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About Real Estate: Military personnel don’t have to retire to get VA home mortgage

Soldiers and sailors usually qualify for a no-money-down VA home loan after six months of active duty.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I am a Marine who is stationed in Afghanistan, but I read your column that appears each week in my hometown paper over the Internet. My question is, Can my wife and I get a VA home loan now, or do I have to retire from the military first?

ANSWER: About 22 million current members of the military, veterans, reservists and National Guard members are eligible to apply for a low-rate, no-money-down mortgage that’s backed by the Veterans Administration. Spouses of military members who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability also may apply.

Active-duty members like you generally qualify after about six months of service, so you are likely eligible if you joined the military before this past summer. Reservists and members of the National Guard must wait six years to apply, unless they are called to active duty before then. If that’s the case, they, too, gain eligibility after 181 days of service.

Applying for a VA-backed loan requires a little extra paperwork than you’d have to file for a conventional loan — after all, the military is involved — but the benefits you’d reap could be well worth it.

Your letter states that you have access to the Internet even though you are overseas, so you can get more information about this terrific mortgage program by visiting the administration’s official website (www.va.gov) or by calling the agency’s benefits hotline at 1-800-827-1000.

Thank you for your service to our country.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: The median home value in Honolulu is $623,800, a recent report by online realty giant Zillow says, more than three times higher than the national median of $182,800.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We are shopping for a home, and have noticed that some of them have tiny, slender boxes (about the size of a disposable cigarette lighter) attached to their front door. The cover of the boxes have a Jewish star and other markings. What’s this all about?

ANSWER: I get asked this question fairly often, especially around Hanukkah — the eight-day Jewish “festival of lights” that begins this year at sunset on Dec. 6. Perhaps that’s because many Jewish homeowners sometimes illuminate the tiny wood or metal cases this month, even though they are affixed year-round inside their home’s front doorpost.

The little containers are called Mezuzahs. Inside each one is a famous Jewish prayer, “Shema,” that is painstakingly written in Hebrew. It serves as a declaration and reminder of the family’s faith, and a symbol of a Jew’s belief that God is always watching over the home and its inhabitants.

DEAR. MR. MYERS: What are your recommended “best buys” for household items in December?

ANSWER: With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many of the best bargains this month are the same as they were in November. That translates into some of the best deals of the year on large home appliances, as well as on big-screen TVs.

Computers and hand-held electronic devices also are at rock-bottom prices. That’s because retailers know that the gadgets are among the most popular holiday gifts, and they’re also anxious to unload their 2015 stock before brand-new models are unveiled at the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month.

Remember, too, that prices on homes themselves often drop sharply in December, because most prospective sellers choose to delay their marketing plans until after the New Year so they can instead focus on holiday activities. The relatively few sellers who are offering their property for sale today are sometimes willing to provide deep price discounts or other valuable concessions because they’re anxious to close a sale fast, perhaps because of personal tax issues or a pending job transfer.

By getting preapproved for a loan quickly and locking in the mortgage rate, you can beat the widely expected quarter-point rate increase that the Federal Reserve could approve as soon as its next meeting on Dec. 15.

You can save even more money if you don’t buy certain household items now, but instead wait for the after-holiday sales.

Most new furniture lines make their way into showrooms in the first few months of the year, so retailers typically slash prices on their 2015 models soon after the holidays are over. Also hold off on buying exercise treadmills and other in-home gym equipment: The best deals on such items are usually offered in January, when retailers are anxious to cash in on all those New Year’s resolutions that many of us make to get fit and lose weight — and then forget them by February.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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