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Veterans United Live With Keller Williams: Creating a Military-Friendly Experience

Watch our live conversation above. Full transcript below.

There are thousands of veterans and military members looking to buy homes every day.

They need real estate agents who understand their unique needs and the homebuying benefits they've earned.

Veterans United was proud to join leaders from Keller Williams Realty for an important conversation about creating a military-friendly homebuying experience. Keller Williams is the largest real estate franchise company in North America.

Our 30-minute conversation covered a host of topics, including what veterans should look for in a real estate agent; how agents can make a big difference for their military clients; and how Keller Williams is helping those who've served achieve the dream of homeownership.

Sarah Hill, chief storyteller for Veterans United, served as host and moderator for a panel of homebuying and military experts:

  • Chris Heller, President of Keller Williams Worldwide
  • Schuyler Williamson, Director of Keller Williams Commercial and an Army veteran
  • Jack Tilley, 12th Sergeant Major of the Army (Ret.)
  • Frederick "Jim" Finch, 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (Ret.)
  • Chris Birk, Director of Education for Veterans United and author of "The Book on VA Loans"

Here's the transcript from our live conversation from Keller Williams headquarters in Austin, Texas.


Sarah: Hello and thanks for joining us live from Austin, Texas, from the international headquarters of Keller Williams Realty, the nation’s largest real estate company in North America. We are so glad that you are here with us today. I'm Sarah Hill from Veterans United Home Loans. In the next 30 minutes, we are talking about how you could help educate veterans on how to achieve the dream of home ownership. We’ve assembled a great panel of experts here today in the real estate in the Linden community and also in the military community as well.

We want to start with a statistic. Did you know that on average veterans and military families move about 2.5 times more than their civilian counterparts? 2.5 times more. So we’re talking today about how you can create a military friendly home buying experience. Let’s start with some introductions. First we have Chris Heller. He is the president of Keller Williams Worldwide. So glad to have you here with us today.

Chris Heller: Yeah, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Sarah: Also have Schuyler Williamson. He’s the director of KW Commercial.

Schuyler: Thank you.

Sarah: And a veteran as well, so thank you for your service.

Schuyler: Absolutely.

Sarah: We also have in studio with us today, Jack Tilley. He is the 12th Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army.

Jack: Hooah!

Sarah: Hooah! Thank you for your service. Also we have Jim Finch. He is the 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

Jim: Thanks Sarah. Great to be here.

Sarah: So, so appreciating you both sharing your time today to talk about this very important topic. Also joining us today via Google Plus Hangout is Elisha Gutloff. She is from Keller Williams Preferred Realty in North Carolina. Elisha, how are you doing today?

Elisha: Great. Great to be here.

Sarah: Great to have you here. Also joining us from the Veterans United Home Loans Studios in Columbia, Missouri, is Chris Birk. He is the author of "The Book on VA Loans." He is also the education director for Veteran United Home Loans. Hey Chris, how are you doing?

Birk: Hi Sarah. I'm great. Thanks so much.

Sarah: Great. Well, welcome everyone. Let’s start with you Chris Heller, President of Keller Williams Worldwide. What is Keller Williams doing to help veterans achieve the dream of home ownership?

Chris Heller: You know there’s, there’s not, not a lot of mystery to it. You know the most important thing we can do as, as agents, as a company is to make sure that our agents are well informed, that they know what, what the uh parameters are and what the requirements are and how to best help people. Also making sure that our lending partners are well versed in, in VA loans and know how to help guide our buyers to maximize the benefit that they have available to them.

Sarah: That's one of the things that we’ll be talking about today. Jack Tilley is the 12th Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army. How many did you have under your command?

Jack: About 1.3 million.

Sarah: Wow. That is incredible.

Jack: The senior list of non-commissioned officers is 1.3 million or so.

Sarah: So talk to the agents out there and what do our agents need to understand about this unique situation of the veteran home buyer and explain the concept called PCSing.

Jack: Well, PCS is Permanent Change of Station, when you go from one station to another station and that’s not too hard, but the problem with PCS is what happens when you get to your next station? What school are you going to stay in? What school are you going to send your kids to? Where are you going to live? What kind of the community? What's the crime rate in the community?

