I insisted we buy the house. It didn’t matter that this was going to be a temporary duty station, by that I mean we knew the Marine Corps would be giving us orders 36 months to the day from when we arrived there. But, I didn’t care. I had to live in THAT house, I had to own it. Sounds bratty, I know. In following the march of a good spouse, my husband went along with the crazy idea while probably repeating several times “happy wife, happy life.”
So, we became homeowners. We loved living there – great neighborhood, safe, quality schools, but true to its word, the military moved us 3 years later. This meant we had to come up with a solution for this home that included it being paid for every month while we would be paying rent elsewhere. This is what I learned about that experience – and you should know ahead of time that I am great for sharing lessons because I am always first to learn them the hard way.
First and foremost, be proactive in devising a plan at least six months ahead of time.
I would suggest starting your research early enough to make an informed decision rather than a rushed one. The main areas you will need to focus on are your finances, your market, and what kind of responsibilities you want with this home once you have moved.
Questions to consider when weighing whether to rent or to sell your home:
- Who will be responsible for maintaining your home – you or a property manager? Will you be able to serve in a capacity to find a quality tenant, ensure proper credit checks and legal documents are prepared, and be the direct line of communication for those tenants? For example, if the hot water heater decides to break, you will need to keep a roster of contractors who you can contact AND pay ahead of time to get it fixed.
- If being your home’s landlord is not ideal, the next question would be can you find a property manager that you can trust and who will monitor the home? Please note the specific importance of this: We picked a property manager whom we didn’t have much time to vet and the experience resulted in extensive damage done to the home by tenants who were not being kept in contact with. A solid course of action that may have avoided this would have been to start the process of finding a property manager 3-6 months out from when we needed the home listed. Take the time to interview property management companies. It can save you money and give you peace of mind. Ask questions about how frequently they check in on tenants, what kind of inspections are done, and what the process is to find renters.
- Do you have sufficient savings in place in case the home needs repairs while a tenant is living in it? As the homeowner, you are responsible for making sure deficiencies are taken care of in an expedient manner – especially emergencies. If you do not have the funds allotted for such situations (that will happen because that’s how life goes), renting the home out probably isn’t a great solution.
- How is the market in your area? If the home takes time to sell, do you have the finances to carry the mortgage until you find a buyer?
- Finding a seller’s agent requires the same amount of research as finding a property manager – you will want to take the time to get the best person to sell your home. There is a good likelihood that you will need to work with this person from a distance if you execute orders before the home is sold. What kind of communication can you expect from this professional? Work the kinks out before you are in a different location. The last thing you want is to be chasing down the person who is supposed to be working for you.
There is no right or wrong way to be a homeowner, especially in the military community. Many families have benefitted greatly from owning a house, even if they only get to live in that property for a short time. However, it does require a hands-on approach because the wrong decisions can end up as costly mistakes. Do the legwork to consider which route – to rent or to sell – is a good fit for your family so that when you move on to your next address, you have a solid plan in place.
Check out these additional tips from AHRN on becoming a landlord: Must Have Tips, Tools and Resources for the New Military Landlord
Bianca Strzalkowski is a freelance writer and editor. A proud Marine Corps wife of 14 years, she has experience in news reporting, social media management, and content marketing. Prior to her freelance writing career, Bianca was the Deputy Director of Membership for Blue Star Families. She is media trained and has appeared in interviews for television, radio, and print to include Fox News, CNN, and Oprah. Currently, she serves as an Advisor for The MilSpo Project and is a content strategist for the Homefront United Network.