BY ALISON WISNOM, MRP Wisnom has served on Maryland REALTORS® Board of Directors and is a graduate of the Maryland REALTORS® Leadership Academy My grandfather, raised on a farm in Ohio not far from the Wright Brothers’ bike shop, flew P-51s in World War II. I grew up hearing about his death-defying escapades: shooting down Nazi aircraft, being shot down twice himself, going missing behind enemy lines then turning up alive after his parents had received notice that he was missing in action. My father followed in his father’s footsteps, turning a childhood of tagging along at the local grass airstrip into a stint as a Radar Intercept Officer in an F-14 Tomcat during the Cold War—think Goose in Top Gun. He spent the rest of his Navy career as a doctor, inspired by the carrier’s flight surgeon, and served in the Gulf War. So it was no surprise that, I, too, signed up, earning an R.O.T.C scholarship in college and serving as an Army Signal Officer. While I did not make a career of it, I do enjoy serving military and veteran clients with their real estate needs, and I especially enjoy teaching REALTORS® who are unfamiliar with the unique needs of the military community how to adapt their business to better understand, promote the interests of, and serve those who are serving or have served in an authentic way through webinars, workshops, and by teaching NAR’s Military Relocation Professional designation course. With the D.C. Metro area being the hub of military activity for the nation, we often take for granted that REALTORS® know everything already about how to serve the unique needs of this community. After all, it’s our community. But agents who have not served may not fully grasp the different needs of clients moving locally versus those moving around the globe on a short timeline. And even agents who have served may not recall all they need to know about the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) loan financing or current move trends. While military service is indeed honored and revered, it is not without hardships. Keeping those challenges in mind allows us to tailor our business and build stronger client relationships. The Military Family Advisory Network ( www.mfan.org ) and Blue Star Families ( www.bluestarfam.org ) regularly survey the military community on challenging issues. One of them, the expense of housing, is one the REALTOR® community is very familiar with, but that’s just the beginning. We can also take steps to better understand other challenges associated with the military community to create possible solutions into our business. Family Separation/Isolation According to surveys by MFAN and Blue Star Families, 54% of military and veteran family respondents reported feeling lonely. 28% report six or more months of family separation in the past year. 67% of active-duty respondents report not feeling a sense of belonging in their local civilian community; 35% say they have no one to ask for a favor. Spouse Unemployment and Underemployment Due to the demands of frequent moves, military spouse unemployment and underemployment are perennial issues. In 2021 the Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 29% report needing but struggling to find paid employment. This situation has improved in recent years with remote work becoming more accessible. Childcare There are over 1 million military children “on” active duty, yet, according to MFAN, 78.3% of respondents reported finding childcare difficult in the past two years, with female service members reporting the highest level of concern. What do these statistics have to do with real estate? These are other pressures and problems your clients are facing at the same time they are moving; understanding them are opportunities to demonstrate your value by acknowledging them and providing resources. Understanding these challenges, here are a few strategies you can use: Authentic Marketing Agents often ask how they can earn business from the military community. I advise agents to communicate your value clearly, accurately, and in a high-quality way. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not or have skills you don’t. Overall, no matter your personal military experience, your underlying theme should be, “I understand what you’re going through, and I can help you.“ Your strength is your expertise. You know contracts, properties, the town, the financing vehicles, and you’re ready to welcome clients to a new place, whether you have personal military experience or not. Make Connections Military families are looking for “pattern of life replacement” when they move from one duty station to another. They need the same daily resources and comforts they enjoyed previously—a favorite coffee shop, a new gym, a youth soccer team, etc. “Mayor of your town” style community-based marketing is a great resource for them, especially if you include information about local duty stations and their commutes. Give military families something to get excited about in your city! Relocating clients also need those same home services vendor connections we often provide, but since they’re new to the area, they’ll need more of them, and they’ll value them even more! So share your personal experience with the landscaper, plumber, etc., in the same manner you usually would. Do you remember being the new kid in school? Military kids are the new kid every couple of years! How about making introductions to people in your community who might host a play date so the kids know someone on the first day? Or for your next client event, host a bunco night or wine tasting so your clients can build their own social network. Make introductions and be a matchmaker. Maximize Video Military clients are often beginning their home search from afar and well in advance of their move, so build their confidence by personalizing your relationship using video. Hop on a Zoom call to get “face-to-face” as soon as you can and use video throughout your relationship whenever practical. Investing time in your clients before they arrive builds trust and allows them to move quickly when they arrive. And with so many families experiencing work related separations, video is an excellent way to include a displaced family member. Customize Your Intake Interview To make sure you’re asking all the right questions, consider adding these to your workflow: Have you served in the military? With any client this can make sure you’re aware of potential eligibility for VA financing. Do you have temporary lodging reserved for your arrival? Are you allowed a house hunting trip before your move? What steps are you comfortable taking before you arrive? Getting preapproved? Looking at homes by video tour? Buying a home site unseen? Will travel or deployment affect your availability? What are you looking forward to doing here? What worries you about this move? Take the Lead Service members exist in a system with direct communication, a chain of command, a quick pace, and clear process steps. They tend to take instruction well, so you can be a leader of this mission and a direct communicator guiding your clients through each step toward their goal. Boost Your Technical Competence Take the Military Relocation Professional (MRP) designation course. While an agent who has served can certainly benefit from the deep dive into ever changing rules regarding VA loans, the true purpose of the MRP designation is to give agents who have not served a baseline of information, technical skill, and empathy for their clients and those they may encounter in a transaction, thus improving the overall agent pool. Connect with a lender who is closing a large volume of VA loans. Ask that person to school you on the current rules, trends, and speed bumps they see in the local area; continue to check back quarterly for changes so you’re not stuck with outdated information and false impressions. With 39% of the community surveyed saying they have no one in the local community to talk to, the words “I’m happy to introduce you,” or “let me connect you,” are gold. I encourage you to be generous with your connections, consider what military and veteran families need from you, and adapt your marketing and business practices in concrete ways to better care for these clients. The Meanings of the Military Holidays Knowing the meaning of each holiday and observing the appropriate tone can prevent an embarrassing interaction. Veterans Day Honors military veterans, which are persons who used to serve in the armed forces. Veterans Day is for all those who have served in the past and in all branches of service, even if they did not formally retire from the military. Service has been difficult and complicated for many, so this isn’t a joyful holiday. The purpose of the day is to honor service. Memorial Day Honors those who died in military service. Memorial Day remembers those who have given their lives in military service to our nation during war, but recent marketing puts most of the emphasis on cookouts and pool parties. Real estate agents should remember that this is a personal and solemn holiday for many Americans, and a “Happy Memorial Day” message to clients can flop. If you wish to touch all of your clients with a Memorial Day message, make sure it strikes a respectful tone fitting the true meaning of a remembrance holiday. Independence Day Celebrates the birth of the nation. July 4th celebrates the date the American colonies were declared free and independent from Great Britain. Today, the holiday is exuberant and patriotic. Feel free to wave flags and cheer! Host parties and barbecues, enjoy fireworks displays, and bring all the fun on this day. Armed Forces Day Honors those currently serving in the U.S. military. While Memorial Day celebrates those who died in service to the country, and Veterans Day honors those who used to serve, Armed Forces Day honors those still serving. Focus your business on honoring those currently serving in the military.