As PCS orders begin to filter down to military families, the house hunt begins. While you can gather an incredible amount of information online, there is something to be said for putting your feet on the ground and looking around your new town. If Spring Break offers you an opportunity to plan a quick trip, here are our best tips for planning a Spring Break House Hunting trip.
We don’t always have the ability to choose a home before a PCS. Stories (both good and bad) abound of arriving to a new duty station and embarking on a quick search to find a place to live. If you’re trying to avoid that quick decision this time around, a house hunting trip to get an on the ground feel for your new duty station might be the answer you’re looking for!
“If you can have someone watch your kids while you hunt for a house, absolutely do so – because by the end of our search (which included 25 houses in three days), even I wanted to throw a temper tantrum, and I’m 28, not 4! Research is your friend. We researched absolutely everything we could about the real estate agency, our agent, the banks in the area. I also connected with the local spouses group on Facebook and got recommendations on neighborhoods, schools and day care.”
— Rachel McBride, Air Force Spouse
Set Your Priorities
What do you need out of your home, neighborhood, commute and schools? During my family’s last PCS to Fort Hood, we made it a priority to find a neighborhood with sidewalks and low traffic to make it easier to walk the dogs while our then 4-year-old rode his bike. We knew we could be flexible with the number of bedrooms due to a healthy BAH and rental market, but a fenced backyard for the dogs was a must. A good storage room would be a favored bonus. That criteria helped us to quickly narrow down our choices and avoid wasting time looking a homes that couldn’t satisfy our must-haves.
Do Your Research
It can be overwhelming to drive into a new town, make snap decisions about which neighborhoods you prefer and forecast traffic patterns. A little time spend researching prior to your trip can reduce the guessing game. Start with AHRN.com’s Installation Features, then head over the AHRN.com Facebook page to ask our community about their insights on your new duty station. Some good questions to crowd source:
- Is there a particular gate that is difficult or easy to get in and out at high traffic times?
- Which roads have the worst traffic and should be avoided if possible?
- Are there parts of the installation that are difficult or time consuming to get to from certain parts of town?
- What are the best/most convenient shopping areas?
You want to take all of this information with a grain of salt – things may have changed and an individual experience isn’t all encompassing. But it will help you know what questions to ask. Other things, like school research, should be done with more standard metrics. Greatschools.org offers an excellent starting point for evaluating schools but don’t be afraid to make phone calls and call the possible schools to get information directly.
How will you compare homes & neighborhoods?
In the AHRN.com PCS Toolkit, we provide pages to make notes about the homes you look at. If you are using your AHRN.com account to choose homes to look at, you can mark your favorites and map distances. Whether you use pen and paper, make notes on your smart phone or create a spreadsheet to organize the information at a glance, decide before your trip how you will keep track. Then evaluate the homes and neighborhoods that you’ll look at so you come prepared.
Make note of your first impression
When it comes to looking at homes, there is something to be said for first impressions. Let yourself walk through a home and get a thorough first impression. Can you see your family in the space? Is it comfortable? Does it give you a good gut feeling? Don’t leave without making notes on this, as it can be hard to remember each initial instinct about a place when you have seen several back to back.
Think Like An Inspector
After your first impression, go back through the home like a building inspector. Is there any damage when you look closely? Does the yard show signs of flooding? Is there enough storage? What is the vibe of the neighborhood and does that work for your family?
In your notes, specify any concerns that come to mind so you can either research or address it with the home owner/property manager.
Keep Your Furniture In Mind
While I wouldn’t say you should choose a home based on how it fits your furniture, it’s worth keeping in mind. Have a general idea of the measurements of your key furniture pieces. Will they fit in the rooms? Furniture is replaceable. But that is a considerable expense if you arrive and are surprised you can’t fit your living room couch or master bed through the doorway.
A Visual Record
We are naturally visual. Don’t be afraid to take pictures of neighborhoods you like. If you are looking at a home, ask permission of the landlord or property manager but most will be fine with you taking a few reference pictures to remind you of the homes that make your short list. That way, when you sit down to discuss your options, you have some visual reference to add to your conversation!
We want to know:
What’s your number one priority when making a house hunting trip?