The MILITARY Advantage from
The MILITARY Advantage from
9 Ways to Sell Your Home Fast For the Most Money
The military has issued orders, and you’re selling your home while also trying to coordinate the five million details of not only finding a new house in a new location but also setting up the foundation for a successful transition for your family. You need your current home to sell quickly and for as much money as possible. While lots of variables outside of your control can affect the housing market, you can stack the deck to your advantage.
Make it feel like home. Do you remember what made you decide on your home when you bought it? Maybe you had to find a place quickly. Or maybe it was the right price. But chances are good that you also walked through each room imagining who would sleep in what room and where you’d eat meals together, etc. That is what you want potential buyers to do—imagine themselves living there. You want people to walk into your house and picture it as theirs already. You want it to feel like home to them…if “home” were clean and organized.
So clean out the junk and clutter. Wipe down surfaces. Fix the broken and banged-up things that you can within your budget and timelines. Then go a step further and make it appealing. Your house should look pretty, smell good, and feel warm and welcoming. You can easily and inexpensively evoke these feelings with something as simple as fresh cut flowers, fluffed sofa cushions, a cute welcome mat, bright lighting, smartly grouped furnishings, or any other number of details. Your real estate agent can help you to stage your home for maximum effect.
Remember curb appeal. Getting folks in the door is half the battle. So make sure the distance from the street to the door is attractive and well-maintained. Grass mowed or raked, depending upon the season; trash cleared; siding power washed; kids’ stuff put neatly away—the details matter. Bonus points for colorful landscaping or tasteful seasonal decor.
Maintain the order. Once you’ve decluttered and cleaned up both the inside and outside of your house, do your best to keep things that way. Assume someone could be stopping by at any time and act accordingly. Remind all family members, even if nagging is required, that they share responsibility in keeping things nice. That means making sure everyone stays on top of washing dishes, doing laundry, clearing surfaces, and the like. Whenever you’re leaving the house, do a quick scan of things to make sure everything’s neat and tidy. That way, if you’re away from home and someone wants to look at the house, it’s ready.
Be honest. Don’t oversell features or hide broken things. A home can be appealing without being deceptive. Otherwise, an inspection will likely reveal what you’ve been hiding. And then you’ll find yourself going back and forth negotiating over repairs or allowances/credits that must be made, which can cost you both time and money when all is said and done. That’s not to say you need to point out every scratch and scrape, but represent the condition of things honestly. Your agent can showcase what’s special about your house while also managing a potential buyer’s expectations.
Price your house right. A good price will bring motivated buyers in quickly. Haggling and bidding wars take time. The right price, even if it’s not your dream price, is more likely to result in a good offer made quickly. Too high a price and you turn potential buyers off. Too low and you take a financial hit and cause potential buyers to question what’s wrong with the property that you’re willing to sell for too little. Your agent knows what the local marketplace looks like and can help you find that pricing sweet spot.
Promote your house. Get as many eyes on it as possible. Your agent will be able to help with listing and posting/sharing via his or her network. But you can do your part too. Share that it’s for sale. Encourage your family and friends to do the same. Word of mouth, social media—it’s all fair game. Does your house have an interesting history or unique features? Tell its story. Storytelling can do so much more than pretty pictures. And if you’ve got the story and the great photos, you’re in even better shape.
Give folks a feel for your neighborhood. Don’t just include the minimum info about numbers of rooms and baths; give them a sense of what it’s like to live in your current town. Where do people like to gather? Who makes the best pizza? How close is the nearest movie theater, mall, library, or park? People buy houses, but they crave community. So share what your community is like.
Make yourself available. Easier said than done if you’re juggling the sale of one house with the whole process of uprooting your family to be planted wherever the military has decided. Still, say yes to as many opportunities to show your home as you possibly can. Even if it means asking someone to watch your kids or temporarily pet sit for you to make it happen.