A lot of people think that everybody lives on a military installation. Only 25 percent of the people really live on an active duty military installation. 75 percent live out in the civilian sector. So it's, it’s not as easy as you think it is to find a good home for a military family, especially when they move from one, one location to another and normally they have only about 30 to 45 days to find that home too.

Sarah: 30 to 45 days. A reminder, you’re watching a live conversation about how to create a military friendly home buying experience. We are live in Austin, Texas, from the international headquarters of Keller Williams. And we’re talking with Chris Birk, who is the author of "The Book on VA Loans." He’s joining us virtually from our Veterans United Home Loans Studio in Columbia, Missouri. What should agents, Chris, why should they be talking to clients about the VA home loan program?

Chris Birk: Well Sarah, this historic problem program is in many ways more important now than it's ever been. Veterans have flocked in record numbers -- in a time of tight credit and tough lending -- to this loan program's more flexible and forgiving requirements. It's also a program that offers significant financial benefits for qualified buyers, mainly the ability to purchase with no money down, no mortgage insurance and credit score requirements that are significantly lower than what buyers will typically need for conventional financing.

This is a deserving demographic that has historically and still to the present day truly believes in the power of homeownership. And it's a program that has helped level the playing field and ensure access to homeownership for a lot of folks who would otherwise struggle to secure financing. The other reason it’s so important for real estate agents to understand the power and potential of VA loans is that despite the incredible growth since the housing crash, millions of veterans are still missing out. VA studies have shown about 1 in 3 homebuying veterans don’t know they have a home loan benefit. 1 in 3.

Real estate agents can make a tremendous difference and help to close that awareness gap by asking a very simple question to every client they come in contact with: “Did you serve?” It doesn’t mean that a VA loan is automatically the best fit for every veteran and military buyer out there. In some cases it won’t be. But for the vast majority of veterans and service members out there, this is the most powerful mortgage option on the market. And for some, it’s really their only financially feasible path to homeownership in the here and now.

At Veterans United, we’ve been proud to partner with a national awareness campaign that’s really centered on that question and educating real estate agents about VA loans. It's called, “Did You Serve?” and they ask agents across the country to visit their website, and take their pledge. It's a pledge to start asking that question of every client you come into contact with from here on out. You could be making a tremendous difference in the life of a veteran or a service member. You could be saving them tens of thousands of dollars and you might also be helping them tap into a hard-earned benefit they didn’t even know they had.

Sarah: That question, “Did you serve?” and we should also let our real estate agents know that you have the opportunity to ask a question as well. If you have a question for one of our panelists, you can just ask on the social platform on which you’re watching, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube. We will get to those questions and would be happy to answer them. Elisha Gutloff in North Carolina, let’s go to you of Keller Williams Preferred Realty. I want to know, do you approach the home buying experience with a veteran differently than you would with your civilian counterpart?

Elisha: I’d say absolutely. One of the great things I like with working for, uh working with veterans and military families is that they already have an understanding of process and communication and the importance of both. So when I'm working with a veteran buyer or military family, I'm always heavy focused on just explaining and educating them on how the VA guidelines, or Veteran guidelines will and can impact their home buying experience. And then also more importantly, how it also impact their due diligence process.

Oftentimes we have do, as agents, we have to be a lot more proactive um in researching properties, making sure we find properties that are going to best meet the family’s needs and criteria, but more importantly also be in alignment with the VA guidelines as well.

Sarah: Let’s go to Schuyler Williamson. You served in the 82nd Airborne.

Schuyler: Yes.

Sarah: Thank you very much for your service. You also used your VA home loan benefit. So talk a little bit about what motivated you to use that benefit.

Schuyler: Yeah, I, I was very young when I purchased my first home. So one of the, the key or top priorities was that I didn’t bring a lot of money to the closing table. So we, we were speaking with a lender. There were two options available, FHA loan or a VA loan. Um, and as we went thought the benefits of each, it was clear that the VA loan accomplished the priority that we were looking for and then added the benefit of no private mortgage insurance.

