strong preference for newly built homes

Just 10 percent of the some 5.1 million houses that changed hands last year were brand new.

But 19 percent of the veterans who bought homes in 2015 bought new, as did 21 percent of all active-duty buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) first-ever profile of military buyers and sellers.

NAR trotted out the standard reasons for the strong preference for new houses among military buyers: the desire to avoid renovations and upgrades and the ability to customize. But these are the reasons all new-home buyers prefer new over existing houses.

Why military buyers go new

Vets and active-duty personnel have a couple of additional reasons for buying new. One, it’s often easier to work with builders and their sales staffs and, perhaps, their affiliated loan companies or recommended lenders. 

Some real estate professionals are under the misconception that working with military buyers is too cumbersome, especially when they want to make use of their GI housing benefits. Sellers, too, have an antiquated view of dealing with VA loans. But that’s not the case with a builder’s sales rep, most of who are happy to walk the extra miles for our nation’s heroes.

It’s also easier — and less expensive — to build a new house for wounded vets than it is to retrofit an old one. The kitchen and baths can more easily be fitted for wheelchairs, for example, first-floor master bedrooms are the norm and even hallways can be built wider if necessary.

VA home loans

Many military people don’t realize they have a housing benefit or how to it works. According to a 2010 survey by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 65 percent of the 22 million respondents said they had little or no understanding of the VA home loan program.

In addition, 32 percent said they weren’t even aware it existed and 36 percent said their lender never even discussed the VA loan option, even though a government-guaranteed VA loan is often the best bang for the military borrower’s buck.

Those numbers ring true to Louise Thaxton, a Louisiana loan officer with Fairway Independent Mortgage who is on a personal mission to make sure GIs returning from the Middle East get a fair shot at owning a home. 

Thaxton, who travels the country for Fairway teaching real estate agents how to work with those in the military, finds that military buyers typically are young people who are financially inexperienced.

Tony Nigro, director of operations at the Veterans Association for Home Ownership, agrees. “It’s a travesty that so few of our eligible veterans are financing their homes” with VA loans, he says.