VA Occupancy Rule vs. Retirement Dream Home

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Married U.S. Army Colonels with 22 months to serve found their retirement dream home in another state. However, it looked like VA occupancy rules would prevent them from using their zero-down payment home loan benefits until a later date… until one VA-approved lender found a way.

Meet Colonel Robert Akam and Colonel Melissa Sturgeon. Married in 2008, both have served in the U.S. Army since 1985. The military brought them together, but it has also kept them apart. Reassigned nearly every year throughout their marriage, they often served away from each other in different war zones like Afghanistan and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. However, for their final tour, Akam and Sturgeon are stationed at the Pentagon with mandatory retirement slated for May 2015.

In the summer of 2013, the couple began talking about buying a retirement home – a place where they could be together once and for all. “For us, it was about having a home base for our personal operations as retirement drew near,” shared Colonel Sturgeon. “Someplace where we could be together, keep our belongings and spend time with our families.”

Colonel Akam agreed and added, “After moving around your whole life, you want a little more certainty and predictability as you get older. We felt a home could do that for us.”

While their final orders were in D.C., they had found their dream home in Georgia. The officers wanted to use their VA home loan benefits to buy the house with no down payment. However, having been turned down by lenders in the past due to occupancy requirements, they knew there might be a concern with purchasing so far ahead of their move-in date. VA guidelines state that a VA borrower must occupy the property within a reasonable time after closing (usually 60 days). Though an extension is sometimes granted for active-duty personnel serving away from home if they can show a definite return date within 12 months, it is not typically granted for more than a year.

Enter Jeff Chalker, VA loan specialist at Veterans First Mortgage®. 

“It was 5 PM when I got the call from Colonel Akam. Here were two officers with stable jobs, good income and credit,” Chalker shared. “It seemed like we’d have no problem getting them qualified.” But, it didn’t take long for Chalker to assess the bigger picture. Occupancy was going to be an issue: the Army Officers had almost two years until they retired and could move into their home full time.

With a pro-veteran company behind him, Chalker delved a little deeper. He discovered that the high-ranking military couple had about 300 total days off to factor into the equation. Chalker suggested that his clients leverage their time off toward satisfying the occupancy rule.

In July 2013, Chalker asked Colonel Akam to pen a letter to the VA about the couple’s unique circumstances. It was an emotional appeal in which Akam wrote of the challenges of juggling two military careers within a marriage, serving in war zones and being apart to serve their country. They had earned their benefits. Akam pointed out that despite the fact that they were serving their final tours outside of Georgia, the couple had 20 weeks of vacation within the immediate year that they could use to live in the house in Georgia. Additionally, it was possible that one or both of the Army Officers would be selected for early retirement in September 2014, which would move their expected date of permanent residency in their new home base closer to the 12-month mark needed for an extension.

Thanks to an experienced loan specialist, a military-friendly lender and Colonel Akam’s letter, the VA ruled in the couple’s favor. The pair bought their dream home in Georgia with a zero-down payment VA loan. They spent the cash that they would have had to put down on a conventional or FHA loan on upgrades to the home.

The Colonels now travel from D.C. to enjoy their new home on weekends and holidays until they retire and can live there full time. Of their upcoming retirement, both say they will miss the camaraderie, but have added Jeff Chalker to their list of friends with open invitations to visit them at their home in Georgia.

For more information about VA loans, contact an experienced VA lender now.

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