At Home in Northern Virginia
An unexpected assist from their favorite football team helped one family score their ideal first home — despite a hot market and a tricky loan situation.
Words: Kelly Phillips Badal Images: Eddie Pearson
As he prepared to retire from the military, U.S. Department of Defense contractor Charles Mick realized one important lifestyle shift. Now that he no longer needed to relocate every three years, he, his wife Jenifer — who works in the office of a preschool — and their two sons, Colby, 13, and Jaxson, 6, could finally explore buying a home. “We’ve always rented properties just out of fear of having to pick up and move, not being able to sell our house, or being stuck with a mortgage,” he says. “This is the first time we’ve ever felt comfortable enough to settle down.”
Charles qualified for a VA loan — a mortgage loan with a lower-than-most interest rate that’s guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — but putting it to use proved challenging. As the couple learned when they started making offers, sellers are sometimes wary of this loan. “It creates a more difficult process for a seller, as the VA inspection process is very strict on things like safety,” explains Charles. “They won’t give a recipient a loan if, say, the roof needs to be redone. We realized that some realtors were telling their clients to shy away from it. We kept getting turned down, which was frustrating.”
The Micks spent six months on the hunt before they found their current home. In the meantime, they’d had offers go nowhere on six other homes they’d liked, and the process was wearing them down. “We were often offering $40,000 to $60,000 over asking and still getting outbid, or hearing, ‘they’re not comfortable going with the VA loan,’” recalls Charles. “We loved this house right away, but we’d had such bad luck that we were immediately skeptical that it could work out.”
That’s when their Compass agent, Lisa Coutts, stepped in. She spied a Steelers’ magnet on the seller’s fridge — and knew the Micks were superfans — then learned that the seller was a Vietnam veteran and had retired from the Army, like Charles. She connected the dots between the two families, and a deal was struck. What’s more, the close happened in a tight 21 days — lightning-fast, particularly with a VA loan.
The whole thing felt incredibly fortuitous, but then a series of other lucky instances happened, too. Which left the Micks feeling that finding this home was simply meant to be.
Your whole story of home hunting is one of perseverance — and then all the pieces seemed to come together quickly. How did you know this house was ‘the one?’
Charles: We knew within three minutes of stepping into this house that we would make an offer.
Jenifer: So many houses we looked at were built in the 1950s and needed full gut jobs or just weren’t what we were looking for. This one checked all our boxes immediately.
Charles: A yard was our number one thing. We have kids who play sports, and we have a giant dog, a 160-pound English Mastiff. We all like to be outside, and we felt cooped up in our former townhouse. And this house has a big, beautiful fenced-in yard. We also wanted four bedrooms, and that was really difficult to find. And we needed a two-car garage. This house had everything. Plus, the previous owners took really good care of it. There’s an entire new kitchen, hardwood floors, washer, dryer, you name it.
This location couldn’t be better, too. Springfield, where Jen’s parents live, is ten minutes away, it’s ten minutes to my work, ten minutes to Jen’s work. And it’s a win-win for our kids, too. Our older son, Colby, will go to the same school and neighborhood as his best friend, a kid he’s gone to baseball camps with for years. This kid’s mom is also teacher there— which I think will make our younger son, Jaxson, feel more comfortable about changing schools. The whole set-up — the house, the location — just felt right.
Once she knew you wanted the place, how did your Compass agent, Lisa Coutts, help strategize to get it?
Charles: Lisa had noticed the Pittsburgh Steelers magnet on one of their refrigerators — we have the exact same one on our refrigerator — then she found out that the owner was a Vietnam veteran. So she put the links together between our families. They are huge Steelers fans, and I grew up in Ohio just outside of Pittsburgh so my entire family is all about the Pirates, Penguins, and Steelers. He’s retired Army, I’m retired Army. So Lisa had us write a letter with a picture of our family, including our dog wearing a Steelers jersey. And when the homeowner accepted our offer, he told Lisa to let us know that was the clincher. They even left their Steelers magnet on the front of the refrigerator for us, as a welcome gift.
How did you initially connect with your Compass agent?
Charles: I knew Lisa through the military — she and I were in the army together for a short period of time. [Lisa is a Battery Commander in the Army National Guard in addition to her work as a realtor.] We didn’t work very closely together, but we had always clicked and got along. And just through conversation I’d noted that she was a realtor. When we started looking for a house, I said to Jen, ‘I know the perfect person that we can be frank with, she’ll be honest in return, and she’ll really help us out.’ We were not disappointed. We would apologize to her daily for asking questions we thought were stupid, and she was always accommodating and professional. She went above and beyond. If we said we liked a house, she was on the phone immediately, and she’d send us very professional binders of homes in the area. We felt very, very lucky to have her.
The VA loan that you qualified for proved challenging to utilize when you made offers on homes. How did Lisa work with you on this?
Charles: Lisa anticipated all the potential challenges of having a VA loan, and was comforting in the feedback she gave us. She told us ‘everybody goes through this, it’s not just you, its part of the process.’ And she told us her own personal story, too, of how she and her husband had put in seven or eight offers on homes before they got one accepted — it helped put our minds at ease. I’m very easily frustrated and pessimistic, so she kept me in line.
Jenifer: She’d also flag things for us that might be problems, and say, ‘the VA might question that.’
Charles: Even if it was a house we loved and wanted, one we did not want to hear any bad news about, she was upfront with us. But I think she also knew everything would be okay. And in the end, she told us that at 21 days, ours was the fastest VA home loan close that she or our mortgage company had ever done! So, what seemed like such a negative in the beginning actually became a positive.
You haven’t been living in the house long yet, but how is it — and how is the neighborhood?
Charles: One unexpected perk for me has been the basement, which is very big. I kept looking in the corner, thinking ‘what will I do with this giant space?’ So I filled up a buddy’s truck with two giant loads of gym equipment, and now I have my own personal gym in the basement. I wake up 30 minutes later than I would if I was going to my old gym! It’s amazing to me. Overall, it feels like we’ve doubled our living space.
Our dog, Rocko, loves this place. He was always on a leash to walk around our old neighborhood and now he’s just got so much room to play — he was overwhelmingly exhausted for the first week here.
On the night we officially moved in, we took Rocko for a walk with both the kids, and that 20 minute walk took almost an hour. It seemed like every neighbor stopped us, asking if we were the new homeowners. They told us what great care the old owner took of the house, invited us to come over, invited us to watch football games, etc. It was just really welcoming, and still is. We’re very, very happy.