Last week I had a situation that got me really thinking about our returning Vets and what we as property owners and Realtors have to do. I’ve got this lease listing in Thousand Oaks (search for listings here) which means I’m charged with helping the owners find quality tenant. One day I get a call from an agent and the conversation starts like this: “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, but I have a tenant looking for a home: He has a dog, a wife and two kids but his credit is terrible. He’s got a new job working for the Feds in West LA and can’t find a home. By the way, he served two tours in Afghanistan. Is there any way your landlord might consider them? The wife and kids are living with her family 5 hours away and no one will rent them a place. They’re desperate.”
My listing is gorgeous with wood floors and in amazing condition and as the landlord’s rep, I need to find a great tenant for them. The first thing I heard the agent say was: dog, then bad credit, both things that often dissuade a landlord from considering the tenant candidate and clearly this was what was happening to this family. The thing that stood out however was his military service. So I say, “Send it over, I’ll look.” She thanks me and that’s it. When I get the application it came with a nice letter of explanation. Turns out the candidate had lost his analyst job and was out of work for 6 months. With two kids and a wife, he did what he had to, to survive but his credit was badly damaged as a result. In reading his application I see his contract of employment showed good income. I see that there is a letter from VA Benefits stating he gets a monthly payment for disability from injuries sustained at war. I gulp. I suddenly I find myself looking at an application from a full blown American hero that is separated from his family because no one stateside is going out on a limb to help. I think, “I want to help, but the credit…”
Whenever I get an application for rent I verify employment, call references which are always good; heck I’m sure Charles Manson would give me the name of a reference that would say glowing things about him… ultimately I’ll make a recommendation to the landlord. So I begin my due diligence and check up on him. Paid rent on time. House was left immaculate, the previous landlord says. Yes the employer says, he works here and makes what he said. I call a Lt. Col. (ret.) listed as a reference; he says “Fine young man, a family man and a fine soldier.” Special Forces he says. But that credit… At this point I don’t have any other applicants so I ask the landlord, would he consider such an applicant. They say they’ll get back to me and then, it happens: I get a second app. The new prospective tenant has much better credit and makes twice as much. I have no choice, I have to send the landlord the new application.
In my job as a real estate broker, I am only the middle man. I am not a principle, owner or tenant. I’m neither the buyer nor seller, just the facilitator in the middle. What influence can I really have when it comes to what offer to purchase to accept, what tenant to rent to? I feel for our veteran but it’s not up to me, it’s not my house. I could have accepted this argument and left it alone and the landlord just chooses. But I don’t feel right about this and feel I’ve got to do something but it’s not my call, not my house… what to do? I call the landlord, he says “Tim what would you do?” And I told him honestly, “Every tenant is a bit of a gamble. You never really know how they’ll be and you sometimes just have to choose.” “OK, Tim, so choose,” my landlord says to me. He senses I’m favoring the Vet. “I can’t be the one to choose, but let’s go over the apps. The second one has better credit and has more income so they are the stronger tenant candidate,” I say. “However, I can’t help but feel this vet, this war hero, needs a break and I have a soft spot for vets,” I say to him. What happened next this was amazing. My landlord says, “I was in the Taiwan Navy myself and feel the same way. Rent it to them.” Wow! What happened was my landlord was thinking as I was but just needed me, the real estate professional, to reinforce and validate his thoughts. Had I not said this and pushed the other more obvious applicant instead, he would have rented it to them.
The point I’d like to make, is that we have to give our Veterans, the benefit of the doubt. We need to extend a hand even when they might not fit into the “box” we want. As Realtors, we need to emphasize to landlords and sellers, that our Vets bring something to the table that the average citizen does not and that’s sacrifice and that counts for something. As Realtors, we need to pull the emotional card when we submit an offer with VA financing. As listing agents receiving offers from buyers using VA financing, we need to let our sellers know that VA financing is just as good as any other; not more difficult and the buyers while maybe light on down payment, are no less qualified to buy. Did you know for example that zero down VA financing can go up to the high balance conforming loan amount for that given county? In LA that enables a Vet to buy with no money down, a home in excess of $625,000 and with some money down, as high as $1,000,000? (Contact Tim for a great lender referral). Often times Vets are competing for lower priced homes; competing with investors and other buyers with substantial down payments. In multiple offer situations service to our country should be worth more than a large down payment. As sellers I get it, it’s about the money. It’s your biggest investment and business is business. I know as Realtors, we can’t push our sellers to do what they don’t want to nor should we. It’s not our house. Our responsibility, our fiduciary duty, is to our client. But sometimes people just need a little help to see things from a different perspective. Sometimes, just like my landlord, a client just wants to know that doing the noble thing is sound business. Sometimes the Realtor just has to say, renting and selling to Vets is good business.