After three posts in Baghdad, Austin real estate agent, Raoul Rowe is using his life experiences to educate other veterans and help them buy homes.

Lew Sichelman is a seasoned writer with 50 years of covering the housing and mortgage markets under his belt. His biweekly Inman column publishes on Tuesdays.

When Staff Sargent Raoul Rowe mustered out of the Army after a 10-year stint that included three deployments to Iraq, he was told of the housing and other government benefits that awaited soldiers when they returned home.

As is true for many of our warriors, he paid attention, but the delivery of the information was “overwhelming and unorganized.” He said they were left lost and confused when looking for professionals to help with the benefits they knew they had. “It was like we got a bag of benefits and a ‘good luck!'”

Raoul Rowe

Now, five years later, real estate agent Raoul Rowe of the ATX Realty 737 Group in Austin, Texas, is making sure other veterans know exactly what they’ve earned for putting their lives on the line.

He has created dozens of instructional videos aimed at educating returning warriors about homeownership and fiscal responsibility, and he works with experts from various fields to provide free training sessions to help vets accomplish those feats.

He even gives back a portion of his commission when vets who complete these training sessions go on to buy a house.

“[The organization is] never going to be big,” Rowe says of his multi-faceted effort to help service men and women make a successful transition back to their normal lives and into homeownership. “But it will be meaningful.”

It’s been an interesting journey for the 35-year-old Rowe, who says he bounced around a lot as a youth but spent most of his time in Selma, Alabama.

After enlisting in 2003, he went into logistics, and during his three posts to Baghdad, he was part of an every-other-night caravan that delivered food, supplies and personnel to outposts in the Iraqi capital. During his final deployment in 2011, he drove one of the gun trucks that led the wagon train through the streets and alleys of the extremely dangerous city.

Using his GI benefits, he earned his bachelor’s degree in 2012 in information technology, studying whenever and wherever he could.

Now stateside for a couple of years, Rowe was faced with getting promoted to Sergeant First Class (E-7) and staying in till the 20-year mark or leaving; Rowe decided to end his military career at the 10-year mark.

“We had so much stuff thrown at us. We were told we have housing benefits, but they were never explained to us,” he said.

During his last days in the service, Rowe sent his resume far and wide. And when an IT company in Austin reached out, he took the job “right down the street from Fort Hood.” But to satisfy his long-seated desire to eventually invest in real estate, he also decided to obtain his real estate license.

“I wanted some experience,” he recalls.

Working his regular job from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., the newly minted agent worked first for Exit One Realty. But learning and studying on his own, he soon realized he needed to hang his shingle with a 100 percent commission broker who “would allow me to do my own thing.” That broker turned out to be Walzel Properties in Houston, which ATX Realty 737 Group is a part of.

Rowe didn’t concentrate solely on military homebuyers — and he still doesn’t. “But I never wanted to forget about them either,” he says. “There’s a lot of false information [about V.A. housing benefits] floating around out there. I kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way.”

To set the record straight, Rowe, using his IT experience, created more than 100 videos, some posted on his website, others to YouTube and Facebook. Some are educational, like how to clean up your credit or what kind of downpayment assistance may be available. Others are simply a way for the agent to introduce himself. But each has its own form viewers can fill out so he can contact them to answer their questions.

Not surprisingly, a short 2:30-minute video on both state and federal housing benefits available to veterans received some of the most play.

“That’s the one that really took off,” Rowe says. “It got more than 6,000 views.”

The Austin agent also started what he calls Texas Operation Giveback, in which he has enlisted financial literacy professionals from New York Life and credit and consulting specialists from BB&T Bank, among others, to teach vets who were not given this kind of information when they were active.

“That’s what we didn’t learn in the military,” he says. “You only get this kind of help when you get into trouble.”

Texas’s Veterans Land Board, which offers land and home improvement loans, is also part of Giveback. When working with a participation lender, disabled veterans get 0.5 percent off of their interest rate. And in Texas, veterans get a property tax exemption based on the level of disability percent through the appraisal district.

Through the Austin Board of Realtors, Rowe has access to the tools offered by Down Payment Resource, the Atlanta-based company that connects buyers to down payment and other types of assistance. DPR tracks some 2,500 different programs nationwide.

Texas Operation Giveback is not a charity, says Rowe. “We’re not going to give anyone a home, but we are going to give you the information to ensure you are making the best possible decisions based on the benefits available.”

And speaking of giving back, Rowe also is donating part of his commission to successful buyers. And two local lenders have agreed to match his contribution. “It’s not a crazy amount of money,” he says. “It’s more of a high-five for a job well done.”

Lew Sichelman is a seasoned writer with 50 years of covering the housing and mortgage markets under his belt. His biweekly Inman column publishes on Tuesdays.

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