Partner with a great real estate agent. There’s a lot to be done if you’re going to get a good price on your home and get it finalized quickly. Your agent is invaluable here. From helping you stage your home, to listing and sharing it, to pre-qualifying potential buyers, to showing it, and ultimately—ideally—to going through those fantastic offers you get, at every stage of this process your agent is your advocate. A positive outcome is in everyone’s best interest, and top-notch real estate agents will fight to make that happen for you.
In a perfect world, your home sells quickly and for more than your asking price. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Keep in mind that a quick sale and a sale that yields the most income for you can be at odds with each other. Only you know how much or how little time you have before you need to be at your next duty station. Only you know what your bottom line is financially. Communicate this information honestly to your real estate agent so he or she can best represent your needs. And help you get as close to the best of both worlds as possible.
Step-by-Step Guide to Obtaining Your VA Loan Benefit
There’s a lot that is less than fantastic about military life. Missed birthdays and anniversaries. Worry during deployments. Picking up and moving time and again. But there are also perks to military life. One of those perks is the VA Loan Benefit. What’s not to like about a 0% down loan with no mandatory private mortgage insurance (PMI) and often with lower rates than a conventional loan? If you are eligible for this benefit, it’s one you should take advantage of.
Keep in mind: While it’s called a VA Loan Benefit, the VA does not provide home loans. What the VA does is act as the security of the loan, meaning the VA guarantees to cover the bank’s losses if there’s a default on the mortgage. This is added peace of mind for lenders!
Do you qualify? Did you or your spouse serve on active duty during wartime for 90 consecutive days? Or serve on active duty during peacetime for 181 days? Or serve in the National Guard or Reserves for six years? Were you or your spouse discharged from the service under honorable conditions? Or are you the spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty or as a result of a service-related injury or disability? If you can respond with “yes” to one or more of these requirements, you should be eligible.
Prove you’re eligible. You’ll need to obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to establish that you are indeed eligible for a VA Loan. You can do this yourself by completing a Certificate of Eligibility Request Form (VA Form 261880). Sign onto ebenefits.va.gov with your CAC card (ID card) to complete this form. This part of the process will require you to create an eBenefits account if you don’t already have one, or to login with existing credentials. Once on the site, click on the link entitled “Certificate of Eligibility for a Home Loan” and follow the instructions. Make sure to print out at least two copies of the COE—one for your own records and one for your mortgage lender.
Any questions or technical issues? You can contact VA/DoD at 1-800-983-0937. You can also ask your lender for assistance with obtaining your COE.
Speaking of lenders… While most lenders can offer VA Loans, it is to your advantage to choose a lender who specializes in them. One of the advantages of working with a military-serving real estate agent is that he or she knows and works with lenders with experience and expertise navigating the VA Loan program. This means smoother sailing for you!
Get your other documentation in order. You’re no stranger to needing documentation. Here’s where you’ll want to ensure you’re tracking which documents you’ll need: A DD-214 will verify an honorable discharge. You will also need to demonstrate that you have steady income sufficient to cover your mortgage payment and monthly expenses, so you’ll want to make sure you have your pay stubs or other proof of income readily available. While individual lender requirements may vary, you will likely be asked to produce bank statements, tax returns, W-2s, and orders (if you’re PCSing). Your lender will communicate any additional documentation that is necessary.
Pro tip: Put this information aside before you’re packing up if you’re in the middle of a move.
Once you’ve obtained your Certificate of Eligibility, put together your documentation, and assembled your dream team—an agent who is a pro at working with military families and a lender who’s comfortable with VA Loans—you’re ready to move forward with your home purchase. And in the process, you’ll be able to reap the financial rewards of a hard-earned benefit.
Six Reasons Why You Should Use a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home
Your next home relies on the sale of this one. Unless you are in the unique position of having discretionary spending enough to cover the cost of two mortgages concurrently, you need the proceeds from the sale of your current home to purchase your next home. And when you can’t move forward with plans for your next home, that means you also are not able to coordinate where the children will go to school. Or what service providers you’ll use to fix your car or treat a sick family member. Or where you will seek employment, if you are a military spouse uprooted from a job with your PCS. This can create a snowball of logistics that are on hold pending the finalization of the sale of your home. You need to sell your house quickly so that you can start working to set your family up for success in your new future home. And real estate agents expedite that process because they are in tune with the local marketplace and trends.
