Eric Gardner first came to Hampton Roads and Naval Air Station Norfolk (now simply Naval Station Norfolk) in 1986 as a Naval flight officer, one year after graduating from the United States Naval Academy.
Over the next 29 years he moved from duty station to duty station, along the way buying a home here in 1995, before retiring in 2015 after 30 years of service.
Now as a Realtor with RE/MAX Alliance, Gardner has joined the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals and is working to form a local chapter.
“Searching for other real estate industry groups that benefit veterans, I came upon the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals,” Gardner said. VAREP was formed in 2011 by a Navy veteran, Son Nguyen, and Dustin Luce in Southern California.
Gardner said it’s a nonprofit community service organization and HUD-approved housing counseling organization with a mission to increase sustainable homeownership, provide financial-literacy education, and create economic opportunity for the active military and veteran communities.
“Being home to the world’s largest naval base, as well as naval expeditionary forces, air forces, Joint and NATO commands, and Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard commands, and a large population of veterans and retirees, it is essential that a VAREP chapter is established to help serve the Hampton Roads military and veteran community,” he said.
There are currently 35 local chapters across the United States, with another 24 actively in the works.
Gardner said VAREP accomplishes its mission through homeownership advocacy, community outreach, professional membership, veteran job creation, and affordable housing initiatives and activities.
VAREP led the way in advocating for the new Universal Home Loan application that is coming in July of next year, which requires all home loan applicants to be asked if they have served in the United States Armed Forces.
Additionally, VAREP has championed what is now House of Representatives Bill 2777, or the “Give Veterans Home Loan Choices Act,” that requires information on the Informed Consumer Choice Disclosure to include VA Loan information for those who have served as a direct comparison with conventional and FHA loan options.
Gardner said across the U.S., chapters have provided 25 mortgage-free homes to active military and veteran families, remodeled 225 homes and sold them to veterans, provided $60,000 in Housing Assistance grants, educated more than 6,000 agents and lenders and 2,600-plus veterans on the VA loan. They’ve also conducted more than 70 Veteran Housing Summits and placed 750 veterans in homes through VAREP programs.
For the Hampton Roads Chapter Gardner is looking for real estate professionals to serve in committee positions.
“Membership is open to anyone serving in the real estate industry, including brokers, agents, lenders, title processors, builders, inspectors, stagers, vendors, and contractors,” he said.
There are eight board positions: Five of the eight must be veterans, while the others are classified as patriots (spouses of military, or anyone else with a desire to serve and contribute their time and efforts).
The founding chapter president should be a veteran, with other board positions including vice president, secretary, treasurer, membership, education, community outreach and government affairs.
He said among the activities the local chapter will perform are: hosting Realtor and Lender Veteran Educational seminars; hosting live Military and Veteran Housing Certification classes for Realtors and lenders; hosting Veterans Housing Summit Community events; hosting fundraisers to benefit local military and veteran families; and helping qualified local military families with housing needs (VAREP Cares).
Those interested in learning more, or becoming a member, can contact Gardner at 757-805-6235 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s also information on the VAREP website.
Once they’ve identified enough interested real estate professionals the chapter will gather for an orientation to further introduce VAREP and will work to establish a board and business plan.
“We look forward to becoming an important piece of the nonprofit organizations across Hampton Roads serving our local active service member and veteran community,” Gardner said.