Buying a Home at Your Next Duty Station: Is It Worth the Risk?

There are some unique features of military life, usually touted as perks, that even those who are a part of the life aren’t fans of. We likely all know (or are) those who refuse to live on base, or won’t shop at the commissary, or insist on working-out off base.

And beyond just base amenities, there are choices to be made that can have even further reaching consequences. In terms of home ownership specifically, how can a military family wisely tackle the challenges related to buying a home in the context of the military?

Why It’s Risky

To have the whole picture and to assess what’s best for your family, it’s important to have a clear idea of what home buying as a military family can potentially entail. We’ve likely all heard the five year rule, which essentially asserts that you need to live in the house you buy for five years to break even. That’s a timeline that can be tough, if not impossible, for a military family to stick to.

In virtually every situation a military family is going to be required to leave before the house is paid off, and that introduces a tricky question: do you rent it, or do you sell it?

Renting it out: The risk here is that you’re going to want to ensure that the tenants take care of the property, and you’re going to be responsible for some level of maintenance —  not easy in any situation, and especially not easy if you’ve moved to another duty station.

Reselling it: The scary thing about this is it might not sell, and if it doesn’t you have a whole new conundrum. Do you live apart from your service member until it does, or do you pay for an unoccupied house when you move? Neither are financially ideal. In either situation you’re stuck paying for two living spaces.

Why It May be Worth the Risk

While the aforementioned risks are real, there are solid reasons others in the military life have opted to participate in one of the main pillars of the American Dream. A recent overview of the top real estate trends notes that the number one change in the industry is that potential home buyers have a lot of the power in their own hands thanks to the internet. So, even as a military family, you have more agency than previous homebuyers ever could have imagined.

It may actually be cost-effective: Depending on the market where you live, it may be less expensive to buy. It’s possible your monthly mortgage will be less than rent for a comparable house, and that means you’re either pocketing the extra money or you’re able to live in a nicer/larger home. Plus, upfront costs look different for a military family. Mainly, VA loans mean no down payment, so you don’t have to save for months in advance, and if you do you can use it for other things.

It’s yours: In the midst of a lifestyle where sometimes even your own spouse doesn’t seem like yours, having a home that is your own is a big deal. There’s nothing like arriving in a new place and filling the house with boxes; a house that hasn’t been filled with dozens before you and will house dozens after you.

Maybe, you know where you want to settle: Sometimes you find yourself at a duty station where you just know. It stands leagues above the rest as a fit for your family, and some opt to start paying for the home that will house their family post-military, early on. 

You’re (almost definitely) in an area with frequent turn over: The very thing that makes buying a house risky, is the same thing that ensures that a military family that does need to rent or sell their home is in an area of high turnover.

You do what’s right for you

Regardless of what other military friends are telling you, you and your spouse need to make the decision that works for your family on an individual level. Maybe you and your spouse are in a season of life where any extra risks are just out of the question, and that’s okay.

But maybe you’re unwilling to let the military stop you from finding your forever, or even semi-forever, home. Perhaps your family is one that will be able to leverage your unique lifestyle in such a way that it becomes the path to financial success and homeownership, instead of a barrier.

Has your military family decided to buy or sell at a duty station? What we were the pros and cons?

Posted by Chloe Moore, Navy spouse, writer, and parent

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