With every dreaded move the biggest question we all face is, “Where are we going to live?” Is the market right to buy? Or should we rent? Or live in government housing? I have done them all and I so miss owning my own home but I know right now it is not the best choice for us and so government housing is the choice we have made for the last six years. YIKES!!! I will say that living on base overseas is hugely different from living in housing in the states. The big difference is that you do not receive BAH at all overseas and you do here in the states where you automatically give it to the management company. The rest is all the same….. Loud neighbors, kids running around playing, the people who drive too fast, and neighbor disputes. All of which my husband and I are willing to except because we know it is the best place for our kids because of where we are stationed. So how do you make that choice? And what do you do when you do decide where and how you will live? It is a big decision and probably the most important next to where will the kids go to school. Here are my “tips” to help make the choice just a little easier.
1. To start, make a list of pros and cons for each. What is important to you for your living environment? Is it school district or security or commute or finances? For us at the time we chose housing in the states it was mostly because we were coming from Japan and didn’t have the ability to look at where we could live. But, now after three years we stay based on the safety of our children. They can freely play outside and walk to and from school. We chose housing in Japan because I wanted all the comforts of the states because we had a new baby. I can say with certainty that our decision for our next tour will be largely based on schools.
2. Once you have decided the priorities for your living environment it is time to look at each option. I suggest taking house hunting leave if you can and visit the local Navy Housing Office. Set up an appointment with a realtor and take a look at what is out there to buy and rent. The Navy Housing Office will be able to assist you with this. They aren’t just there for those who choose to live in base housing. Plus, the realtors they refer you to are used to working with the military and understand the needs we have. Take a tour of the government housing, it can vary greatly from one duty station to the next.
3. Finances should be a huge part of this process. We live in a time when buying homes for the military is pretty tough when in three or four years you have to sell your home. Going to the command financial specialist or Fleet and Family Support Center and getting a budget done can help. It may help you see if you can afford a mortgage if you move and are not able to sell or put a renter in right away. It may also tell you that you will be better off not living in housing and renting a home. Remember, all your BAH will go to the management company. For some this is a deal because their BAH wouldn’t cover rent or mortgage let alone the utilities. Get a good idea of what the economy is like where you are moving to. Coming from overseas we didn’t have the chance to see where our new duty station would be and couldn’t get a real good picture of what the area was like, so housing it was because it was the safe choice. Turns out we made the right choice. Our kids go to good schools that are close enough to walk to. To live elsewhere, rent or buy, would cost more than we could afford.
4. Another great source to help you make the decision is get with your new command, usually a sponsor, and talk with them about what they chose. If they bought, who was their realtor and what neighborhood do they live in? What is the school like and so on and the same would be for renting. If it is housing, ask about the management company. Does maintenance respond in a timely manner, how is security, are quiet hours, animal policies and other regulations enforced? Ask at length about their experiences and their pros and cons to the choice they made. Get on the base FB page (most have them) and find out from other people what their living situation is like. Sometimes, no matter what the realtor, Navy Housing or the management company tells you, the real story may come from the people actually living it! So ask and ask a lot of questions!
5. Now what about those furry little friends that are apart of most families? PETS! If you are choosing renting or housing asking for the pet policy is a must! They all have them and even private home owners will have them. Ask about breed restrictions, because most have those, too. Lots of insurance companies will not cover renters or home owners with certain types of breeds. Number of pets, types of exotic pets, size of fish tanks, breeds, micro-chipping, spay/neuter policies, these are all things you should be asking about when looking into renting or base housing. In my experience ignorance is not bliss! Saying you didn’t know isn’t an excuse! You will sign a lease and I can promise you it will be in the lease! Your pets should be at the fore front of your decision. For some it isn’t and that is okay, just be prepared to make other arrangements for your pet.
Choosing a place to live is a long challenging process that sometimes turns out to be the wrong one. I know for my family we are constantly reminding ourselves why we continue to live where we do. Living on base isn’t our number one choice but for now it is the best. Our kids have a safe place to play and it has helped with fuel for our cars because there is a 1 mile commute for my husband and the same for me to go the Commissary. So, when the time comes when your spouse walks in the door with orders in hand, stop, take a breath and reach for the bottle of wine and start the process of choosing your next home.