Active-duty service members are more likely to buy homes at a younger age than their civilian peers, and to buy larger and more expensive homes — despite having a lower median income, according to a new survey.

Having more stable job stability security and having options for no-down-payment financing gives military home buyers "a deserving advantage over their civilian peers," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, who conducted the survey.

"Furthermore, their tendencies to marry and raise a family at an earlier age and carry less student debt make buying a home a more desirable and achievable option."

In addition, 74 percent of the active-duty members who responded to the survey and 54 percent of the other veterans used their Veterans Affairs Department home loan benefit (VA loan).

VA home loans are provided through banks, mortgage companies and other private lenders. The VA guarantees a part of the loan, which helps the lender provide more favorable terms to the borrower. The benefit helps eligible borrowers buy a home at a competitive interest rate, often without requiring a down payment or private mortgage insurance.

About 3 percent of the people who responded were active duty — less than 200. This was also It was a survey of the general population of home buyers based on geographic area. and Nationwide, less than 1 percent of the population is currently serving in the military.

It The survey was mailed in July 2015 to a random sampling of 94,971 people who had bought homes in the previous year. Of the 6,406 responses from the primary residence buyers, 18 percent were veterans and 3 percent were active duty. National Association of Realtors spokesman Adam DeSanctis declined to provide the exact number of military and veteran responses, but it works out to fewer than 200 responses from active-duty service members and about 1,150 responses from veterans.

"Anytime one gets a small sample, outcomes have to be read with a little more care," said Yun, NAR's chief economist. "But even at 3 percent, it still provides information." The profile of home buyers and sellers is an annual project of the association, but this year, for the first time, questions were asked about whether the buyers and sellers were active duty or veterans. The NAR will look at trends over time as it continues to include these questions in the survey, Yun said.

Active-duty buyers were younger: 51 percent were between the ages of 18 and 35, compared to 34 percent of the nonmilitary buyers who responded to the survey. That service member is more likely to be married and have multiple children than the typical nonmilitary home buyer in the survey. The median household income of the active-duty members was also lower — $76,500, compared to a median income of $86,500 for home buyers who had never served in the military. cut for space: This survey reported many results in terms of the median. It’s not an average. It’s the point in the middle – for example, where half of the active duty respondents reported an income more than $76,500; half reported an income less.

The results of the survey point to the financial strengths of the military millennial population, said John Bell, assistant director for loan policy for the VA's Loan Guaranty Program. Loans to millennials made up 26 percent of all VA loans in 2015, he said.

The median age of veterans who responded to the NAR survey was 61; but according to VA statistics, 69 percent of the veterans who used VA loans in 2015 were 55 and younger.   

Concerns have been raised over the past several years about whether active-duty and veterans are aware of their VA home loan benefit, and whether there are misperceptions among eligible home buyers, realtors and lenders that steer them away from using a VA loan.

But this survey, with 74 percent of active-duty home buyers and 54 percent of the veterans saying they used their VA loan benefit, tracks with the trend of increasing use the VA has seen in recent years, Bell said. In 2011, there were 186,588 VA loans to purchase houses. That number has gone up steadily since then to 322,115 in 2015.

Officials have made a number of improvements in the process for obtaining VA loans and have been working to educate veterans, lenders and realtors about the benefit, Bell said. But he added they want to do more to improve access to the program, in a variety of ways.

For example, VA officials are trying to get the word to lenders and realtors to ask home buyers about whether they are active duty or veterans as early as possible in the process, because it helps to make the process quicker and smoother, he said.

Although it's hard to quantify, he said, the general feeling in the community is there are more veterans who are aware of and understand their VA loan benefit. At a recent training in San Diego for lenders, he said, almost all noted how marketable the program is, and how its efficiency has improved.

Other findings of the survey:

  • 77 percent of active-duty buyers were married couples, compared to 78 percent of veterans and 64 percent of those who had never served.
  • The median price active-duty buyers paid for their home was $226,000; the median price all buyers paid was $220,000; it was also $220,000 for veterans.
  • The median square footage of homes purchased by active-duty buyers was 2,170; for veterans, 1,980, and for those who had never served, 1,900.
  • Active-duty home buyers are more diverse than the general population, with 27 percent identified as a race other than Caucasian; compared to 14 percent of veterans and 18 percent of those who had never served.
  • 18 percent of the veterans who responded were first-time buyers; compared to 38 percent of active duty and 36 percent of those who had never served.
  • Active-duty buyers’ priority is to buy homes near their workplace: 57 percent said convenience to work was their most important factor in buying, compared to 46 percent of buyers who had never served.
  • More active-duty members used savings to help buy their homes: 74 percent, compared to 54 percent of  veterans and 65 percent of those who had never served.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.