Or rather code, code, code- just cause, you know, we have a keyless entry door and all.
Well, we made it. I was pretty positive we would but still in this market, you never quite know what can and/or will happen. When we found out we were coming to Florida for my husband’s next military assignment, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. If I’m being transparent, I wasn’t all that excited to return to Florida, even though we’d be only an hour from Disney, one of my most favorite places on Earth. Regardless I had to find the good here, if not for me then at least for my family. The base housing was nice enough, I thought, and was certainly much bigger than our house in DC. Plus, it was on the bay. Waterfront living would be nice again, I figured. But once I learned how difficult it would be to get on base here, and how long the wait was just to be put on a wait list (3-6 months during the school year, for those not keeping track), I knew that base housing wasn’t an option. Suddenly our living situation became a little uncertain. I’d never been a fan of renting; as I see it, you are just throwing money away that you will never see back. So we started looking at rentals. There were a good number of them available in late Summer. But many of the properties available in or near our price range had landlords (really investment companies) who were mandating that applicants make 3x the rent. In early 2022, the base rent for a 3 bedroom home in the Tampa Bay area (where we live) is $2250. Now I’m no mathematician, but that means that to rent a decent sized home in this area, one would need to make at least $70,000 a year. Median household income comes in around $51,000… make it make sense. So we decided that while interest rates were still low, we would hop on the homeownership train. After all, we were one day from signing a contract on a new build in South Carolina, where we thought we were going, until those orders were abruptly canceled. So we found a realtor and we got to looking. We had decided to go with a new build and again were about to go under contract when I decided to wait. I had been reading how crazy the market was and I wanted to get to know this area before committing to owning anything here. So, against what I wanted, we ended up having to rent.
We thought it would be easy enough finding a rental. I thought we had a fair BAH (housing allowance). But again, wrong. We ended up having a tough time finding a decnet sized home for our family that would allow our dog anywhere within or near our price range. We found out quickly that we’d have to make the choice of location or cost, something we’d never really had to do before. Once we found a few options, the company who owned the property turned us down because according to their ignorance, my husband didn’t make enough, even though we told them repeatedly that he earns an allowance forth ousing separate from his income. We even offered to give my income at the time, but because we were moving and my job would not let me keep my position, even though I had been working successfully at home for over a year. Third time was the charm, though, for us. We found a four bedroom rental below our BAH or our housing allowance that put us in an area that was zoned for a good elementary school, and even though it was far from base, we were also in a good shopping and eating area. And so we spent the first few months really getting to know the area to figure out if we would want to maybe invest in the market. Once we decided to make the leap after the holidays, we knew we wanted to buy a new build to potentially rent out after we move again. We took a look at some model homes and decided to go with a six bedroom floor plan so that my husband and I could have our own separate spaces as well as a guest room, and bedrooms for the kids. We hired another realtor and was able to get under contract just as the concrete walls on the first floor were being put up.
Buying a house this time around was a completely different experience than the last time. For those who haven’t been reading my blogs for a while, we actually bought a home sight unseen prior to moving to Colorado in 2016. To read about that experience, click here. This time, we were able to be here and witness the entire process. A few things to note about our experience. We decided to go with a builder who was already building in the area and had a few communities in the county. Because of the market, we ended up getting a spec home, meaning that we had no initial say in any of the structural or design choices. That part sucked but in the end it made it a little easier to get to closer without waiting extremely long for supplies to arrive or for things to be the exact way we wanted it. We decided to buy for the opportunity to one day rent out the place after we leave, so having a custom built home wasn’t something we needed right now. One day, though, it might be nice. Another thing that differed with our builder and location is that we were offered a home tha tmatched our location and basic requirements (bedroom and bathroom count). We told them what we were looking for, and they told us what would be coming available. Once we agreed on the model and the community, they reserved the lot for us, simple as that. We really lucked up because it just so happens that the lot reserved for us was one of the bigger lots in the community. We have a corner lot that extends pretty far so the kids were definitely excited about that. And because we were in person buyers, for lack of a better term, we got to come to the house multiple times during its construction. And we got in to see it before and after the dry wall was up. It was really cool to see the entire thing happen before our eyes.