You’ve got enough on your plate already. A PCS means having a checklist of your checklists. You have possessions to inventory. Household goods to move or store. Vehicles to arrange transport for. Records to obtain from medical providers, employers, and schools. Commitments to end. Utilities to arrange. Insurance policies to revisit. Pets to vaccinate. Accounts to move or close. Finances to coordinate. Future home research to conduct. Family and friends to connect with before you leave. If you spent all day of every day working out the details, you’d still wake up every morning with an overwhelming feeling of all that is still left to do. Selling your home on your own in the midst of all that? That’s a tremendous number of balls up in the air, with a strong likelihood that something will be forgotten or come crashing down.
You need a reliable timeline. There is more to selling your home than giving tours to potentially interested parties. There are inquiries on your listing to manage, showings to coordinate, and screenings of potential buyers to determine if they are in fact pre-approved or at least pre-qualified to make a purchase. There is legal paperwork to complete, contracts to negotiate, several kinds of inspections to manage, and more. If selling your home is not your full-time job, then you will be trying to fit these activities into an already full schedule, which means that the number of potential buyers who see your home is limited to your availability to engage with them. Selling your home is your real estate agent’s full-time job.
Market exposure is important. The military community is a great resource. You likely have a wonderful village of people who will be happy to share your home listing with their friends and family. What you don’t have is exposure to the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) database and to all the other sites receiving data from that site. Your village’s friends and family aren’t all in the market for a home. But the thousands of potential buyers in the database? They are. And like you when you PCSed, in a military community your next buyer is not likely coming from down the street. A sign in the yard and an ad in the paper isn’t enough. Global reach is important. Using a real estate agent gets your listing in front of significantly more eyes than you could ever hope to. Your village just got a whole lot bigger.
Inexperience can be costly. Even if you’ve PCSed half a dozen times already, even if you’ve bought and sold more houses than you care to think about by now, know this: The average real estate agent sells about twelve homes per year (National Association of Realtors 2017 Member Profile). And we know you won’t be using just an average real estate agent because you’re a pro PCSer who will have done your homework, gathered your intel, and found a great military-savvy agent to advocate for you. [CAN TIE IN LINK TO OUR PREVIOUS “THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A REAL ESTATE AGENT” PIECE HERE]. In other words, you’ll want to work with someone who has been through this process numerous times—someone who knows how best to price a property, how to avoid expensive mistakes, and how to negotiate exceptionally well. The investment in a trained and experienced real estate agent can very easily cover the cost of their commission.
Speaking of commission… A seller-agent relationship is one of mutual benefit. Both parties profit when you get at or above your asking price. You share the same desired outcome: top dollar for your property. Real estate agents are incredibly motivated to see you both do well, and it’s their job to make that happen.
Staging Your Home to Sell During the Holidays
The idea of staging and showing your home over the holidays perhaps has you less than enthused. One more thing to deal with during an already incredibly busy season, right? Besides, who’s looking at houses this time of year anyway? You might be surprised to learn that this can, in fact, be a great time of year to show your home. Anyone who is voluntarily subjecting themselves to a home purchase over these next couple of months is inclined to be someone serious about buying. Like a military family with a particularly difficult PCS window.
Potential buyers with a deadline, fewer homes on the market, and a magical time of year? These can all work to your advantage when you’ve got a home to sell during the holidays.
Make sure the basics are covered first. You’re likely already familiar with this “to-do” list for showing your house. Fix the broken things. Clean the dirty things. Get rid of the unnecessary things. And that’s all sound advice year-round. But once those tasks are taken care of, here are some tips unique to staging a home during the holidays.
Consider what puts you in a festive mood. Is it the smell of hot cider or cocoa? The sounds of holiday tunes playing in the background? Stockings on the mantle? Mistletoe over a doorway? That feeling you get when you sense those things is the feeling you want your home to give.
