The Truth About the VA Loan

Military HeadshotAs a former United States Marine and a Veteran of Foreign Wars, I have a passion for working with US Military Veterans. When I began my real estate career in April 2013, I immediately set out to work with Veterans. Why? I knew that it was (and still is) an underserved community of individuals who were in desperate need of education and advocacy. I say this because, although part of a special interest group by and large, the individuals in the Veteran community are not as easy to distinguish; they are spread across every race, culture, religion and creed that our great nation has to offer.

In addition, Veterans have long been the victims of predatory lending, particularly at car dealerships and payday loan services close to base. Pair this with a 17 year old with no financial literacy, and it can be a recipe for disaster. I remember a fellow Marine who drove back to base in his shiny new car, and when asked about his interest rate, he shrugged and said that he had no idea. It turned out that the “military friendly” car dealership had sold him a car with a 24% interest rate. Because of situations like this, many Veterans are hesitant to trust anyone who may be in a position to take advantage of them. This is especially so with a VA loan. Many Veterans are disgruntled when they exit the military and believe that their loan will actually be serviced by the VA and understandably want no part of it. Add the fact that the VA loan may be the only loan that a Veteran qualifies for, and some brokers say they “don’t like dealing with VA loans.” My answer to that would be that the Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guardsman probably didn’t like going in to harm’s way for you, but they did it anyway.

I joined the board of directors for the Seattle Chapter of VAREP, The Veteran’s Association of Real Estate Professionals. VAREP is a 501-C3 non-profit and a national organization that seeks to empower industry professionals such as realtors, lenders, title/escrow, etc., with the knowledge to serve and help Veterans while guiding them through the home buying process. The bottom line is this: the VA Loan is the best loan program available to a Veteran. Additionally, as a national organization and as a battle-hardened community, we are always on the lookout for cases where listing agents are discriminating against our buyers based on the fact that they are using a VA loan so they can be made an example of what not to do.
Here are some of its many advantages that the reader may not be aware of:

• No down payment required up to a loan size of $517,500 in King County (it can vary county by county)
• No mortgage insurance is required on all VA loans (this is usually required on all other loan programs with less than 20 percent down and can be several hundred dollars a month)
• In King County, loan sizes over $517,500 are available as long as the veteran puts 25 percent down on the difference between the county loan limit and the purchase price (for example, on a $1M purchase, the down payment required would be $120,625 which is much less than what would be required on most other loan programs and without any mortgage insurance)
• Lower rates than most other lending programs due to the VA guarantee on the loan
• Ability to refinance in the future without an appraisal or verification of income
• Loan may be assumable to a non-veteran buyer
• Low credit scores may be acceptable (some lenders go down to a 580 score or no score)
• No reserves are usually required so a Veteran may be able to purchase without any savings
• Active duty, retired and discharged Veterans may be eligible (all branches of service). Surviving spouses of Veterans may also be eligible

Unfortunately, only one out of eight Veterans who qualify for the VA loan is currently using it, mainly because they are not aware of their benefits. Truth be told, we are aware that the VA loan has some mechanical flaws, which we are currently addressing with Washington, D.C. Last June we were on Capitol Hill talking to lawmakers about VA loan discrimination and updating the program because it has not changed since WWII. We will be back this year, and every year moving forward, until we create the changes that are needed.

If there is anything that I can leave you with, it’s that there are many among us who need help but are oftentimes too proud to ask for it. We have a generation of young warriors among us walking around with wounds that don’t bleed, and although they won’t ask for it, they would love someone to link arms with them and help them out. Over the next five years, there will be millions of VA eligible Veterans separating from the military. We are on a mission to see that when they do, they will be able to take advantage of a home buying program that they fought so hard for and truly deserve.

10410244_1501628186739181_4846124571752859247_nSteve Harwood is a Windermere Real Estate broker on the Eastside. He is a Veteran of foreign wars with a passion for helping our service men and women. Make sure you visit his website and social media pages like Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions regarding VA loans or his work with Seattle VAREP, you can contact him via steveharwood at windermere dot com.

Unstuck in the New Year

Welcome 2015During the holidays I had many conversations over cookies, cocktails and candy canes with people who would love to buy or sell a house this year. Some said they wanted to do both because their current home is either too small, too big (said no one ever), in a lousy neighborhood or too far from work.

When I finished shoving fudge in my face, I asked them what was getting in the way of going for it. Listening closely, I noticed that a lot of them are simply stuck. They either don’t know exactly what they want or they have an idea but don’t know how to take the first step.  And frequently I see that great plans aren’t executed because people don’t take the time to get a clear idea of what they really want and do not have an action plan.

I reached out to Sheila Storrer, a Personal Life Coach, to articulate a process here for getting clients unstuck. I have used many of these techniques during my years in real estate and they really work.

First, Sheila recommends that clients get clear on what they really want by asking some clarifying questions. Think of that new house you imagine yourself in: What’s it look like? What’s your neighborhood like? How do you feel when you walk into your house at the end of the day? Big yard, little yard?  Play room or wet bar? Media room for a huge TV to watch the Seahawks win the Super Bowl? A view? …..Blah, blah, blah.

