Veterans Day is November 11. It is a day in which we honor those who have served in the military – in both war and peace. It is on the same date every year – November 11.
The significance of this day comes from 1919, when it marked the day that an agreement was reached to end World War I. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, peace occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ June 2019 report cites the total enlisted personnel for each military branch and Coast Guard is 1,111,541. This number incorporates a broad and vast group of individuals serving our country in various capacities, including active duty Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
To commemorate Veterans Day and to honor those who serve and have served our country, I reached out to veterans and to those who have lived the military life.
The veterans and the experts
Sarah Coleman-Lee of AgentOwned Realty served in the United States Air Force (USAF) for 22 years. Coleman-Lee was in the healthcare field and she was raised in a military family.
“My family consisted of all branches – Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and the Navy,” she said. “You could say that serving my country was in my blood. It was an honor and a privilege. I’ve traveled stateside and overseas and have crossed paths with a diverse group of people. The experiences I’ve gained are truly priceless.”
Coleman-Lee, originally from Alabama, started a full-time real estate career after retiring from the military. When she was stationed in Charleston, she said she and her family fell in love with the area.
“We decided to stay here in Charleston for many of the same reasons other retirees do,” she said. “Along with being close to a military installation, the quality of life is great.”
She became experienced in real estate by way of investing when she was still on active duty. Ninety-five percent of her business is military personnel – with a range of different pay grades within it. Her strategy is from personal experience and from making the home buying or selling process as stress-free as possible that incorporates the unique challenges military personnel face.
“I create a roadmap for my military clients that guide them to what will best suit their needs,” she explained. “Preparation is key. My team and I help them develop an action plan up to a year ahead of their move. It’s critical to approach the home buying process with a mindset of thinking ahead when it comes to resale value and salability because when a military member relocates, it will be for a certain number of years. They’re on a tight timeline and most likely, another relocation will follow.”
Realty ONE Group Coastal agent Bryan Butler joined the Army right out of high school. “I served 20 years as a combat engineer and retired as a first sergeant,” Butler said. “Fourteen of those years were as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where I was deployed twice each to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Butler also served three years as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Butler chose a real estate career because he felt as if it was a natural transition for him. “I came from modest beginnings and I’m passionate about helping others realize their dreams of home ownership. Serving others has always been an integral part of my life throughout my military career,” he said.
Butler said military families move more often than the “average” family and they are inclined to buy those homes that offer the best bang for their buck in terms of their VA benefits. One of those perks is purchasing a home with no down payment.
“Many military personnel use these moves as an opportunity to purchase a home for their family to live in while they’re stationed in the area,” he said. “Then their home serves as an income property once they’re relocated. Military bases often serve as an insulator against economic fluctuations for their communities surrounding them, which can make buying a home less risky for them.”
Butler said that in October of this year, various lenders returned over $400 million to the VA in funding fees that had been erroneously charged to over 53,000 disabled veterans.
“In light of errors such as these, it’s extremely important for military and veteran home-buyers to work with an agent that is well-versed in the specifics of veteran entitlements,” he said. “Veteran realtors can help ensure full utilization of their benefits and also understand the complexities that can come with military moves.”
Steve Rowe of Carolina One served 26 years of active duty following his college graduation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, he served from 1978 to 2005 and retired as a colonel. His wife, Sarah, served over 26 years in the U.S. Navy medical community. The two met in Naples, Italy while assigned there in 1987.
Rowe, originally from Kentucky, traveled the world during his time in the military and he bought and sold property during his military career.
“When it comes to moving from one assignment to the next, the logistics and timing of the move can be a bit daunting, as there is a fairly tight window of movement and resettlement,” he said. “Most of the time military folks will ask for and can usually be allowed a 30-day window of leave from the end of their last assignment before signing into the next one. Sometimes based on world events and other factors, the uniformed family member may need to go in advance of the rest of the family. It’s a bit difficult to say there is a ‘norm’ with military moves.”
Rowe typically works with military buyers three to six months in advance – relying on technology to make the process easier.