Don’t be a Scrooge. Perhaps you’re not feeling particularly festive. Or you’ve got complicated feelings about what may be your last holiday in your current home. If you’re unmotivated to decorate, don’t pass on the holiday cheer just yet. You can project a warm and inviting feel with even a few small touches around your home—a couple strings of lights, an apple spice candle, a simple wreath on your front door can all make it feel like a special time of year without requiring any major decorating effort on your part. For a potential military-connected buyer, who has no doubt spent his or her share of holidays celebrating with stockings in a motel room while living out of boxes mid-move, those small touches will have a big impact.
But don’t go overboard either. Those people who start decorating in October to get all ten thousand figurines in their yard in time for the holidays? Their houses are great to visit, but they aren’t the house a buyer wants to see when pulling into your driveway. If in doubt, think elegant, timeless, and classy rather than penguin family on a sled. Save that for the front yard of your next home.
Be mindful of diversity. Yes, it’s the holiday season. But it’s not a one holiday season. You want as many prospective buyers looking at your house as possible. And Christmas may not be the reason for the season for all of them. Choose more neutral trimmings over those with religious connotations. Clear lights, evergreens, etc. are flattering to all homes and unlikely to be off-putting to a potential buyer. Remember that staging your home for the holidays is more about what will be appealing to a buyer and less about what is meaningful and significant to you and your family.
Remember your goal. Your end goal is to sell your house. The trimmings and good tidings are a fun and beautiful part of the season that can also put your house in the best light. But at the end of the day, a potential buyer still wants all the things that buyers want—open spaces, nice lines, counter space, etc. Make sure that whatever additions you make in the name of decorating don’t conflict with that.
Involve your real estate agent. She has shown her share of houses. He knows what will make your home more appealing to a prospective buyer (and what to hide). She has a vast network of local vendors and businesses and likely her own supply of furniture, accessories, and decorations that can brighten up your space. Ask your agent to walk through your home and provide feedback about staging it to show its full potential. You won’t regret it.
Potential buyers want to imagine themselves and their families living in a house and creating their own special memories there. With the right touches, they’ll be picturing their first holiday season in their new home when they walk through your door.
Most military-connected folks will tell you that one of the downsides to this life is the seemingly constant moving from one place to the next. But this transient lifestyle presents you with a unique opportunity as well. With each move, you get to leave your own distinctive decorating mark on your new home. You can experiment with different colors and mediums without being committed to them over the long haul. All you need to do is roll up your sleeves and let yourself be inspired.
Whether you like to read digital magazines online or prefer the feel of a real “book” in your hands, magazines are a great source of design inspiration.
You can start with lifestyle magazines like Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, and Good Housekeeping. These types of publications usually cover leisure, fashion, health, decorating, and culture, or some combination of any of these. They’re the same magazines you’re likely to find in the checkout aisle of the grocery store. The ones that promise they’ll show you how to organize your kitchen, pull off the perfect outdoor barbeque, or keep up with the latest fitness craze. They’re not marketed as design magazines, but they’ve got their finger on the pulse of what’s new and trending.
Interested in a lifestyle magazine focused specifically on military spouses and families? Check out Military Spouse Magazine. You’ll find page after page of beautiful photos and inspiring stories about people living this life and how they make it work. (And how they’re handling the frequent moves, just like you.)
If your taste is eclectic, or if you’re not sure what your taste is just yet, there are a whole host of magazines geared toward interior design and decorating. HGTV promises real-life solutions for all the things that homeowners deal with every day. Interior Designshowcases the latest design trends and ideas. Elle Decor markets itself as home design for the fashion-conscious soul. House Beautiful offers inspiration for home design and lifestyle. Architectural Digest features both classic and contemporary design styles.
Magazines like Town & Country, Veranda, and Luxe cater to an upscale, luxury crowd. While admittedly, “upscale” and “luxury” aren’t typically words you find in the same sentence as “military family,” don’t let that deter you from sourcing them for ideas. You can create a budget-friendly version of practically any high-ticket item design if you’re resourceful and creative enough.