So 100 percent financing and no private mortgage insurance was a huge contributor to why we ultimately chose the VA loan. And I think it's important to, to speak too a little bit about the VA loan. A lot of the soldiers and sergeant major, you probably know this, a lot of the soldiers would say “Yeah, I know what the VA loan is,” but they don’t really know what the value a VA loan can do for them. And I think that if it was articulated clearly to them, we’d have absolutely a lot more home owners out there that are soldiers.

Jack: If you, sorry, just to answer real quick. One is in Schuyler’s right on target. The fact is that you’re so focused on being a soldier or airman or whatever you get some folks in the military that you’re really not concerned about your home loan. If you can simply just educate the spouse. I tell everybody, educate the spoke about the home loans, what goes on, it would be just so much cleaner. And I think we missed the bubble on that. I also think we ought to place something in the military educational system about your benefits and entitlements. Home loans is one of them, but I think the military has been missing the bubble on that one for a long time.

Sarah: Jack Tilley. Jim Finch.

Jim: For many, for many years the VA loans and in fact some of the VA benefits were misunderstood or not really expressed as people were separating. In today’s environment as people separate or retire and transition out of the military, there’s a campaign certainly going on with the transition program to make sure people know that they have their benefits. In fact they know that they have a VA benefit. But knowing you have a benefit and then knowing what that really means as Schuyler is saying are two different things.

And so the question comes up is where do you go to get the rest of the information? I mean knowing that you have one, where do you go? Typically people will go either to the real estate agent as the trusted agent or to a mortgage lender, trying to find the rest of the story. I encourage people to do that.

Chris Heller: I think, you know as an agent for 27 years, I always took it upon myself as my responsibility to be knowledgeable enough to be able to explain that. And it’s not just to the buyers. You know, when we’re presenting an offer for, for one of our VA buyers, making sure that the seller and the seller’s agent understand the VA loan, because we find a lot of times if they don’t understand it, they have a predisposition towards it or prejudice against it because they, you know, they may have some misconceptions about costs or those things. So, you know educating not only the, the buyer as to the benefits they have for them, but they can use, but also educating the seller and their agent. So, when there is two offers they’re considering, you know they’re considering yours in the same light as any other offer they might be receiving.

Jim: Absolutely.

Sarah: Speaking of agents, thank you to all of the agents watching. Duane Rockette. Also Keller Williams agent Zach Ivey watching on our live stream today. We would love to answer some of your questions. Jim Finch, 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, you also used your VA home loan benefit in order to purchase a house. Can you talk to some of the agents and veterans out there who might be watching about the value of purchasing versus renting?

Jim: Well, it’s always a case-by-case situation. But typically on active duty, your options when you PCS or Permanent Change of Station as Jack has said, your options are to live on base if there’s available housing, or rent in the local community, typically in apartments, or perhaps buy a home. I always found that is if you wanted a house, there weren’t very many homes in the rental market. But if you, if you wanted to buy a home, not only could you get the American dream of homeownership, but it opened the door to a whole variety of options that you didn’t have before. And so, it just opens the door for potential.

Jack: Well, the other thing about that too is a lot of you younger soldiers really don’t have the -- they’re not senior ranks so they can’t live on post. A lot of your E-4s and below are going to live off a military installation somewhere. And a lot of them are going to rent because they can’t afford to buy a home.

Sarah: Let’s go to Elisha in North Carolina. Elisha, when a veteran is PCSing, what should an agent be thinking about?

Elisha: The agent should be thinking about the main concerns or needs for the veteran military families. In addition, I have found it very helpful to know what military resources are available in your community, whether it’s accessible to a VA hospital, whether it’s a military friendly university if your particular client is looking to further their education. But there is all sorts of resources that are available to these families in your communities, and that is a priority, I would say, would be my first priority when working with that client is really, really understanding what the needs are for that family, and then how I can best assist them to get a win-win situation.

Jack: You know the other thing about that is for military families, too bad there is not a list on your website that says, you know like, “Here are the best schools. Here is a VA hospital. Here is, you know, a list 10 or 15 things on that website that answers those questions for that military spouse. And a lot of times instead of them going out and trying to find the answers, they can just look in your website and find that. The other thing is, is having the word of mouth I think sells your organization. So if they had the trust and confidence in that organization that they’re talking to about houses or whatever, they’ll pass that word around and that really sends a lot of clients your way.