Buyers, now that you’ve got a picture of that perfect house, it’s time for an action plan. Add these five action items to your New Year’s Resolution list.

Action Items for Buyers:


  1. Get really clear on what you want and get your family onboard.
  2. Get your finances in order.
  3. Assemble a team of experts – or, really, just call me and I can do that for you. Mortgage professional, inspectors, contractors, you name it.
  4. Make the process concrete. Stop lurking on real estate websites. Come out with me to view homes so you can see what you really like/don’t like in person. And every week I will send you homes fresh on the market with your specifications.
  5. Take a deep breath. Or two.

If you’re selling, your obstacle might be in leaving a house that you’re attached to even though it no longer works for you. Sheila has some great suggestions for you, too.

Steps for Sellers:

  1. Get closure: For those hesitant to leave the memories associated with their current home, it helps to take action and get closure. Take pictures of your favorite spots in your house and yard. Write a letter to phantom buyers sharing the memories you most enjoyed over the years in your home. Reluctant to leave the kids’ growth chart notched in the doorway? One parent traced each line and date on butcher paper and transferred it to their new home – where they will build many new memories.
  2. Prep the house: Others dread the “fixing up” tasks they are convinced must happen before listing their home. So often I meet sellers that have done a lot of unnecessary work prepping their house for listing. Let me walk through and help you figure out how to declutter, how much of the garage and closets should be scrapped… and reassure you that you do not need to put away all of your personal photos or repaint in neutral colors.
  3. Work from the plan: We’ll make a list of concrete action items based on the needs of your house and family, and I’ll help you execute them. Then when your house is ready, I spring into action with photographers, the listing price and marketing materials, and your work is done!

Head Shots July 2014-9Cara in the HouseCara Erdman is owner of Cara in the House Real Estate and a Windermere agent. Contact her at 206-919-2505 or cara at carainthehouse dot com with any questions.

Sheila Storrer of Reach|Achieve Personal Coaching helps clients get unstuck from what holds them back. Contact her at 425-941-9194 or sheilastorrer at outlook dot com.

Image via WeHeartIt

Pacific Northwest Equestrian Life

Riders and hounds of Woodbrook Hunt Club
Riders and hounds of Woodbrook Hunt Club

The Pacific Northwest is home to one of the strongest and most vibrant equestrian communities in the country. From the gorgeous Willamette Valley in the south to Lynden and British Columbia in the north, the Pacific Northwest hosts excellent training facilities across all equestrian disciplines. From Grand Prix show jumping, dressage and hunting, to three day eventing, vaulting, reining and rodeo, a Northwest horse person never lets a little rain come between her breeches and her saddle.

Why are we so willing to ride in the rain? I’m not sure if it’s the romantic image of riding in the rain, or a tradition of love for equine sports passed from generation to generation. East of the rainy parts, Eastern Washington hay is among the highest quality hay in the country, and Washington State University has one of the best equine research and veterinary schools found anywhere.

Horse lovers are also drawn to our area by state of the art facilities like Pegasus Training and Equine Rehabilitation Center in Redmond, WA. Envisioned and owned my Dr. Mark Dedomenico, Pegasus is a state of the art training and rehabilitation facility which trains and treats the best race horses and sport horses in the world, suffering from various injuries or who just need conditioning. With hyperbaric chambers, nuclear scintigraphy, equine therapy pools and an excellent staff, Pegasus is the facility of choice for horse owners worldwide.

Do you need a certified acupuncturist or chiropractor for your equine companion? You are living in the right area for that, too. Just ask Dr. Joanne Fehr of Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital. Not only is Dr. Fehr a Board Certified Equine Surgeon, she is also an accredited Equine Chiropractor and Acupuncturist. This integrated approach to treating our equine partners can sometimes make the difference between life and death and can certainly manage chronic pain and ease the stress our horses feel after a traumatizing event or surgery.

No need to jump the pond and head to Downton Abbey for the chance to ride to the hounds in a traditional hunt. Woodbrook Hunt Club in Lakewood, WA, the oldest hunt club west of the Mississippi, is celebrating 98 years of traditional hunt club activities. Jennifer Hansen, Huntsman, and Melody Fleckenstein, Master of Foxhounds, will lead you on an unforgettable hunt over gorgeous terrain. Adhering to ancient traditions of the hunt you can ride for the day or commit yourself to earning your “colors” toward your own scarlet hunt coat.

ImageStoreRain or shine, there are few places better suited to the equestrian lifestyle than our great Pacific Northwest. If you’d like more information on our local equestrian life, contact KiamaLise at kiama at windermere dot com or

KiamaLise Herres is an equestrian real estate specialist with Windermere Real Estate/East, Inc. She lives with her husband, two children and four horses on their farm in Fall City.

Thank you to our wonderful guest blogger KiamaLise Herres! She regularly adds to her own blog and website so make sure to follow her! This post is the first of many guest blog posts we’ll bring you from Windermere Eastside.