Published in The American Genius
On this Memorial Day in America, the following editorial is penned by Bob Goldberg, CEO of the National Association of Realtors®, America's largest trade association, to offer insight and deep gratitude for the many sacrifices made by our veterans, observing the role we have in helping to make their American Dreams come true:
Leslie Smith and his wife, Beth, don't have a story too dissimilar from most Americans.
In the early days of the pandemic, the young couple felt smothered by their 700-square-foot apartment in Washington, D.C.
They were fortunate to both have safe, stable jobs, but assumed they'd need a few more years to save up for a down payment on a home that fit them better. Still, feeling restless and unsettled, Leslie and Beth started looking at some larger rowhomes in the city.
Leslie, a veteran of the United States Navy, spent many of his enlisted years stationed aboard the USS Nimitz in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But his time in the service left him with two bad knees and an injured back, and he was honorably discharged in 2006.
Not long after beginning their home search, Leslie and Beth met a Realtor® who connected them to a loan officer with experience helping military and veteran homebuyers. Through their conversations, they learned that Leslie's time in the service, coupled with his qualified disability, opened up a world of possibilities they never knew existed through the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program.
The time they thought they'd need to save for a down payment? All but erased, given the terms of the VA loan for which they could qualify.
Concerns that a VA loan wouldn't cover the full price of a home in the high-cost D.C. market? No problem, as the cap for VA home loans was eliminated in 2019.
And the extra room in their monthly budget they assumed they'd need to cover private mortgage insurance? A non-factor, with Leslie's service-related disability ensuring their mortgage would contain no PMI no matter how much they put down.
"Right after seeing all of this," Leslie recounts today, "I turned to Beth and told her, 'Well, I guess we're ready now.'"
To hear Leslie and Beth tell their story, one can't help but feel proud that the VA home loan program is delivering on the benefits promised to those who served this nation in uniform. The couple lights up when discussing the value their home has gained since it was purchased, and they speak with such appreciation for all the people who helped them recognize the opportunities this program afforded.
But through these conversations also comes the realization that so much more can be done to ensure our veterans and their families understand the full scope of benefits available to them.
As they were finalizing the transaction, Leslie and Beth sat down to meet with their tax advisor, himself a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. When Beth disclosed the terms of their new mortgage—specifically the absence of any monthly PMI payment—the accountant assumed there must be a catch.
"You'll have to pay that money somehow," he told them. "They'll get you on it somewhere else."
"He was completely puzzled," Beth notes today. "We educated him a little bit… And we've since gone on to educate some of our friends who are veterans to make sure that they know this benefit is out there and that they can get into a home with nothing down."
Since its establishment at the height of World War II, the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program has helped some 25 million U.S. veterans purchase and maintain homes of all sizes in every corner of this country.
Homeownership is the American Dream. But it's not just about four walls and a roof, a front porch, or a fenced-in backyard for kids and dogs to run.
The American Dream is about what this space represents. It's about safety and comfort. Financial security. The opportunity to pursue our own happiness on our own property on our own terms. A home is where we are free, where we are loved, and where we are protected.
Homeownership is the American Dream because the places we call 'home' represent everything we hold dear as sovereign and fiercely independent Americans.
Every member of our armed services has sacrificed something in defense of these ideals—as have their spouses, children, and parents. We have a responsibility to help them achieve their American Dream.
The National Association of Realtors® has worked from our position as America's largest trade association to help ensure the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program remains an accessible resource for veterans looking to purchase a home as a benefit for their service.
Earlier this year, we released a two-part video series hosted by our 2022 President Leslie Rouda Smith examining many of the common misconceptions and advantages of the program.
Realtors® can also pursue a Military Relocation Professional certification to better prepare them to work with U.S. servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The program educates NAR members to make sure they are helping military homebuyers find the housing solutions that best meet their needs while taking advantage of every possible benefit.
As part of our broader advocacy efforts in Washington, NAR was one of the loudest voices pushing to remove the cap on VA home loans at the close of the last decade. It's a change that made a significant difference in the lives of Leslie and Beth, and for countless other veterans like them.
Today, Memorial Day, we remember all those who gave their lives in defense of this country. As we honor their immense sacrifices, we also look for ways to better recognize and repay the men and women who have survived the horrors of combat and returned home to live out the ideals they risked everything to protect.
Because when they do return, access to a safe, comfortable home should never be in question.
"We wouldn't be here without the VA loan," Beth says today of their beautiful, equity-rich property in Northwest D.C. "It's a phenomenal house, we're super grateful for it, and we want every veteran and military family to be aware that this benefit is out there for them, too."
Bob Goldberg is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Realtors®.