Sarah: To remind you, you’re watching a live conversation about how to create a military-friendly home buying experience. Schuyler, let’s go to you as a military buyer, what qualities did you look for in a real estate agent and what qualities did you appreciate?

Schuyler: Well. I appreciate speed (laughs). When Sergeant Major was talking about buyers that are PCSing being motivated --

Jack: Yeah.

Schuyler: To help their wives and their families get adjusted as quickly as possible. I wanted to find an agent that can deliver on a home buying process as quickly as possible. So I think that that expectation has to be made right upfront how quick we can move and, uh, what that’s going to look like. And for me as a soldier, you can win me very quickly by sitting me down in your office and showing me a map. And then show me on the map where everything is, and where those resources are and benefits that are available. I think, I think most soldiers are very comfortable with the map setting.

It’s a way for an agent to save a lot of time that they normally spend in the car explaining to people where, where things are. Soldiers are very comfortable with seeing a map and saying, “Okay, I don’t have to see the neighborhood. I understand now what’s around me.” So speed is the first thing. The second thing that I would just recommend looking back, two things. If I would have known to ask my agent, "What is your value proposition beyond the initial transaction?"

All of us in the military. Well, I shouldn’t say all of us. Most of us are only at our duty stations for a short amount of time and then we move on. If an agent -- if I were a soldier looking at this and trying to decide what agent I was going to pursue, I would want one that could articulate, “Here is my value proposition beyond the initial transaction, and how I’m going to help you take care of that property beyond the third year.”

Or, “Hey, here is what the resale may look like three years from now.” Or, “Here is what we can rent it for and this is what it looks like.’’ And then the second part that complements that is all soldiers like the idea of building wealth. I think. I think every single soldier you’ll talk to, they would like to be wealthy. But there is not a tremendous amount of wealthy soldiers in the military.

Jack: Absolutely.

Schuyler: And I think that if you as an agent can articulate how to use real estate as a wealth builder, and what that can do for your future, and then coach that soldier throughout this, this process that they have the, the asset, I think that’s a huge value proposition. And I guarantee you that if my agent were to deliver, even one of the books that Keller Williams write told, which teaches you how to buy and hold properties as a wealth builder, I would own many more properties than I do today because affordability, uh, wasn’t an issue for me. It was an education. I needed, I needed a wealth building coach to help me understand real estate and what it could do for my future. So that’s what I would recommend for soldiers looking at real estate agents in the future.

Jim: I certainly agree with the speed portion of that because service members and veterans who are transitioning out of the military, when they get to a location, typically they have families. Not all of them, but typically for those who had families, the first order of business is to find a school, which means you have to find where are you going to live relative to the school district? And that drives a lot, especially if you were doing the school year. You don’t want to get up and uproot your, your children and move around again. So, I mean, you’ll need to find a place that was what always drove us. We need to find a place now. That’s our, that’s our highest priority remember. And then the rest of it will fall into place. Help us do that.

Jack: You, you know, I was trying to think of how many times I PCSed -- I can’t remember to tell you the truth. But I do remember one thing about that. My wife always took care of all that stuff. I would always go in advance. I’d get there on the ground. I’d look, try to find a house or where we’re going to live. But she did the heavy lifting. So that’s why I always say it’s important, even if you’re mentoring somebody, to make sure that you not only mentor the service member, but you also mentor the spouse, because the spouse is the one, because, because Schuyler is right on target, when I get there, when I got to every station, the first thing I want to do is try to find a home for my wife.

The next thing I want to do is to go to work. I’m just motivated about going to work. So even though you’re focused on that, the spouse is the one that’s doing the heavy lifting. And so I think that’s the one you really got to connect with uh, even, even more than the service member.

Schuyler: Right. Yeah. I think as a soldier, as a soldier, if it’s a safe area, it has a good school --

Jack: Absolutely.

Schuyler: And is close to post …

Jack: You’re good to go.

