One of the most anxiety-inducing decisions in the PCS process can be trying to figure out whether you should live on or off base, and if makes more sense to rent or buy.
For some, the mental separation and privacy of living off base is worth it. And sometimes the question is answered for you. The wait for base housing may simply be untenable, with a months or even years-long waiting list, necessitating the need for an off base home. Or, the military member may be coded as “Key and Essential Personnel” and required to live on base.
But if you’re weighing whether it’s worth it to live off base, consider these pros and cons.
The Option to Buy a Home
Perhaps the biggest benefit in living off base, is the option to purchase your own home. You have complete freedom to find a home that fits within your budget and BAH range, and have the flexibility to search for a property that fits your family’s lifestyle and needs. BAH dollars can either be stretched to buy at the upper end of your family budget, or conserved by purchasing a smaller home and pocketing the BAH savings – or applying the savings to utilities and other bills.
Homeownership often offers a path to build equity and create wealth, and many military families elect to keep their home as a rental property once they PCS.
But homeownership is not for everyone, and there are a number of reasons why renting off base might be a better fit, to include: budget, the responsibilities that come with homeownership, market uncertainties, an unknown timeline of a military tour, or simply a desire not to be a homeowner in a particular state.
Option to be Selective in Finding a Rental
Sometimes, it simply makes more sense to secure a rental home off base, versus buying. An off base rental can provide wonderful flexibility in several ways!
Unlike living on base, you are free to be as selective as you wish in finding a rental that suits your lifestyle and budget, and can view as many listings as you want before choosing a home. This contrasts sharply with most on base housing offers, as families can reject one property offer – but if they reject a second, they are usually booted to the bottom of the base housing wait list again. Living off base, you can look at as many rentals as you want, without penalty.
That selectivity can cut both ways though, in a local economy. In a tight market, trying to find a nice rental that also fits within your budget may prove difficult – and homes may rent within hours of being listed. You can ease some of that stress by determining what your “must-have” amenities are, such as being downtown, having a two-car garage for winter climates, or being within a certain school district to help narrow your search.
Independent Landlords versus Professional Property Managers
Not all rentals are created equally, and whether the property is managed by an independent landlord or a management team can make a tremendous difference in a rental experience.
Some independent landlords are great – and you’ll never have a problem. They’re fair, and responsive to repair and maintenance requests. Some property managers are the same.
The largest risk of a rental property, is discovering that the property, or the rental deal is “not as advertised” for any number of reasons. The second largest risk, is then dealing with a negligent, or non-responsive landlord or manager. You may have more resolution options with a team, in the fact there is more than one person to talk to, in attempts to correct a given situation.
Before you sign that rental agreement, pay attention to any red flags, such as difficulty in simply scheduling the rental showing, the condition of the property as compared to listing photos, inclusion of a military clause, and whether you are signing with an independent landlord, versus a professional property manager.
TIP – It is worth noting that breaking a rental lease to move into base housing is not a covered protection included within the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act’s military clause, in the Right to Terminate a Military Lease. If you are remotely considering wanting to live on base, consider signing a month-to-month lease to give yourself the flexibility to break the rental lease, legally and without repercussion.
Renting or Buying – Prepare for Additional Expenses Living Off Base
Whether you rent or buy, maintaining a home outside of base gates will come with additional expenses. Before you make a purchase offer, or sign a lease, ask your leasing or sales agent to help you determine average utility costs to expect per month. If renting, determine what expenses are included in the rent (and those should be spelled out verbatim in the lease) such as certain utilities to include gas or oil, electricity, water, sewer, trash, and lawn care, or snow/ice removal.
Living off base can offer several benefits, notably the option to buy a home, and choose from a greater housing selection – with more flexibility to fit your desired lifestyle and budget. And although living on base cannot be matched in terms of convenience or immediate base access, an off base choice might be the best fit for your family. There are no right or wrong answers, and what works for one PCS might not work for the next.
“Home” is where the military sends us, whether that’s on, or off base.