Military Relocation Professional (MRP) Certification
The MRP certification educates you about working with current and former military service members. You will learn to find the housing solutions that best suit their needs and how to take advantage of military benefits and support.
“It’s designed to help agents understand what the military is working with, limitation wise, and any benefits that they can take advantage of,” says McFarland, who’s also an MRP instructor.
“By getting my MRP certification,” says Leonardi, “I gained essential knowledge about what military clients need. I think it helps them trust me when they hire me as their agent. There is also a great network, and other REALTORS® gain peace of mind knowing that anyone with the MRP certification will take care of military clients.”
Learn about the MRP designation at militaryrelocationpro.org.
If there’s one trait most military clients share, it’s that they don’t have much time.
“If you’re working with active-duty military, they may only have three days to a week to find a house,” says Mac McFarland, a retired Marine and Director of Agent Development at RE/MAX Elite Mission. “You’re trying to look at houses, write up offers, and negotiate like crazy in three days.”
Karen Fraley, an agent with M. Stagers Realty Partners in San Antonio and self-described military brat, echoes that sentiment: “You have to be able to move fast with your military clients because they may just have one week to come in.”
Prepare and Ask Questions
Because of the short timeframes, it helps to do as much preparation as possible before meeting with military clients. You don’t have the luxury of looking at houses for several days.
“We talk to them numerous times,” says Michael Zehr, Broker/Owner with Armadillo Properties in Copperas Cove and a retired Army officer. “We send them information about different properties to narrow down what they’re interested in. So when you have the first face-to-face meeting, you already know what they want. You’re not spending days driving around looking at properties.”
Part of that preparation involves knowing your market inside and out. “It’s important to know what’s new to the market today, what came back on the market, what is coming soon,” says Pamela Leonardi, an agent with Paramount Real Estate Services in Wichita Falls who’s married to an active-duty Air Force member. “When someone calls me and needs to see something today, I’ll know what’s available and I’ll be there.”
Another factor is where the clients are in their careers and what their future plans are. Your role as an advisor is to figure out what’s best for your clients, and military ones are no exception.
“You have to ask them, ‘Are you retiring here? Is this your last assignment? How long are you going to be here?’” says Fraley. “For many of them, they’re stationed somewhere for three years. If it’s a crazy market—like it’s been in San Antonio—maybe they’re better off renting. Or maybe they’re ready to invest in a property and rent it when they move on.”
“During my 20 years as an active-duty Marine, I never bought a home,” says McFarland. “I didn’t know any better and I didn’t see the benefit of buying. But today, as an agent, I understand the benefit. I understand how it can be a long-range benefit for them.”
Don’t Forget About Veterans
Veterans may not have the time limitations of active-duty military, but they still face challenges with financing and understanding the benefits available to them. There are more than 1,500,000 veterans in Texas, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The MRP designation course provides information about working with veterans and helping them take advantage of existing programs. You can also find information from the Texas Veterans Land Board at https://vlb.texas.gov/.
Be Flexible and Understanding
Most active-duty military are far from the market where they need to find housing. They’re wrapping up their previous deployment and could be selling a house in that area. In that case, spouses or other relatives might be with you in person, helping the absent military member. Consider ways to leverage technology to help military clients feel comfortable with their housing decision.
“You might be dealing in-person with a spouse instead of the military member—that happens a lot. The military spouse may be overseas or in similar circumstance where they can’t be there,” says McFarland. “I might do a video for them or a video chat as if they were walking through the house.”
Certain markets have seen many purchases where the clients never visited in person.
“About 80% of my military clients buy without visiting the property,” says Leonardi. “It’s not a great situation to arrive on base and have to wait for housing—especially active-duty military with young children—so military clients choose to rely on virtual tours. I’ve gotten really good at making video home tours, including using a drone to show the area to my clients.”
Zehr has also seen an uptick in clients who never visit the property: “We’ve had a lot of sight-unseen homebuyers. There was just no time for them to look at the property and decide if they want to make an offer—the house was gone. It’s happening a lot with renters, too. Texas REALTORS® developed a form that I use, Residential Lease Sight Unseen Addendum, where clients can indicate if they saw it online or had someone else visit.”
Fraley says that despite the short timelines, remember the human aspect of these transactions, because there can be a lot of emotion involved. “They don’t always get to choose where they’re going,” she says. “There’s plenty of stress. They may be coming to a city they know nothing about, and it’s all happening fast.”
Many active-duty military use Veterans Administration loans because they don’t require a down payment. That’s great for members of the military, but there are misconceptions about VA loans that can hurt your clients.
“The most common challenge I see for my military clients is sellers not wanting to accept VA loans,” says Fraley. “It’s critical to pair your clients with a good VA lender, someone who knows the product. Then when someone tells my clients, ‘You can’t do that,’ the lender can step in and make it work.”
Leonardi adds that you also need to learn about VA loans if you’re going to service this community: “It took me a few years after I started in 2015 to learn that certain properties won’t work with VA loans. It helps my military clients know which properties to focus on.”
McFarland agrees that you need to know VA loans and suggests another loan product to consider when working with military clients: “Look at the Texas Veterans Land Board. A veteran or active military member buying in Texas is eligible for their programs, one of which is a home loan with discounted rates that’s an overlay on a VA loan.”
He also notes that there is plenty of misinformation among military buyers about VA loans. “One active-duty member of the military attending a first-time homebuyers seminar at a VFW in San Antonio was asked if he’d thought about using a VA loan. The guy says, ‘No. I haven’t retired yet.’ That’s what I’m talking about: There are military members who don’t understand what they can and cannot do.”
The Experience of Military Clients
Fraley says that active-duty military make great clients.
“The attitude of teamwork is really strong with members of the military,” she says. “Teamwork, trust, and decisiveness. They usually are clear on something, they decide, and they stick with it. We often look at all clients the same. I like thinking that we owe more to our military clients.”
McFarland agrees: “Our job, as real estate agents, is to help people. And these transactions are a huge opportunity to serve them.”