Schuyler: I’m going to be happy (laughs) because I’m used to sleeping in the dirt anyway. So I’m going to be okay.

Jack: Yeah. You’re right on target there.

Sarah: Well. Let’s go to Chris Heller, President of Keller Williams Worldwide and talk a little about trends. What are some of the trends in the real estate community as it relates to military buyers?

Chris Heller: Well, where we are in the market, most parts of the country, it’s -- the markets recovered and recovered substantially from where it was a few years ago. It’s very active in most parts of the country. So, I think the current trend is that we have more people buying now that we did a few years ago. With the changes in, in lending, with lenders, the VA loan has become much more attractive than it had in the past. Not that it wasn’t attractive in the past, but there were a lot of other options.

There are now not as many options for, for our veterans and for the buyers that don’t have big down payments, which makes someone who has VA eligibility something that they’re really excited about and are using and we’re seeing a lot of that. You know I spent 27 years in San Diego, the home of the Pacific fleet and you know Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and naval station and all those areas that we helped a ton of veterans that were always buying and selling.

Sarah: Absolutely. And you know speak, speaking of the VA loan, there are some common myths and misconceptions about the VA home loan benefit. Chris Birk, if you can join us and talk just basically, uh about what are some of those myths and misconceptions about the VA home loan benefit?

Chris Birk: You know Sarah, there are still a lot, and I think something that all of us do, day in day out, is try to beat back some of these lingering myths and misconceptions. We can spend another half hour talking about a bunch of them, but I think there’s an overarching, pervasive misconception that this is somehow an inferior loan product -- that VA loans cost more than the other loan types, that they somehow hamper buyers in the marketplace and that they’re unsafe. And the reality is none of those concepts really meets up with the facts on the ground.

On a typical $200,000 loan, an FHA buyer will pay about $200 more each month for that mortgage. Conventional and VA will be similar, the difference being that the veteran didn’t need $10,000 in cash and a 740 credit score just to be in the conversation.

As far as hurting buyers in the marketplace, in October the average conventional purchase loan closed in 39 days, VA was a day later. If you look at the closing success rate over the last three months, VA loans actually closed at a higher rate of success compared to conventional. So in the current marketplace, a preapproved VA buyer is a pretty safe bet.

Last, that is this is an unsafe product because of the zero-down benefit. This is and as a former reporter, it's one of the most under-covered, under-the-radar stories to my mind in all of housing and finance. And that’s that these have been the safest loans on the market for nearly all of the last six years despite the fact that most buyers put zero down. It's a story that not enough people know about and it’s all wrapped into this overarching idea that this is a bad loan. This is quite possibly the strongest, safest loan product out there for your buyers.

Sarah: All right. Chris Birk, the author of "The Book on VA Loans" and also the education director at Veteran United Home Loans. I want to go and get some final thoughts from our group here, starting with Schuyler Williamson, Director of Keller Williams Commercial.

Schuyler: I think, again just to reiterate what I said earlier, our residential agents want to win more business from soldiers. I think being able to articulate your value proposition beyond the initial transaction and then be a coach for that soldier on how they can build wealth and how they can live a life bigger than what is talked about around the barracks. I think by doing that, you create opportunity and you win loyalty. And I think it's a win, not only for the soldier because you’re going to help them achieve goals that they don’t even know how to set, but I think you’re going to win a lot of loyalty as an agent as well, more business because if that.

Sarah: And for the agents who are just joining us, mention what you said again about the map and why that resonates with a veteran.

Schuyler: Oh, Well, you know look, like Sergeant Major said, I think the bulk of the business is done with the spouses rather than the soldiers. But for me if you can set a map on the table and, and show me where I'm at and then explain to me the value proposition of each area around post, I'm going to feel very comfortable with that conversation to the point where I don’t know if I need to ride around very much to be able to say yes or no to a house in an area. I think if you answer those, those few basic questions, you show me the map and then you make my spouse happy and my family, I'm on board.

Sarah: On board, indeed. 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Jim Finch.

Jim: I would say that the key to all of this, both for the agents and for the military service members and families who are looking to buy a home is, ultimately is you’ve got to find a trusted agent to figure out what’s the best deal for you personally. And there will be a lot of people out there who will say don’t go for the VA loan because it's too hard or too complicated to do.