“We do extensive home searching together online, in concert with phone calls and supplemental emails,” he explained. “Rather rapidly, they will decide which home is best for them and we work hard to get it under contract by the time they leave -- it can be from afar – via internet, getting a home under contract and productive ongoing negotiations. The objective is to handle the rest of the processes for them, from contract to closing, while they go back to wrap up a tour of duty, pack, move and arrive here just about in time to sign all the paperwork and close on their new home.”
Rowe mentioned that one of the key considerations for military retirees is access to earned privileges such as VA Medical care and other military clinics, services and on-base serves such as a commissary and other support services.
“The greater Charleston area checks a lot of boxes for what they’re looking for and retired vets are savvy,” said Rowe. “The challenge is sometimes housing costs but there is still reasonable affordability in parts of the greater Charleston tri-county. There are also vibrant job considerations for those who want a second career.”
Rowe wanted a second career after retiring from the military and said that becoming an industry expert for both military and civilians was a perfect fit. “Real estate checked all the boxes for me – I like helping people and the fact that many of those are brothers and sisters in the profession of arms makes it that much more rewarding. I believe in the wisdom of home ownership as a primary facet of personal wealth accumulation – it’s part of the American Dream and I like helping others achieve their own slice of the American pie,” he said.
Mount Pleasant and East Cooper can be a great fit for some mid-career military members and ranks with higher wages, he said. “There are a growing number of residential options along the Clements Ferry Road corridor. East of the Cooper doesn’t fit everyone’s budget, but I will always choose to help military folks who choose to work with me. My experience stretches across the majority of the tri-county.”
Rowe said there many military home purchases are in West Ashley, Hanahan, Summerville, Goose Creek and lower Moncks Corner because the areas overlay affordable home prices with the locations of military facilities.
Shirley Phillips of Carolina One has decades of experience helping military families find the right home.
“I moved to Charleston as a young Navy wife with two little girls in 1970,” Phillips said. “We had duty stations from San Francisco to Hawaii so I’m very familiar with both the joy and feeling of adventure and the scary unknown and sadness of leaving friends and family. You get it all. A military family is all in for the long ride. When one spouse is deployed, there is an awesome amount of responsibility for the partner at home.”
Phillips experience -- taking care of the moving, getting kids into new schools and having to find a new career in a new place – is another aspect of military life and may go unnoticed at times.
“Civilians in general may not understand,” she said. “Spouses of military personnel encourage and keep up the morale of the family and her or his deployed partner. They are courageous, committed and patriotic people. Reaching out and being in military communities is very helpful.”
She began a career in real estate in 1971. The majority of her sales were to military personnel or retirees. It was a bit different during that time as Phillips said agents did their own pre-qualifying for buyers before introducing them to lenders.
“The average offer to all vets, both active and retired was $99 and move in financing 100 percent,” she revealed. “It was and still is imperative we agents know all the ins and outs of financing, pay grades, entitlements, special benefits and other qualifying factors. It’s amazing how many veterans don’t have a full understanding of what they are entitled to.”
Those benefits include no large down payments when buying. “I still feel it’s my duty to be informed and give them all the entitlements they’ve earned. I stay up to date on financing and other military matters. That’s a must and the very least they can expect from me.”
Phillips anticipates military clients’ needs on a case-by-case basis, such as encouraging those who have a spouse or partner who may be deployed frequently to settle into a neighborhood with activities and close neighbors. Being near medical facilities is another factor for some and ensuring that a warranty is in place for unexpected repairs are other things to consider.
“Spouses don’t need added stress,” she said. “It’s all about properly placing a family, not about making a quick sale. It goes full circle. I sold someone a home I recently sold to 44 years ago. I think an agent that has lived the military life and understands what’s involved is in a better position to give them the special treatment and council our veterans and their families deserve. They have more than earned these benefits and should be encouraged to use them.”
From consulting these individuals who have first-hand knowledge of the commitment it takes and the sacrifice one makes, I noticed a common thread.
Each of them was extremely proud to be a part of our military and each were very attuned to helping others. Our veterans are a diverse mixture of people from all walks of life.
Happy Veterans Day to all our military personnel and their families.