Welcome mat out for zero-down VA loans

Question: I am a veteran, 50 years old, and I wonder if I can still use my VA loan benefit. I have never used it before.

W.S., Snohomish

Answer: The loan program offered by Veterans Affairs is the only zero-down loan program left in today’s mortgage market — other than a USDA Rural Housing program that is available only to lower-income home buyers in certain geographic areas.

The VA loan program is especially great in today’s slow housing market because in most cases veterans are able to buy a home with literally no money out of their pocket because the sellers are willing to pay all of the buyer’s closing costs. This is known as a "double zero down" VA purchase.

Any qualified veteran of military service can use the VA loan program, no matter how long they have been out of the military. In fact, the VA loan program can be used over and over again because the veteran’s eligibility is restored every time their old VA loan is paid off.

The minimum military service time needed to qualify for a VA loan varies depending on when the veteran served. For example, a veteran can qualify for a VA loan with as little as 90 days of continuous active duty during war time. But it takes up to two years of continuous active duty during peace time for a veteran to qualify for a VA loan.

Those who served in the reserves or National Guard must have at least six years of service to qualify for the VA loan program. The qualification dates and required service times are quite specific. To determine if you are eligible, go to www. homeloans.va.gov/elig2.htm.

On average, VA loans have slightly higher interest rates than conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, but the ability to buy a home with zero down payment, even if you have less than perfect credit, makes the VA loan program unbeatable.

When you combine the advantages of zero down payment, generous qualifying guidelines and today’s low interest rates, this is a great way for qualifying veterans to buy a home.

In the past, some home sellers were reluctant to accept a purchase offer from a VA buyer because there are some additional closing costs that sellers must pay on VA deals — even if they have not agreed to pay any of the "buyer’s closing costs."

Also, the house must be appraised by a VA appraiser, and that sometimes scares home sellers because they have heard horror stories about VA appraisers being very "picky" about the condition of a home compared to a conventional appraiser. But in my experience, those fears are greatly exaggerated. VA appraisers tend to look for obvious property defects, such as a bad roof, peeling paint and water in the basement or crawl space. If a house is in good condition, it should pass a VA appraisal just as easily as it would pass a conventional appraisal.

In today’s slow housing market, most sellers are happy to get any kind of a purchase offer; the past prejudice against VA loans no longer exists. So talk to a bank or mortgage company and get approved for a VA loan so that you can go out and buy a home with zero down payment and zero closing costs (if the sellers are willing to pay them for you).

Mail your real estate questions to Steve Tytler, The Herald, P.O. Box, Everett, WA 98206, or e-mail him at economy@heraldnet.com.

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