National Association of REALTORS® President Leslie Rouda Smith testified before Congress Wednesday, encouraging lawmakers to further help veterans achieve the American dream of homeownership. The hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity brought together lawmakers and housing industry leaders to brainstorm ways to remove barriers specific to veteran homeownership.
“NAR has a tradition of service: 12% of our members are veterans or have a spouse or partner who is a veteran. That’s about 180,000 strong,” Rouda Smith said during her opening remarks. “The overarching theme in our policy solutions is to afford every veteran the opportunity to build wealth through homeownership.”
Rouda Smith highlighted the importance of strengthening the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program during her testimony, citing its benefits for borrowers and its role in closing the racial homeownership gap. “The VA Home Loan Guaranty program offers many unique benefits, including a zero down payment requirement,” said Rouda Smith. “VA loan delinquency rates are lower than FHA loans and comparable to conventional loans. With more than 90% of veterans choosing a no down payment option, this program shows that prudent underwriting and servicing is key.
“Sixteen percent of Black Americans received financing through the VA in 2018, compared to 9% of White Americans. Clearly, hurdles faced by VA borrowers will disproportionally impact home buyers of color. And, unfortunately, many elements of the VA loan program meant to protect veterans and service members are instead keeping them on the sidelines in today’s housing market.”
Following her testimony, Rouda Smith fielded questions from members of the committee and drew on her expertise as a 36-year real estate veteran in Texas. Committee Chairman Mike Levin (D-CA) brought up the appraisal process. “There are problems with the appraisal process, which can undermine the closing if it is longer than the review period,” Rouda Smith said. “VA appraisers are hard to come by, and the best way to solve that problem is to attract more appraisers to serve them. We need to pay them more.”
During the question-and-answer period of the hearing, Rouda Smith also had the opportunity to promote NAR’s Military Relocation Professional credential, which educates REALTORS® about working with U.S. service members and their families and veterans.
Rouda Smith spoke to NAR’s efforts to improve the homebuying process for veterans and offered lawmakers four policy recommendations:
- Provide greater flexibility to make VA loan borrowers more competitive, noting one of the VA program’s most significant disadvantages has been the limitations on fees.
- Oppose any increase in funding fees to offset costs associated with non-housing–related expenditures.
- Ensure veterans and service members understand the advantages of a VA home loan through more robust marketing of the program.
- Improve the home renovation and rehabilitation program.
Along with NAR, representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans United Home Loans, and American Legion were present for the hearing.