Then there’s a whole niche market of design magazines. Like a country aesthetic? There’s Country Living, Southern Living, and Country Sampler to name just a few. Dream of a home inspired by life on the water? That’s Coastal Living’s focus. Fond of Victorian stylings? Then grab Romantic Homes and Victorian Homes. Prefer a beautiful ranch feel? Try Atomic Ranch. Modest 20th century homes? Pick up a copy of American Bungalow. Modern flair? You’ll find that in Dwell.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s out there in terms of magazines focused on interior design. There is something that fits everyone’s sense of style. The wonderful thing is that you don’t have to be committed to any one look or feel; you can choose across styles. Let magazines like these be inspiration, but not gospel. For example, you may have modern taste but find the perfect piece of furniture in a country design magazine that you can make work with your other more contemporary pieces.
And think outside the box, too. A magazine doesn’t have to be labeled as a design or lifestyle magazine for it to be a great source of design inspiration. Peruse the magazines you see in waiting rooms or at your local library. That copy of Outdoor Life or Field & Stream might just remind you that there are other applications for camouflage besides military uniforms and tanks. Or check out the latest issues of top fashion magazines—like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, or InStyle—for tips on trending colors, patterns, and fabrics.
Pay attention to whatever catches your eye or draws your interest. Inspiration can come from anywhere!
Available technology makes it easier than ever for military families to learn about their duty station. But searching on Google alone won’t cut it. That’s where social media swoops in to save the day and can make you an expert on your new neighborhood before you even get there!
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how awesome Pinterest is for gathering and storing information in one place, but it is also a great tool for moving that shouldn’t be overlooked. As soon as you get orders to your next duty station, create a board on Pinterest titled with the name of your new duty station. Then start gathering pins related to the base and the area.
The best part about this? Many other military spouses have already traveled down the road you’re on. So it’s likely they’ve created or shared pins related to your duty station already. What’s better than collecting information curated by someone who’s been in your shoes?
Hashtags are a great way to geotag photos without actually using your GPS or “checking in” anywhere. Any time someone posts a picture to Instagram and adds a hashtag with a location that will be searchable by you (depending on their privacy settings).
So to start getting a visual idea of what your base and the surrounding areas look like, you can go on Instagram and start searching hashtags. Start by searching “#YourDutyStationName” (as in #FortHood). This will show you what real people are doing in the area and what they think about it.
A word of warning though: Take the comments and captions with a grain of salt. Everyone has a unique outlook on life so their comments might not be very objective.
Hack 3—Facebook Pages
I’m guessing that any time you receive orders, you immediately hop on Facebook and join the local spouse page at your new base. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s so much more to Facebook pages than just the spouses’ groups!
This one may sound a little goofy since Snapchat is used for more personal purposes (like sending funny photos of your face switched with your cat’s to your best friend). But it can also be used to help you discover more about your next base.
Hack 5—Facebook Live
Facebook Live is a fantastic tool for checking out a potential property. You can reach out to a friend and ask them to create a Facebook live video for you. They can set their audience for the video to just you so you’re the only one who can view the video.
They can then create a video while walking through a potential property. They can talk about what they like, don’t like, or anything that stands out. The best part about this tool is, once they’re done filming, they can save the video to their timeline (where only you will be able to see it!), and you can go back and review the video over and over again.
This makes it easier than doing a Facetime video with a friend and frantically trying to take notes while also trying to watch everything they’re showing you. This also helps you avoid the Facetime/video call barrier if you have phones that aren’t compatible.
Researching your next duty station doesn’t have to be all work… it can also be fun! By using the five tools above, you’ll get a fuller sense of what your next installation looks like and what life will be like on your next adventure!
66,100,000. That’s how many blogs, articles, resources, and opinions Google generously spits back when we type in “military families own or rent.” Obviously, renting versus owning a home is a quandary that’s very much on the minds of lots of folks. In the name of convenience (we don’t imagine you’ve got time to read over 60 million citations), we thought we’d highlight the key factors you should keep in mind if this is a decision that you too are currently looking at having to make.
