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A 10-Part VA Loan Checklist for First-Time Buyers in California

Do you plan to buy your first home in California using a VA loan? If so, you probably have a lot of questions about how the process unfolds. Bridgepoint Funding has got you covered!

This checklist explains the different steps and requirements for first-time home buyers using a VA loan in California. Consider it your roadmap to home buying success.

VA Loan Checklist for California First-Time Buyers

While the home buying process can vary, most first-time buyers in California encounter the same steps and requirements when using a VA loan.

Here are the 10 steps we recommend, along the path to homeownership:

1. Review the basic eligibility requirements.

The VA loan program is a benefit for active-duty military personnel, veterans, National Guard members, and reservists. The basic eligibility requirements include:

For active-duty service members, the requirement is a minimum of 90 continuous days of service. For National Guard and Reserve members, the requirement is six years of service or 90 days of non-training active-duty service.

2. Start saving for your closing costs.

The VA loan program allows California first-time buyers to purchase a house with no down payment whatsoever. But you’ll still probably encounter some closing costs along the way, and they can add up to thousands of dollars. The sooner you start saving for this expense, the better.

3. Set a budget for your monthly housing payments.

Before applying for a VA loan in California, take a close look at your current financial situation to determine your maximum budget. Specifically, you want to look at the amount of money you earn each month (after taxes) and the amount you spend on non-housing expenses like car payments and credit cards.

The difference between these two numbers represents the most you could afford to spend on a monthly mortgage payment. But you’ll also want to leave room for financial emergencies, savings contributions, entertainment expenses, etc.

Ideally, you’ll be able to pay your monthly mortgage bill and all other recurring debts, while still having some money left over each month.

4. Obtain your Certificate of Eligibility.

In order to qualify for a VA loan, you must also obtain an official document known as the Certificate of Eligibility, or COE. True to its name, this document certifies that you are in fact eligible to use this program.

All California home buyers who plan to use a VA loan must first obtain a COE from the Department of Veterans Affairs. You can request it online, or have your mortgage lender do it for you.

We can assist you with this process, if you need help or guidance.

5. Get pre-approved for a specific loan amount.

Once you’ve checked the COE box mentioned above, you’re ready to apply for a loan and get pre-approved for a mortgage amount.

This is a helpful step for first-time buyers in California using VA loans. For one thing, it gives you a maximum mortgage amount so you can focus your housing search within a specific price range.

Additionally, sellers will be more likely to accept your offer if you have a pre-approval letter from a mortgage lender. It doesn’t guarantee your financing, but it shows that you’ve been pre-screened by a lender already and will likely receive funding.

6. Find a real estate agent to help you succeed.

You’re not required to have a real estate agent when using a VA loan to buy a house in California. But you can certainly benefit from having some professional help.

An experienced real estate agent can help you zero in on the right neighborhoods and properties, based on your budget and housing needs. They can also help you negotiate the sale price with the seller and keep the process on track all the way through to the closing.

7. Find a house that meets your needs (and the VA MPRs).

With a standard VA home purchase loan, the property being purchased must meet certain minimum property requirements (which are summarized here). So if you want to buy a house in California with a VA home loan, you’ll want to focus on properties that are in decent condition.

This program is primarily designed for homes that are move-in ready, rather than fixer-upper properties that need serious work. Keep this in mind when house hunting with a VA loan.

8. Make a strong offer with an earnest money deposit.

You’ve established a budget, gotten pre-approved for mortgage loan, hired a real estate agent, and finally found a property that meets all of your needs. The next step in the California VA loan process is to make a strong offer on the house.

This is a critical step in the home buying process. It can either open the door to homeownership or cause the house to slip through your fingers, depending on how it’s handled.

Use your real estate agent’s advice during the offer stage, but know that it’s ultimately your decision. Use recent sales data for similar homes to shape your offer. Make your initial offer as strong as possible, because you might not get a second chance.

9. Have the home inspected, if you choose.

The Department of Veterans Affairs requires all homes being purchased with a VA loan to have a property appraisal. The primary purpose is to determine the value of the home. But the appraiser will also conduct a basic inspection relating to the minimum property requirements mentioned earlier.

While the VA does not require a standard home inspection, they do encourage it. A comprehensive property inspection can reveal issues and repair items that the VA loan appraiser either overlooked or was not required to flag.

California first-time buyers, in particular, can benefit from a home inspection when using a VA loan. It gives you peace of mind by revealing the true condition of the property you are purchasing, before you finalize the deal.

10. Attend closing and sign all finalized documents.

For a first-time home buyer in California, the VA loan closing process represents the final stage along the path to homeownership.

During this stage, you will review and sign all of the finalized documents for the purchase of the home. You’ll also pay your closing costs, along with the down payment if you chose to make one. (VA loans allow borrowers to finance up to 100% of the purchase price.)

Closing is also when the property ownership transfers from the seller to the buyer. This is when you officially become a new homeowner!

Have questions? Bridgepoint Funding has helped many first-time home buyers in California with their VA loan needs. We specialize in this program and take pride in helping California military members and veterans achieve the dream of homeownership. Please contact us with any questions you have or to apply for a loan!

Mike Trejo

Mike Trejo is a Bay Area mortgage broker with 20+ years of knowledge and experience.

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