The transition from active duty to civilian life is never an easy one, but frequent changes to Veteran Administration regulations and myths about VA loans have made it challenging for veterans to buy a home. Two local veterans are working with a national organization to change that.
Sandy Heath and Phyllis James are both veterans and local Realtors who serve on the board of the local chapter of the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals, a national organization dedicated to increasing sustainable homeownership, financial-literacy education, VA loan awareness and economic opportunity for the active-military and veteran communities.
The organization was established in 2011, but the Tucson chapter is just over a year old and is still gaining steam in Southern Arizona.
While VAREP has many goals and outreach programs, education is the key, but its educational goals are two-fold. First and foremost it want to educate veterans and active-duty military personnel about their options and opportunities when it comes to purchasing a home.
“We are non-profit for vets by vets,” said Heath, a Marine Corps. Vet. “Our success is not measured by balance sheet or shareholders, but by one veteran at a time.”
Both Heath and James have been out of the military for some time, but both remember the tough transition and trying to add homeownership on top of the already rocky change can be daunting for many.
“It is educational outreach for financial literacy,” said James, who was involved in Armed Forces Radio and other broadcasting opportunities while serving in the Army. “You would be surprised how many veterans come out of the military without full knowledge of blending back into society. Getting their jobs, getting their homes, getting their families established. You would think it would be natural, but it really is not that natural.”
On top of that, the programs and services available to veterans are constantly changing, so knowing what the latest information is can be a challenge even for those who have smoothly transitioned into civilian life.
“That laws change, so we are helping active military and veterans keep up to date on the laws, as well as educate real estate professionals,” Heath said.
Dealing with real estate professionals is another challenge. There are a number of myths surrounding VA loans, that many Realtors and sellers do not even want to deal with them. Many VA loans require no money down, but that does not mean the seller will have to settle for less money. The amount of paperwork and time involved in a VA loan is not really that much more than conventional or FHA loans.
“Those are myths we want to dispel,” Heath said. “We want to educate the community that a veteran can buy with no money down and not cost the seller anything.”
Veterans do not have to settle for less expensive homes. James was quick to point out that there are a number of options, including multiple loans for veterans who can financially afford a more expensive home.
VAREP has held two luncheons with nearly 100 Realtors at each to help educate them on the realities of VA loans and both went a long way to help knock down some of the barriers and biases towards VA loans.
“We are working really hard to educate our community on what is available,” James said. “You would be amazed at the number of individuals who are not aware of what is available.”
Heath learned about VAREP when she attended a real estate conference and was inspired to start a chapter in Tucson. James soon came on board and joined Heath on the eight-person board shortly thereafter.
In addition to educational outreach, the group has philanthropic pursuits. It sponsors families over the holidays, helped refinance homes for veterans at a lower interest rate, will send the child of a deployed military member to summer camp and eventually want to give away a mortgage free home to a worthy veteran. The Phoenix chapter has already given away two homes.
“We don’t give hand outs, we give hand ups,” Heath said.
Next month, comes an even bigger challenge as it will organize the first-ever VA Housing Summit in Tucson.
Also this summer, Heath and other members of VAREP will go to Washington D.C. to speak with law makers about making veterans a protected class.
All of their actions, whether it is educational outreach, philanthropy or activism have one goal, protecting veterans.
“The ultimate goal is to keep veterans from becoming homeless,” Heath said.