Imagine your life has been turned upside down. You arrive at work one morning and find an email in your inbox that announces you are being forced to move to a new town, in a new state. You can’t say no, you can’t quit your job, and you leave in 90 days. Children have to be removed from school, notice has to be given to your spouse’s employer, and household goods need to be wrapped and packed.

This hypothetical situation is a reality for the more than 9,000 active-duty members of the armed forces who arrive at Joint Base Lewis-McChord each year. This transition is called a permanent change of station — though acronym-savvy military members know it as a PCS — and it can be a difficult one for incoming South Sound families who are looking for a new place to live while still stationed hundreds of miles away.

JBLM

Justin and Katie Galvin had orders to arrive at JBLM in April 2017 despite never having been to Washington. The flummoxed couple did some research and came across a military relocation service that referred them to Jennifer Kaul, a managing broker in Coldwell Banker Bain’s North End Tacoma office.

Kaul — a former military spouse herself and familiar with the hardships thrust upon military families — said military relocations to JBLM, like that of the Galvin family, account for close to 90 percent of her home sales.

“Some (couples) have family and friends in the area and they can ask them to go and look at a home for them, but the vast majority have never been here; they have never been to Washington, and some have never purchased a home before,” Kaul explained.

Fortunately, advances in technology make it easier for Kaul to keep her clients involved in every step of the buying process, whether they are in Kansas or Kuwait. Now, FaceTime or other video communication tools are used to take buyers on a tour of a prospective home. Coldwell Banker Bain’s StreetBeat app helps buyers learn specifics about different neighborhoods. TransactionDesk ensures secure electronic document signing and management of all forms. Videos taken during home inspection can be uploaded through online file-sharing services like Dropbox.

“It was very weird,” Katie said of taking a virtual tour around her soon-to-be home in Tacoma. “But it got easier because we talked to (Kaul) a lot and she came and looked at the house multiple times for us. After they did an inspection, she came back, looked again, and took pictures of all the issues. She took very long, detailed videos of the house.”

Kaul also finds customized Multiple Listing Service searches extremely valuable when working with military buyers so they can be alerted within minutes if a home meeting their criteria is listed. However, Pierce County’s aggressive and competitive housing market means many desirable homes still are slipping through the fingers of potential buyers.

“As we were looking, we’d find houses we were interested in, but we’d look the next day, (and) they’d be gone — it just happened that way for months,” Katie said. In fact, the home the couple eventually purchased had been on the market for less than a day when it was snapped up by another buyer who subsequently backed out of the deal.

Despite the geographical distance (and the headache of obtaining a mortgage), Katie said the homebuying process was relatively painless, thanks to Kaul’s dedication. When the couple arrived to sign the final paperwork and get their keys, they were relieved to find that the house was as Kaul had described.

One year later, they’re still happy with their purchase. “It’s a great area, a beautiful home, and we have three dogs who just absolutely love it here,” Katie said.