by Elizabeth Colegrove, Guest Contributor
My hobby is buying houses and renting them out. We have bought houses both as property to live in and rent out when we are transferred and for rentals as soon as we close.
As a military family we have learned that nothing is done as planned, especially when it comes to buying houses no matter how much experience you have in real estate. Every house we have bought has been an adventure from our first foreclosure to our 8-month short sale, to the two houses we have bought on my husband’s deployment, to our sight unseen house. While it is always much easier to buy when you know the area, as military families we have had to learn how to hit the ground running and buy great houses in new areas.
The key for us is to remember that while these are going to be our homes, where we raise our families and build memories, it is temporary until our next set of military orders.
Our success hinges on our ability to having an exit plan, since a mortgage is based on a 15- or 30-year commitment.
The right house can set you up for financial security long after you have moved on to your next adventure and the wrong one can cause ulcers. While you might think that the $200+ profit here and there from a house is not worth the energy. We personally owe our net worth of more than $400k directly to my passion of home buying and managing rental properties.
Here are my top 10 tips for buying a house as a military couple.
1. Be Reasonable with Your Must-Haves
We are a dual-income-no-kids (DINK) military family . Our goal is live as close to base as possible with the best rentability and the lowest budget. For others lots of bedrooms or a large backyard has been important. We have always gone in with 4 or less must-haves. The fewer requirements the better of a deal we have been able to find. We personally try to keep our requirements, to under 4 deal breakers.
Our current 4 requirements are:
- 2-car garage
- located less than a 30-minute commute from the base
- a Top 3 elementary school
- and priced under our established budget.
2. Come Up with a Reasonable Budget
The biggest mistake we have made over the years is to have an unreasonable budget. If your dream neighborhood is $300,000 to $380,000, having a budget of $250,000 will not cut it. We have circumvented this issue by learning to come up with our no-higher-than-this-price (say $320,000) budget and than trying to buy the best house for as cheap as possible ($300,000).
3. Consider a Fixer Upper
We personally LOVE fixer uppers. While our willingness to do bathroom renovations are out of our friends’ comfort zones, we know many more people who won’t buy a rainbow colored house, yet they spend the first 4 weeks painting their neutral house to fit their tastes.
If you are willing to paint a pretty house, you can save a bunch of money by buying an ugly one and painting it. The effort is the same, one simply has a bigger savings.
4. Have an Exit Plan
A mortgage is for 15 to 30 years. As the chance of us moving within this timeline is HUGE, it is important to know your exit plan (renting, selling, etc.) before you buy your house.
5. Buy a House that Fits Your Exit Plan
It is important that your house meets your plan. If you buy a house with the goal of renting it out and it rents for $300 less than your mortgage than that might not be a good plan. We personally do not buy a house that does not rent for at least $150 more than our mortgage. If your exit plan is selling make sure you can sell it for 6 to 10% more than you paid just to break even.
6. Appeal to the Masses
So far we have bought cheaper houses that appeal to O1 to O3 and young professionals. Since there are such a large number of these people versus an O5, we have always been able to rent our house even when houses come up off-season. While we have friends that have done well at these higher rates, renting during PCS season becomes even more important. So be mindful of who your house will appeal to and what that means regarding your exit plan.
7. Be Careful About Upgrades in a New Build
I know a few people who upgraded the carpet, put in tile showers, upgraded the counters, etc., in their new builds, dramatically increasing the cost. Unfortunately we have seen these same people have issues when they go to exit the home.
The right house can set you up for financial security long after you have moved on to your next adventure and the wrong one can cause ulcers.
Although they paid full price for these upgrades, most appraisers and buyers will not credit these house extras.
For example, a builder might charge $15,000 more for upgraded cabinets, but a buyer isn’t going to pay $15,000 for upgraded cabinets. Therefore while it was nice and might sell faster than a house that didn’t have the upgrades, this house may not get a higher price.
8. Be Flexible Regarding Your Timeline
We have gotten some great deals because we were willing to close in 10 days OR we were willing to wait 8 months for a short sale. Being young, we have not had money to throw at the situation, yet we have been able to be flexible. We have had sellers reduce their prices as compensation for our flexibility.
9. Find Out What a Seller Wants
In my experience, things other than money can be the deal breaker. We have always worked with amazing realtors who have found out the seller’s desires. By meeting those desires we have actually beaten out our competition.
For example, one seller wanted the money ASAP because he wanted to buy another house. So he accepted a $15,000 lower offer and never put the house on the market because we closed in 10 days.
Another seller chose us over a all-cash offer because we agreed to start the short sale process without ever seeing the home, therefore not disturbing the tenants.
10. Find a Great Realtor
My realtor has been one of my secret weapons. I go with one of the most highly rated realtors who specialize in my area. Although I have given up the $1,000 I would have received in cash back, their value has far exceeded any loss savings.
Every area is different and it is important to have a realtor who knows that area.
For example, in one of our markets, the area is so competitive that using a local broker is literally the deal breaker. We have won many deals simply because we used the local lender and our competition didn’t.
One Final Thought: You’re Not Buying Your Forever House
We have learned that these are not our forever homes. They are simply future investments. Therefore we only buy houses that meet our short-term goal (raising our family) and long-term plans (rental investments). While we these houses have sometimes only met our 4 “deal breakers” the financial savings have been amazing!
Are you a savvy house buyer? What are your tips for buying and selling homes as an investment?
Elizabeth is the author of reluctantlandlord, a blog about her journey as the owner of 7 homes and manager of 10 rental properties. She recently published her new ebook, The Everything Lease Addendum: A How-to for Landlords. When she isn’t blogging, writing ebooks, buying houses, you can find her traveling, reading or sailing with the hubby. Catch her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.