Buying a Home Off Installation: Using a Realtor vs. Doing it Yourself

One of the first decisions you’ll face once you’ve decided to buy a home is whether to use a real estate agent or opt to handle the homebuying yourself.

Either way, real estate shopping as a member of the military may present challenges—starting with timelines. Military schedules can be unpredictable, which can be tricky when searching for and buying a home. Some service members choose to first live on base or rent at first while deciding where, and if, to buy.

How a military realtor can help

Real estate agents can be a good first point of contact in your new community even before you arrive. They can be valuable when moving to an unknown or new community by:

  • Acting as your expert in the homebuying process, as they do this for a living
  • Helping you evaluate homes
  • Advising you on neighborhoods and schools
  • Alerting you to commute times and more
  • Lining up homes to show you, saving you time from doing it yourself
  • Offering you negotiation expertise with an ability to craft a purchase agreement that gives you flexibility
  • Doing all the paperwork involved in buying a home.

How much home can you afford?

Take the guesswork out of your home finance with these 10 calculators.

While you may choose to move on post or rent off post during your homebuying process, a realtor can be a great resource especially if your timeline is tight and you are ready to buy. An agent in your new location can schedule several showings on one day or weekend, and help you make an offer quickly if necessary. If you decide to buy a home sight-unseen, they can also serve as your eyes and ears during the process.

A good realtor is also an expert in the homebuying process, which can be complicated. In many communities, there are often military or veteran-friendly real estate agents with a knowledge of market and buying trends as well as military considerations, such as VA Home Loans.

Ask your sponsor or a member of your new unit for local real estate recommendations or reach out to a Military OneSource consultant for help researching the demographics in your new community.

Buying a home without a military real estate agent

Buying a home without a real estate agent can save you – and the seller – money. While real estate agent commission fees are generally paid by the seller, they are often tied to the cost of the home. When considering this route, be aware that buying a home on your own can take significant time and research on your part.

If you choose to be your own agent, here are a number of items to consider:

  • Find the home you would like to buy
  • Research the cost of homes in that neighborhood. Don’t rely on asking price, but search for recently completed sales to get a better understanding of the real value of local homes.
  • Negotiate a price
  • Make a formal offer
  • Build contingencies into your offer to ensure you can cancel the contract if needed
  • Secure seller disclosures, inspection and code requirements to make sure you understand the true condition of the home
  • Find your own title and mortgage companies

If you are considering a home that is listed as “For Sale By Owner,” remember you are still free to hire a buyer’s agent to represent you in the process. A buyer’s agent can help you with the paperwork, inspection and legal technicalities of homebuying. Keep in mind you will likely be responsible for paying your agent in this case.

If you chose not to have any agents involved at all, consider hiring a real estate lawyer to guide you through the process. A lawyer will likely cost less than an agent but they can review your contract and offer advice.

You can also consult with your military installation’s legal assistance office to review any paperwork before signing anything. Also consider checking to see if your military installation’s housing office offers a class on home buying or other information on buying or renting.

Military housing benefits, services and considerations

Basic Allowance for Housing: Most service members living off-installation receive a Basic Allowance for Housing. This allowance varies by local rental market, pay grade, inflation and number of dependents. Keeping your mortgage or rent at or below your BAH is a good financial decision. Make sure to take a close look at your housing budget before you put an offer on a home.

VA Home Loans: The Veterans Affairs Home Loan Program is a substantial benefit for service members. These loans may require no down payment, no private mortgage insurance and offer negotiable interest rates. VA loans come with a few requirements, including passing a more stringent home inspection process and a VA funding fee.

Other Military Considerations: As you know, military life can affect your home life. Access to military services and other lifestyle considerations may impact where you want to live and what kind of home you need. Be sure to weigh:

  • Adaptative housing requirements
  • The maintenance required for outdoor spaces, especially if you may be gone on deployment or to a temporary duty station
  • Distance to child development centers or other day care facilities
  • Whether you want to keep or sell the house after leaving the area.

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