And I would dispel that as myth, saying that there’s options out there that you need to explore and you can find someone who you can connect with. Typically, it's going to be the real estate agent. It could also be the mortgage lender. In my case I went with Veterans United, mostly because I trusted the people who we were working with, with the loan process that they were trying to make sure that I got the right kind of deal that was good for my situation.

Sarah: Jack Tilley, 12th Sergeant Major in the US Army.

Jack: All right. That what I'm talking about.

Sarah: (Laughter) Talk to these agents. Talk to these veterans down there. What do they need to know?

Jack: One of the things I want you to remember is that, and I always tell people this, 86 percent of our force is enlisted, we’ve been at war for over 13 years. There has been over 50,000 wounded, I think it is, over 6,000 killed, 1 in 5 on active duty have some form of PTSD or TBI or PTS I guess they call it now. And I think when you’re talking to the service member, you need to make sure that you speak their language and understand what their concerns are.

So, so I’d ask to be a good listener, have a good plan. Have that map that Schuyler was talking about, about being able to see from A to point B because they’re looking for somebody that they have trust and confidence in as a real estate agent. So I think that for me that’s one of the most important parts, other than talk to the spouse. Make sure the spouse understands exactly what her needs and her husband’s needs are.

Sarah: Elisha Gutloff in North Carolina from Keller Williams Preferred Realty.

Elisha: Yes.

Sarah: How about you? What would you tell agents?

Elisha: I would tell agents in order to facilitate a military friendly homebuying experience for their clients, it is essential to proactive. You have to be service oriented, definitely have to be detail oriented. But more importantly, you really do need to listen to the needs and understanding of your client and their families. They’ve just given so much and sacrificed so much. And so when they come into my office and they meet with me for a buyer consultation, I'm just overwhelmed by the stories that I hear. It definitely helps me to clarify you know their specific wants and needs and then we can all just focus on what those needs are, understand what those guidelines are and how they’re going to impact the process so that again we can help them achieve their dream of homeownership.

Sarah: Achieving that dream yes. Chris Birk, author of "The Book on VA Loans." Education very important and that’s what you do.

Chris Birk: It is, and I think as far as agents are concerned, it's just taking a fresh look at the VA loan and this program as an option. At the end of the day it’s about finding the right loan for the right veteran or service member. It may not be VA loan, but just making sure that you’re able to wade through some of those myths and misconceptions. The director of the VA loan program in D.C. likes to say this is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s VA loan. So if it's been a long time since you worked with this program, the bureaucracy, the red tape that you may think is there, this is a very different program today and it's making a huge difference for those who have given so much.

Sarah: All right. Chris Heller, President of Keller Williams Worldwide. How do we educate um these agents about their VA benefit and all the options out there?

Chris Heller: There is no shortage of information out there. You know for our 110,000 agents and any agent for that matter out there listening, you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your clients to be informed. You know some of the most fulfilling and, and greatest transactions I had were you know serving our military. And, and you know Chris mentioned about this being a safe loan. These are great clients to work with. You know the buyers and sellers they’re in the military and they’re being transferred, they are motivated.

You know they want help. They want advice. They want you to take them and show them what they need to do. And to Schuyler’s point earlier too, you know there were many times where if I had a client and I knew they were being transferred and it was only going to be for a year or two, we talked about you know the possibility of them holding on to that property and, and letting it build equity for them while they were gone and then coming back to it or selling it at a later date. And those things made a dramatic impact in the lives of those soldiers. So for our agents, any agent out there, you absolutely need to be well educated and understand how to best serve these great buyers and sellers.

Sarah: Chris Heller, President of Keller Williams Worldwide. So appreciate you, you joining us also, our retired military leaders and our agents online and Chris Birk as well in Columbia, Missouri.

Tell an agent about what you learned today. “Did you serve?” Ask that question. Three little words that could be a giant leap towards home ownership. We are live from the international headquarters of Keller Williams Realty in Austin, Texas. Thanks for watching. Thanks for serving. Thanks for serving those who serve.