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Home buying 101 for veterans

The portion of the G.I. Bill that allows veterans to obtain home loan guarantees through the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to be one of the best opportunities for veterans to buy homes.

I can attest to that.

Many years ago I took advantage of the program to purchase my first house. That set me on a path of home ownership over time that allowed me to move up to nicer and more expensive homes. That first house laid my financial foundation. (No pun intended, really!)

The VA loan is not a loan from the VA itself, but rather a VA guarantee to the lender that if the veteran doesn’t pay, the government will. Veterans can apply for the correct paperwork directly to the VA, or they can go through a Veterans Service Officer from any of the major organizations such as the VFW, the DAV or the American Legion, or through the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.

All of the above groups do not charge for their assistance. And most major real estate firms have someone on staff who is familiar with VA programs and can assist veterans with paperwork. Many Realtors in Southern Nevada are experienced working with the VA and offer extra incentives to veterans.

In addition to the VA program, there are other opportunities for financial assistance concerning homes. Robert Cook Jr. is an Air Force veteran and Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Southern Nevada. He said his company works with builders Shea Homes and D.R. Horton that give back to veterans and their families who buy from one of those companies and Cook.

At the close of escrow, veterans and their families who purchase select homes from Shea Homes will receive a $3,000 incentive at the firm’s design center. Buying from Horton will allow eligible veterans to receive up to four percent toward closing costs, plus a $5,000 design center credit. And Cook has his own rebate program for veterans and members of their immediate families. Depending on the cost of a home, he offers a sliding scale of cash rebates from $350 up to $3,400. For more information on the above programs, Cook can be reached at 702-810-6390.

TItle insurance is an expense that comes with closing costs. Sometimes it’s paid by the seller, sometimes by the buyer and sometimes it’s split. Ticor Title of Nevada is offering a 20 percent discount to veterans when they use Ticor in the transaction. They can be contacted at 775-324-7400.

Getting a loan is the start of a long-term financial commitment, and making monthly payments requires discipline and planning. The VA publishes a free booklet entitled “Pointers for the Veteran Homeowner.” It’s a guide for veterans who have a VA loan, and offers detailed information on how veterans can protect a home and their investment. (It’s Pamphlet 26-5.)

In addition, VeteransPlus.org is a private organization that provides financial solutions to veterans to help them with their economic goals. They assist veterans in connecting with non-profit groups that offer help about becoming a homeowner, understanding credit scoring and debt and liability management, among other topics.

Disabled veterans have a variety of benefits from the VA available concerning homes. Those eligible can apply for specially-adapted housing and special home-adaptation grants, and mortgage life insurance.

Another Realtor who regularly works with veterans is Tim Kelly Kiernan, of RE/MAX Benchmark. Kiernan helps veterans buy with their VA eligibility, but he also is an expert in so-called “short sales” and assists veterans in getting out from underneath loans and homes with negative equity.

“I have been fortunate to work with hundreds of veterans buying and selling home for many years,” he said. He said that eligible sellers who qualify with short sales can often take advantage of the government’s New Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives guidelines and receive a cash settlement under the right conditions. He can be reached at 702-241-8611.

It’s a tribute to the United States that the government and numerous private companies offer financial incentives to those who served, making it easier for them to experience home ownership. Even with professional assistance, home buying is a complicated affair. It pays to check around and use licensed, experienced individuals who have worked with veterans and who know the opportunities available.

Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a Purple Heart recipient. Every other Sunday he discusses veterans’ issues over several Lotus Broadcasting AM radio stations in Southern Nevada.

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