VA loan made buying easier for first timers

Brandon LaBar and Jolene Goodlavage needed to move out of their cramped apartment, and they contacted a real estate agent about renting a home. Realtor Ed Robeson with Keller Williams Realty First Atlanta, however, showed them they could buy a home.

A home loan from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs enabled LaBar, who was staff sergeant in the Army and now is a police officer, to buy with no down payment (they only had to pay closing costs). Brandon, 35, and Jolene, 30, who have a 2-year-old daughter, Brielle, chatted about their home in Marietta.

Q: How did you decide to buy?

Brandon: We really didn’t have an intention of buying a house. We were just going to rent. The Realtor had to open our eyes. We had the mentality of, “Oh, we can’t get a house.” We were paying almost $1,200 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment and our mortgage is less than that now. Now we have our own home with a yard, a garage and a driveway, and all the upgraded features that anyone would want.

Q: What were some of your must-haves?

Jolene: We definitely needed at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I was OK with a little bit of renovating. I was OK if I had to paint some oak cabinets and retile a floor, but Brandon didn’t really want to do that. We thought with our budget we were going to have to find something that was more of a fixer-upper. We lucked out and found something that was totally renovated.

Q: What was your price range?

Jolene: Our max price was $170,000.

Q: How long did you end up looking?

Jolene: Three weeks. We only looked at four places. This was the fourth place we looked at. We put an offer that night. Brandon puts in 10 to 16 hours a day. It wasn’t working out for him to meet us here. He didn’t even see the house until the inspection.

Q: How did you know it was a home both of you would like?

Jolene: It had all the upgrades. Everything was just redone over the summer - new hardwood floors, kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances. For me, it was like, it’s done. For him, it was like, it’s done, I don’t have to do anything.

Q: What did you learn during the price negotiations?

Jolene: I came home from seeing the house and was telling Brandon about it and showing him pictures. We started talking about what we might want to offer. We planned on coming in lower but there were three or four other offers on the house already.

Brandon: If you really want the place, you might as well go all in, and hope for the best. There’s no point in being hesitant or second-guessing. If you second-guess yourself, it could be gone the next day. With our leasing coming up … we didn’t have the luxury to take four months or six months and look at 30 houses.

Q: Now that you’ve moved in, what do you like about the location?

Jolene: We’re super close to necessities. There are four grocery stores within 5 miles. Town Center (at Cobb) is only 15 minutes up the road. I can go the other way and get to Smyrna. We’re not as close to highways as we would have liked, but everything else kind of tops that.

Brandon: I work in the city every day, so it’s nice to be able to come out here. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to work every day, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make because when I come home at night it’s quiet.

Q: How essential was it to have the VA loan?

A: Starting a new family, starting a new career, if I didn’t have the VA loan, it probably would have been harder for us to do this. I don’t think we could have done it if we didn’t have the VA loan. Everyone wants to own their own home. I think that legitimizes your claim of being mature. It’s like, we’re established now.

At a Glance

Brandon LaBar and Jolene Goodlavage’s home, built in 1988 in Marietta’s Arbor Forest neighborhood, has three bedrooms, two baths and about 1,650 square feet. They purchased it in November. Homes in the neighborhood are priced from the low to mid $100,000s.