(NewsNation) — Service members are struggling to keep up in the highly competitive housing market, experts say, despite using a government home loan service that’s typically appealing to both seller and buyer.
This fast-paced market is leaving veterans behind, said PJ Johnson, chair of the federal finance housing policy committee for the National Association of Realtors.
“I see it almost every day,” Johnson said. “Every day, they’re getting beat out.”
Historically, eligible buyers benefited from loans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because they aren’t required to make a down payment and the closing costs are controlled.
Sellers may find them attractive, as well, since the financing is already in place at the time of an offer, meaning there’s little chance the sale will fall through, Johnson said.
The default rate on a VA loan is less than 2%.
But at a time when sellers may receive competing offers and buyers are willing to waive anything perceived to delay the process, contingencies inherent with VA loans are now being labeled setbacks. Notably, VA loans require appraisals — a process that cash and conventional loan buyers are increasingly waiving in order to close faster.
Although VA loan buyers can waive certain repairs once an appraisal is complete, they can’t waive the initial process. The appraiser lists any repairs to meet the agency’s minimum property requirements, to ensure the home is structurally sound and safe for the service member, according to a VA spokesperson.
Appraisal turnarounds can take anywhere from seven to 20 business days and vary by city, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs website. Recently, turnaround on appraisals averaged 10.8 business days, the spokesperson said.
“The human impact is that for veterans not able to access the guaranteed veteran guarantee program, it could mean that … their deals fall apart; it’s just too expensive,” said Ken Fears, the senior policy representative for the National Association of Realtors. “And with rates, having increased 3 percentage points over the last year, it’s that much more important that they have access to this critical financing.”
It’s a problem that predates the current housing market, which has only exacerbated the issue.
About a year ago, house-hunting Army veteran Garry Crowe got a notification on his phone about a new property on the market. He was immediately interested and when he showed up to talk with the current owner, things seemed to be going well. But the seller turned Crowe away once he learned he was using a VA loan.
“He basically just looked at me and said, ‘Well, you might as well go ahead and leave,’” Crowe said. “‘There’s no sense in showing you the house. I’m not accepting any VA loans.’”
According to Crowe, the seller explained that he’d already put too much money into the house and worried that a VA inspection might require more costly repairs.
“That told me that he basically didn’t do everything he was supposed to do right on the house, and he knew the VA, whoever did my inspection, was gonna find it,” Crowe said.
The aversion to VA loans is fueled by misinformation about the program’s requirements, leaving veterans hanging in the balance, according to Fears.
“Unfortunately, in years past, there were problems getting appraisers,” Fears said. “There were problems with excess fees or closing on time. Largely, those have gone away. So we’re dealing with myths that were born of half-truths from the past.”
Last month, a group of lawmakers sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough asking the agency to modernize the loan process to make homeownership more accessible to U.S. veterans.
“VA borrowers are less successful than borrowers using conventional loan products, with 11% of VA borrowers changing loan products during their housing search, compared to only 1% of conventional borrowers who change financing methods,” the letter read, in part. “This is particularly concerning given the alarming levels of veteran homelessness in our nation.”