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    Military Housing vs. Living Off Base: Making the Decision

    When a military member receives Permanent Change of Station orders, one of the largest decisions the family will face is, Where should we live?  While you pack up and say goodbyes, another question looms: Will you buy, rent, or live on or off base?

    Living in Military Housing

    Living on base in military housing is a unique experience of its own. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the military lifestyle. The pros and cons fluctuate from one duty station to the next. And while some families love it, others don’t.

    on base housing at Fort Liberty

    Fort Liberty Housing - photo from Liberty Corvias Living

    Military Housing Perks

    1) The financial aspect is covered.

    When you live in privatized military housing, your Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) covers the cost of rent and utilities each month. It’s a clean process that eliminates the concern for paying your bills on time.

    While most expenses are included in rent, you may need to set up internet, cable, etc., on your own.

    2) The tight-knit military community. 

    The military is known for its solid and supportive community. There’s something special about meeting people you may otherwise have had nothing in common with and connecting with them.

    If the rest of your life takes place off base (work, school, etc.), living on base is a great way to keep your foot in the community while you pursue your interests.

    3)  Convenience to base amenities. 

    Living on base puts you near everything you need, like the commissary, exchange, health clinic/hospital, gym, lawyer, chapel, counseling, mechanic, and gas. The service member is also right around the corner from work, which can be a great thing!

    4) More bang for your buck.

    Depending on where you live, it’s possible that military housing has more to offer you than living off base. Take Hawaii, for example.

    Outside Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), the cost of living is high. Homes barely walkable from the beach are small, with minimal or no yards, no central AC, and out-of-date amenities. On base, properties are a quick stroll from the beach, have yards and central AC, and while not current on the latest real estate trends, they aren’t outdated.

    Learn more in Living in Military Housing: What You Need to Know

    military housing on Oahu

    Photo from Ohana Military Communities

    Military Housing Drawbacks

    1) The lack of privacy.

    The military community is small. The military housing community is even smaller. Some privatized housing communities are almost comparable to living on campus for school—everyone’s in each other’s space. 

    That said, some find comfort in having neighbors know when their spouses are deployed or notice when something is out of the ordinary. But it also means there's usually far less privacy on base than off.

    2) Fewer housing options.

    Much of the on-base housing is old. If not recently updated, you could wind up in a less-than-ideal home. Though the military is attempting to rectify known problems, some older on-base homes have significant concerns, such as mold, dirty air vents, and old flooring.

    While any military housing you live in should be up to code, you’ll likely forfeit desired amenities and popular finishes when you choose to live on base.

    You may have less privacy living in military housing.

    Photo from Canva

    3) Detachment from the local community. 

    When you live on base, everything you need is within a small community around you, and it can become more challenging to be a part of the community outside the base. It can feel isolating and even, at times, suffocating.

    If you live, work, shop, and receive healthcare on base, find a reason to leave, whether for church, school, or recreational shopping.

    Living Off Base 

    Living off base can help you feel part of the local community and pursue relationships outside the military. It balances military and civilian life in ways living on base cannot.

    Perks of Living Off Base

    1) Distance from military life. 

    Living off base provides some space from the military community. It doesn't take away your option to participate in activities on base, but it does give you more opportunities to make relationships with people who don’t share an affiliation with the military.

    2) The potential to save money.

    Base housing (with a few exceptions) takes all of your BAH. If you choose to live off base, it might be possible to save money by finding a home well within or under your housing allowance. Don’t forget to calculate utilities into your housing budget when looking for homes in the area.

    beautiful gray home with green yard

    Photo from Canva

    3) A broader selection of housing options. 

    You can decide which part of town best suits your needs, and you can choose your amenities, too. Do you want an apartment or a single-family home? Perhaps you're looking for a fenced yard, a pool, a garden tub in the master suite, a gourmet kitchen, and so on.

    4) The option to buy a home. 

    Of course, you can’t buy into privatized military housing. But if you decide to live off the installation, the door to investing in real estate is wide open. Then, when it’s time to move, you can determine whether you want to sell and move on or lease the property and start the path to passive income.

    Should Military Members Rent or Own a Home? What to Know Before Deciding

    Drawbacks of Living Off Base

    1) All the bills. 

    Unlike living on base, which includes your necessities, living off base requires you to set up service to your home independently. Renters establish utilities like water, electricity, gas, and trash, and need to pay monthly bills on time and remember to cancel services upon receiving orders to move.

    2) A longer commute for the service member. 

    Living further from work means a longer commute and less time at home. However, the amount of time in the car largely depends on where you choose to live.

    If you find a home right outside the gate, you probably won’t be sacrificing much time at home, but if you look for a home with land or save money by finding something further away, you might see a dramatic shift. 

    lines of cars in traffic

    Photo from iStock.com/alexandragl1

    3) The landlord/tenant relationship. 

    Privatized housing companies operate on-base housing, so placing maintenance requests and communicating with the management company is simplified. But when you live off base, aside from established communities, you'll develop a more personal relationship with your landlord.

    Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's not. Whether your landlord is overbearing or fails to communicate and fix issues within the home, a bad landlord can make your rental time miserable. It's a risk you take when you choose to live off base.

    One thing’s for sure: there’s no right or wrong answer to whether you should live on or off base. Each option comes with its perks and downfalls. The important thing for you is to weigh the pros and cons, seek advice from those who've been there, and get a feel for your location when you arrive.

    Main photo from Fort Sam Houston Family Housing.

    Are you thinking about renting or buying a home off base? Click the image below to see all of MilitaryByOwner's current listings in your area!

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    Military Housing vs. Living Off Base Making the Decision

    Danielle Keech


    Danielle Keech

    Danielle Keech is a writer and content creator for MilitaryByOwner Advertising. She writes on military life topics, highlights clients’ open houses on social media, and manages the Military PCS Facebook group. She especially enjoys covering financial topics and helping military families exercise financial responsibility and plan for the future. Danielle has been a Marine Corps spouse for ten years (and counting!) and is a momma to four littles and one fur baby. She and her pilot spouse have lived in Virginia, Florida, Texas, California, Hawaii, and, most recently, Okinawa, Japan. And yes, you guessed it, Hawaii is her favorite duty station to date! Find MilitaryByOwner's Millitary PCS group here.

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