We got our walkthrough and closing date about two months prior to it. It was during this time that the finishing touches were made to the home, driveway and sidewalk poured, final paint, appliances installed, sod and landscaping completed, electrical and plumbing turned on, and final inspections made. We decided to hire our own independent inspector to be sure that everything was working the way it was supposed to and to know what to look for before our initial walkthrough and orientation. Before we knew it, it was time to sign our lives away.
Getting to the closing table wasn’t as much of a hassle for us as it can be for other people, but as VA buyers, it does come with it’s own set of challenges. Here are some of the things we had to do prior to closing on our home.
- Find a real estate agent familiar with both new construction and VA loans. It’s important to get someone who understands you as a military family, the VA loan process and has relationships with builders in the area. They are going to be the best to show you what you realistically can do with the loan you have, point you in the direction of good builders, and steer you away from bad, and be able to speak for you during the homebuying process. With new construction, there will be a sales agent that is assigned to your home and will be the one mostly communicating everything to you regarding your new home, but they work for the builder. They don’t represent your best interests because their job is to sell the property. A real estate agent will work for you and as the buyer, it doesn’t cost you a dime.
- Get preapproved and go shopping for the best rates. In this market, it’s important to show sellers, and builders too, that you are a serious buyer. There are more buyers in this market than there are sellers and homes available so it’s important to make yourself look as ready to buy as possible. Not only did we get preapproved with the builder’s lender, we also shopped for different rates from other lenders. It’s crucial to have a variety of options from which to choose and just because you may have gotten pre approved with one lender doesn’t mean you are obligated to stick to that one lender. We got rates from our builder’s lender, our bank, and a more local lender since our bank is not local.
- Stay within your price range. Just because a preapproval says you can spend up to a certain amount, it doesn’t mean you should go that high. Even in buying a new build, one can still go over budget with having to bid on that home. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about bidding as our building simply reserved the house we wanted. If you are buying a resale, you will have to account for having to possibly go over asking just to get your offer considered. And if nothing else, you will want extra money aside to do little improvements here and there and to save for a rainy day. Lord knows new builds come with their flaws too.
- Don’t do anything during escrow. This was hard, ya’ll! Of course with a new house comes the want to buy all the pretty and new things. But don’t! Don’t move, don’t buy anything because your lender is watching. Any major purchases especially with a loan or credit card will alert your lender and can possibly lead to your financing falling through. If it’s something you can’t avoid, say an emergency, always let your lender know as soon as possible.
- Be prepared to hand everything over. Your lender will frequently ask for all sorts of documentation, including taxes, bank statements, and proof of income. My husband and I simply put all these documents into a folder on our computer when they became available and once it was time to send them over, it was pretty easy to do so. Buying a home requires organization so be sure you have all your ducks in a row.
- Understand VA limitations and strengths. Buying as a military family can be rewarding but also come with its challenges. Most of us military folk will use the VA loan and its important to know how it is different from other types of loans out there on the market. For one thing, the VA will only lend you money for exactly how much the home is worth. So if you were to offer over asking price for a property and the appraisal comes back under that agreed upon price, it’s up to you to come up with the difference. The VA is also very meticulous about the condition of the house. It’s been said that if a house has too many issues, then the VA won’t back it. You also are unable to purchase a modular or manufactured home with a VA loan.
- Hire an independent inspector. It’s true that while builders have to ensure everything follows code and the home is inspected, most of the time, their inspections only check the very basic things. Not everything will be taken care of to your specifications. It’s so important to hire someone who is going to look at everything and tell you the truth about your home. They will see things that the builder overlooked or failed to check and if you are able to have this prior to your walkthrough with the builder, you will know exactly what to look for and what to ask to be fixed prior to closing.
Overall, our homebuying experience move has been a positive one, albeit challenging, as we are still unpacking boxes a month in (unheard of for someone like me). And although I am not a first time homebuyer, I learned an awful lot throughout the last six months. I look forward to sharing the nuggets I learned along the way during this new home series posts. In it, I plan to discuss how to have a successful walkthrough, buying new construction as compared to a resale and any regrets I have, a house tour before and after, and a six month update. If you are planning to buy or are in the process of buying, and especially if you are here in the sunbelt, I encourage you to stay tuned!
For now, stay Earthbound, my friends.