Just to manage your expectations, we don’t have the “right” answer for you. There are too many variables that are unique to you and your specific circumstances to take into account. But we’ve got some great questions we hope will guide you to making the “right-for-you” decision.
What is your current housing situation?? Considering whether to rent or to buy is one thing if it’s your first home or apartment. That conversation quickly changes if you’re already responsible for an existing rental agreement or mortgage. For instance, if you’re living with family and searching for a place to call your own, you’re looking at potential numbers. If you’ve signed a year-long rental agreement or already hold a mortgage and are looking at another place, then you have two sets of numbers that need to play nicely together.
How is your financial health?? You need to have a very clear picture of where you stand financially before you think about committing future dollars. You don’t know what you’ll be able to afford if you haven’t yet been really honest with yourself about your current financial situation. If your present financial outlook is grimmer than you’d like, then are there other priorities like reducing debt or restoring a credit score that should take priority over home ownership?
Have you run the numbers for both renting and purchasing a home? Do you have a financial advisor who can review those numbers with you and take into consideration things like tax brackets, tax breaks, real estate appreciation, and such?
How important to you is that VA loan? If you use this benefit and then need to relocate elsewhere, you’ll need to have paid off your VA loan in order to be eligible for another. That means you can’t count on the help of a VA loan for the second property purchased.
Do you have a financial safety net? Are you prepared financially (and emotionally) to pay two mortgages or a mortgage and rent if you’re unable to sell your home before you need to move?
What is your future game plan? ?We’ll give you a moment to stop laughing. You could randomly sample any one thousand strangers on the street and they’d no doubt be as knowledgeable about what the military has planned for you as you are. You may not know where you’ll be in the next six months (we so wish that was an exaggeration). We get it. But what’s your plan for the plan? Are you early in your military career? How many years of PCSing do you anticipate having in front of you? How close—or far—is retirement for your military family? And what’s your plan for when retirement does come? Are you sipping margaritas from an RV that you use to hop from one child’s house to the other? Are you settling into a forever home? Your end game matters…or at least your next-several-years’ game does.
What about the “you” variable that folks forget to consider? ?How risk-averse are you? Are you reasonably comfortable with the uncertainty of the housing market? Are you willing to be geographically separated if the sale of a home requires one person to remain back while another proceeds to a new duty location? Are you open-minded about the idea of being a landlord if you find yourself needing to rent out a house that just won’t sell?
Do you like to shovel? Rake? Weed? Or do you have a teenage workforce to whom you can delegate such tasks? Are you handy or willing to shell out money when it comes to home repairs and maintenance? Do you like purple walls but not the twenty coats of primer necessary to cover them if you move out? (Purple walls won’t likely be your decision-making factor, but how you feel about decorating, renovating, and claiming a space as your own might be.)
Are you prone to collecting children, pets, or big boulders from all the places the military has sent you? How much space will you need? How challenging is it or might it be to find child-friendly/pet-friendly/boulder-friendly rentals in the area you’re considering?
The “right-for-you” choice is…? a series of conversations about your current situation, your financial health, your vision for your future, and your personal preferences and priorities. Nobody who tells you there is a singular right answer regarding whether you should rent or own is as invested in this outcome as you are. When all is said and done, this decision needs to be about what’s most important to you and your family.
5 Ways to Uncover the Secrets of Your Next Duty Station
PCS’ing to a new duty station can be scary, intimidating, and overwhelming all at the same time. And you have no choice but to buck up and move there. Even if you don’t have a network to rely on for insider information, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a firm grip on what the area will be like before you get there!
1 — Embrace Your Base
There is always going to be a place you absolutely dread going to (I’m looking at you, Minot, N.D.), but that’s not going to stop the military from sending you there. So instead of going into your next PCS with a stomach full of lead, try looking at the bright side!
Before you arrive at your base, give it a chance. Start looking into the on- and off-base activities. What’s going on in the local area? Are there major cities or attractions nearby that would be fun to check out? Start planning mini-trips and putting local events on your calendar for after you arrive. That’ll help you take a break from all the moving boxes and embrace your new surroundings.
