They served us bravely, and so we thank them. Having defended our homeland, they deserve to own their own homes, and happily there is help available to make that easier. Established in 1930 but carrying on work dating back to the Revolutionary War, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs supports service members, veterans, and surviving spouses in myriad ways, and since 1944 one big one has been to assist them in becoming homeowners. But for post-911 veterans who have suffered severe injuries and are now looking for suitable housing, the picture is even better. The national non-profit organization Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes nationwide for severely injured post–9/11 veterans.
U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs
For veterans who meet its length of service requirements, the U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs makes possible extraordinarily generous loans and payment terms: no down payment, no mortgage insurance, and limited closing costs. “As far as low or no down payment programs go, I would put the VA at the top of the list,” says Movement Mortgage Loan Officer Jay Domenic. “The typical veteran has VA eligibility, which makes them eligible for 100% financing.” The VA itself doesn’t actually issue the loans; those are provided by private lenders like banks and mortgage companies. What the VA does is to guarantee a portion of the loan, allowing the lenders to offer the most favorable terms. VA-assisted loans do come with a guarantee fee—a percentage of the loan amount—but the fee can be financed (and is waived for veterans with service-connected disabilities). For first time users of the VA entitlement, the fee is just 2.15 percent.
A VA-guaranteed loan can be used to purchase an existing home or to pay for a newly constructed one, as long as the home will be the veteran’s primary residence. It can also be used to refinance an existing loan. The process is remarkably fast Domenic says, “we can typically close a VA loan in 30 days.”
Homes For Our Troops
Marine Corporal Kevin Blanchard endured over 30 surgeries, including several blood transfusions, after losing his left leg and sustaining serious injury to his right from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Iraq. For his service Blanchard earned a Purple Heart—and a new home in Crozet, thanks to Homes For Our Troops. Since its establishment in 2004 in Taunton, Massachusetts, the private non-profit foundation has provided mortgage-free homes for 225 veterans in 41 different states. Twenty-eight more homes are currently under construction, and over 50 more are already in the pipeline. Here in the Commonwealth, 14 homes have been completed, and two more are under construction.
Most HFOT recipients have sustained severe injuries, and live with after-effects like single or multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). HFOT homes are intended to restore some of the physical freedom and independence these warriors sacrificed on their country’s behalf.
To that end, HFOT works with local contractors to build one-level, 2,700-square foot homes, with features customized for each individual veteran. Over 40 major special adaptations are available to choose from. Hardwood floors, wide doorways and hallways, automatic doors and roll-in showers, for example, allow for ease of access, while roll-under countertops let wheelchair users work at the countertop without being obstructed by cabinets. Pull down shelving eliminates the need to reach up high or climb, reducing the risk of falling from a wheelchair.
While HFOT homes are mortgage-free, the organization applies ten-year liens to protect its donors and corporate partners. After five years, however, veterans begin building equity in the home, and after year ten it is entirely theirs. Each home is fully warrantied, and HFOT will fix most problems that might occur. Veterans themselves are responsible only for routine maintenance, taxes and general upkeep. HFOT’s thorough review and vetting process ensure they are prepared for the financial aspect of home-ownership, while providing them with sound financial advice.
“I heard about Homes For Our Troops through a friend and fellow Veteran I recovered with at Walter Reed Hospital,” Blanchard says. “He received a home several years ago and kept telling me I should apply. At the time, I didn’t think I would qualify and wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of home ownership until recently.”
When Blanchard began researching the program three years ago, he found it typically takes two to four years for applicants to receive homes. “I called HFOT and explained my situation,” he says. “They did a background check on my personal life, military retiree status, and personal finances.” A year after Blanchard completed his application, HFOT invited him to their annual conference, to give him a better understanding of the process. He was accepted into the program the following week.
Work has now begun on Blanchard’s L-shaped, one-floor ranch house, two-car garage, and back porch. It has been a community effort. REALTOR® Kathy Hall with Loring Woodriff Real Estate Associates was “instrumental,” Blanchard says, in helping him and his wife Myra find a lot to build on, in the Westlake development in Crozet. “We chose the Charlottesville area to be close to our family, and to enjoy the outdoors, and because Myra works for UVA. We chose Crozet because of its community-focused culture.”
Serving more than 1,000 real estate professionals and affiliate members throughout the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson, the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) is committed not only to its members but to their communities. “CAAR has been incredible in building awareness among its members, in encouraging support and individual contributions beyond its organizational gift, and in facilitating awareness around the community,” says Bill White, 2016 President of the Virginia Association of REALTORS. “It has been a champion of the relationship with Homes For Our Troops at every level.”
“CAAR helped spread the word about the program, and became a regional partner,” Blanchard says. Investing in partnerships, investing in communities, is “part and parcel,” White says, of what REALTORS® do.