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  • Writer's pictureLeila Gillette

Our experience with different housing options as a military family

Moving as a military family can be a stressful process, and having several options on how & where you live can add to that stress. However, it can sometimes be a little exciting to have options on your home and be able to decide for yourself and your family how you want to live each time you move. So far as a military family, we’ve done a little of everything. We’ve lived on base a couple of times, rented off base a couple of times, and most recently bought our home off base. After doing a mixture of living options I really can’t say that one is 100% better than the other. Each has pros and cons and each has been great for our family for the circumstances we were in at the time. If you scroll down the home page of my blog you’ll find a detailed "on versus off base" blog post that has more specific pros & cons about those 2 options, but I wanted to chat a little more casually about all of the options and what our experience has been. I know for me, hearing from other military families and getting feedback about various home/living options has been really helpful when we are PCS’ing and making those decisions. So here goes it!!

Living on base

We have found that deciding to live on base for us usually comes down to specific factors. One factor at the beginning of our military journey was us just being a very young, not super financially sound, newly married, totally brand new to military life, couple. This made living on base a very easy choice during our first assignment, as it felt the most simple option in terms of responsibility & finances. Most military bases will have base housing prices match whatever your basic housing allowance (BAH) is. And sometimes (base dependent!) you may not have to pay utilities making out of pocket expenses for housing very low if none at all. We also just found it was a really nice way to quickly become more familiar with military life, meet others new to the military world like us, and be able to explore and learn about all of the base resources. Since then, living on base for us has, and will probably continue to come down to the location of the base and housing availability. Because of the town or city the base is located in, off base prices may not be super affordable. We found this to be the case when we were stationed in Tampa, FL, noting houses that were 30 minutes or less to base were WAY out of a military families price range (for the most part). So if we had wanted to live off base my husband would have had a commute of 40 mins- 1 hr which just wasn’t something we wanted at that time. We also always try to look into the base housing options and see if they seem like types of homes we would want to live in, get opinions on what others think about living on that base, and see what the housing wait list is like to see if it is a length of time we would be comfortable waiting. For the most part, we have really liked living on base and lucked out each time with getting pretty nice housing options and not having any MAJOR housing/maintenance issues. It also is really great to not have to pay for any maintenance to your home and have someone come out and fix things without any labor or cost on your end. Now, like anything, living on base was not all sunshine and rainbows. For us, we found that sometimes we felt like we were stuck in the military bubble, my husband often felt like he never actually “left work”, and it can feel like you may not be a part of the community in the town/city you live in. There also has been notoriously a lot of issues with base housing when it comes to housing quality, maintenance concerns and long wait lists.

Renting Off Base

Renting off base for us came about after we had lived on base for several years and had felt that we outgrew our home a little bit, and were also just ready for a change and to get an idea of what living off base was like. We loved being able to pick the house we wanted to live in and to be able to live in town and be a lot closer to the communities resources, have more land, and feel like we got a little break from military life. Renting also allowed us to not feel like we had to make a huge commitment when it came to picking a home and also took a little pressure off of us when it came to home maintenance/financial responsibilities that comes along with buying.  We also knew we didn’t have a ton of time left at this particular duty station and so going through the process of buying was something we didn’t feel was worth it at that time. With renting, we knew that even when signing a lease we would be able to break that lease if needed/when orders came to move. We didn’t have any major issues or cons that we ran into when renting, but of course when renting even though we got to pick our home and find one we really liked we still knew it wasn’t OURS. Making any major changes, or fixes that we would like had to be approved and it definitely felt more temporary. Overall for us renting was a great in between from getting a break from living on base but not quite feeling ready to buy a home.

Buying A Home

And now the big one! Or at least that is what it felt like for us. Buying a house for the first time came after living on base a couple of times and renting a home and an apartment. We knew we were ready to be home owners for the first time and felt like we really wanted to be a part of the bigger community & town we were going to versus just the base. We also knew that homes were affordable where we were moving to compared to BAH, base housing wasn’t very updated with long wait lists, and we just really wanted to feel settled (or at least as settled as possible) during our time at this duty station. Now the hardest part about this home purchase for us was buying site unseen. I won’t say I recommend this as I do wish we had gotten a chance to fly/drive to where we were moving to really feel out the area and get more of an idea of housing off base. BUT for us at the time this wasn’t really an option as our orders came only a few months out from moving & we were both working and didn’t have family nearby to keep our kids if we flew out to the town. And for us it did work out! I think this was really just a lot of luck as we ended up really liking our home and the area it is in. If you have to buy a home site unseen I would highly recommend just finding a realtor you trust who willl be honest about the home/the area AND even asking if any awesome military spouses that are stationed there (usually through the bases spouse facebook page) will go and drive to the home you are considering and give you their opinion of the home/area. I won’t go into details regarding our home buying experience/paperwork/loan options, etc. as for one, that stuff is just not really exciting and for two, it really all feels like such a blur and I don’t feel confident in providing super accurate info! Again, a realtor and mortgage lender you trust whole heartedly are KEY! They will walk you through the process and make it as seamless as possible. Like many military families we did use the VA loan when buying and had no issues with this. Again, the spouses Facebook page of the base you are moving to can be your best friend as I asked a lot about lender options, schools, areas to live in, etc. Overall we had a really good buying experience and love our home. We love being able to do what we want to this house to make it feel like HOME, paint, adding built-ins, walllpaper, redoing cabinets, you name it. While it’s been amazing so far of course there are downsides. The biggest downside is the responsibility. Knowing that we are responsible for all of the home maintenance, upkeep, safety, etc. can feel like a lot and can cost a lot. Luckily my husband is quite handy and can do a lot himself, but you still often have to hire experts if there are major home issues and have to pay for all parts/appliances/maintenance that needs to be done.  I think you just have to really ensure you factor these things in and ensure you can financially care for the upkeep of a home. Fortunately, mortgages are often lower than rent and can be lower than BAH if you are able to buy an affordable home, which can leave you some wiggle room for utilities and home maitnainencae.

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