While you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the base. Start looking at the duty station’s website (I know they can be clunky, but they often have a wealth of information). Find out what amenities are available on base and start estimating how much time you plan to spend there. If the installation can provide for your lifestyle better than the surrounding communities, then you’re one step closer to making a housing decision.
2 — Go Social
When you find out where you’re headed next, get on Google and search “pcsing to ____.” Look past the first few results to some of the lower results on the first page, and even consider going to the second page (eek!). You’ll often find forums or chats related to your duty station where people have already asked questions that you have right now.
Dive headfirst into the blogosphere to learn from fellow military spouses, local photographers, foodies, and real estate agents about what the area is like. Many of these people write posts on their personal experiences of the area, which is a great first-hand resource to tap into! Just be sure to look out for sponsored posts, and keep their affiliate status in mind when weighing their input.
Getting connected with installation-specific Facebook groups is a popular recourse as well. Ask members of the public groups if there are any secret groups available for you to join. Make it clear you have specific questions to ask that you’d feel more comfortable asking in a more secure group (sometimes unit-specific groups are secret and you’ll need an admin to invite you). Oftentimes fellow group members will add you, or at least vouch for your entry
3 — Work Your Network!
Military spouses have networks that even put Kevin Bacon’s fame to shame. As soon as you receive orders (or a hint that you’re moving in the future) reach out to your network and ask if anyone has lived at the duty station you’re headed to. Take it one step further and ask them to introduce you to someone they know who has lived there or currently lives there. Then pick their brains on the base and the area.
4 — Nail Down the Brass Tacks
There are two critical things you need to figure out about your new duty station right away: The housing market and the schools.
For the market, using Zillow can provide a good baseline for what home prices are like in the area. Start looking for homes in areas around the base that you find attractive. Then take it one step further and click on the link for “county data” or “see more resources.” That will offer you specific neighborhood names that you can then reach out to your networks and ask about. This in-depth research will give you a more realistic idea of what the neighborhood is like. For a more in-depth, customized approach, working with a Realtor (hint, hint) is going to be your best bet.
While this can be a lot of work, in the end, it’s worth it. However, if research really isn’t your thing and you’re worried about finding a good neighborhood, that’s what I’m here for!
For school research, start with GreatSchools.org. They gather tons of information from schools every year and compile it all into one score that you can use to compare schools in the area. But be aware that those scores are just numbers at the end of the day.
You can also go one step further and connect with your base’s School Liaison Officer. They’re going to have the best info on the schools in your area and will be able to guide you to one that’s appropriate for your kids. You can also check out my School Scope toolkit for a comprehensive overview of what to look for in a new school and where your child will thrive!
5 — Map It Out
As soon as you find out where you’re moving next, hop on Google Maps to get a visual of the area. Start by finding out where the base is located and then work outwards from there.
The cool thing about Google Maps is you can customize them and create labels, notes, and other designations that are relevant to you. You can outline general areas you’re considering buying a home in; you can drop a pin at the nearest Target and Chipotle (two essential items); you can note where other vital amenities are and how far of a commute they are from the base or your potential home.
The possibilities are endless.
Then use Google Street View to see what the area actually looks like, from an on-the-ground perspective. By going one step further and mapping out your next base, you’re acquainting yourself with the area, and saving yourself the headache of repeatedly getting lost when you first arrive.
Getting a jump on this research will help orient you to your new home and help you start identifying where you think you’re interested in living! Once you have an idea of that, or even before, let me know what you’re thinking and I can help you find the perfect home. I know it’s hard, but we can start working well before the ink is dry on your orders and have on your way to a smooth, much coveted door-to-door move!
5 Mistakes Military Homebuyers Make
And How to Prevent Them From Happening
Too often, military families feel like homeownership is out of reach. Maybe they’ve heard of friends being upside-down on a house in a bad market, desperate to sell. Or perhaps they struggle to find and keep renters in their home once they move away. Because of horror stories like this, many military families choose to be long-term renters until they can put down permanent roots.
Because military families often have compressed timelines and additional stresses to consider when buying a home, such as an unfamiliar city or upcoming deployments, they are at additional risk of making critical errors early on in the process. Fortunately for prospective military home-buyers, these worst-case scenarios are preventable, and home ownership can be a personally and financially rewarding experience if approached properly. Here are the top five mistakes to look out for if you are a military family considering a home purchase and, more importantly, how to avoid them!
Mistake No. 1 — Starting the Process Too Late
While some people are apt to wait until they arrive at their new installation to start house hunting, this rarely works out well.
On average it takes between 30 and 40 days to close on a home. But the military only offers you ten days of “free” temporary lodging. That means you have to account for 20-plus days of out-of-pocket living expenses. That can get expensive, stressful, crowded, and frustrating in a hurry.
Solution: As soon as you have an inkling you’ll be PCS’ing, start looking for a new home. Once the official orders arrive, you’ll be able to begin the process of buying or renting a home. That way, when you finally arrive at your new base after spending 50 hours driving across the country, you can skip temporary lodging and move straight into your new place.
Mistake No. 2 — Buying a House When You’re Not Financially Ready
The VA Loan is a benefit that makes homeownership a real possibility for many military families. But buying a house means you’re also buying into a lot more responsibility.
Air conditioning units break and water heaters tend to explode. Natural disasters CAN happen to anyone, and kids sometimes hit baseballs through windows. That’s life. And it’s pretty expensive sometimes. Putting all those home expenses on credit probably isn’t the best choice. And then the military will ask you to move once again, and you could suddenly find yourselves paying a mortgage on two homes because your old one hasn’t sold yet.
Solution: Before you buy a home, make sure you have a robust emergency/rainy day fund built up. That financial cushion will allow your family to take care of home emergencies without your finances spiraling out of control.
Mistake No. 3 — Not Buying a House for the Long Game
This is probably the biggest mistake military home buyers make. Homes appreciate (gain value), but it takes years to see the value increase. Location impacts this significantly. But buying a home with the expectation you’ll be able to sell it for a profit in just a couple years when you get new orders isn’t very realistic. If you’re selling after only a few years you’ll be lucky to break even, and you’ll be more likely to lose money on the transaction.
Solution: When buying a home, buy it with the long game in mind. That means being prepared to become a military landlord the next time you PCS. Selling too soon might result in the loss of thousands of dollars, whereas renting the property ensures that the mortgage is covered by tenants and you can continue to build equity. Military homeowners have to think beyond the two or three-year planning horizon that is typical for military families.
Mistake No. 4 — Buying in the Wrong Market or Neighborhood
You always hear real estate agents talking about “location, location, location!” There’s a good reason for that. A home that’s in a desirable neighborhood for your family doesn’t mean it’s desirable to everyone else.
You also have to consider the market. Are there enough people moving to and from the area to support you being able to rent or sell your home? Is the market over-saturated with homes, making yours just one of the thousands up for sale? Not enough demand can be bad, but too much supply can be worse.
Solution: When buying a home, think beyond your family and your circumstances. You might love living out in the country, but many other families might not want to live so far from the installation. A downtown loft might be ideal for your family, but too expensive and too cramped for many other families. Think about your potential buyers and renters before committing to a new place.
Mistake No. 5 — Buying the Wrong House
Yes, that is a thing. Just because you like a house, doesn’t mean other people will. When buying a home at your new installation, keep in mind that it’s not going to be your forever home. Even if you plan on coming back to it in the future, you need to have a plan for what you’re going to with it in the meantime.
Solution: When buying a home, think beyond your family and your circumstances. You might love having a split level home with only two bathrooms, but that could be an absolute deal breaker for many other families. Ask yourself, “What is desirable about this house to the general population? What is undesirable about it?” Considering what would be desirable to other families before committing to a house will help your chances of selling or renting out your home when it comes time for you to PCS again.
Buying a home while still serving in the military can be risky, but when done properly it comes with the reward of long-term financial stability. Do your homework, keep the potential hazards in mind, and find a savvy agent. So long as you avoid the common mistakes that military families sometimes make, you too can own your very own piece of the American Dream!