Should You Buy a Home in the Military?
Homeownership! It's a huge responsibility, massive investment, and, ultimately, the big sign that you’re an adult. It’s on almost everyone’s bucket list, but does that mean that it’s right for you?
Military members don’t lead traditional lives. Whereas civilian homeowners buy a property that they plan to live in and call home for many years, military members receive orders to move every few years. So, should you buy a home in the military?
The short answer, yes. The longer answer: if your finances are in order, you’re looking for another way to invest your money, and you’re open to the responsibilities associated with homeownership, then probably yes.
While the overarching answer is probably yes, that doesn’t mean that right now, this very minute is the right time to buy a home in the military. So let’s dive deeper into the discussion because there’s a lot to unpack!
Should You Buy a Home in the Military?
What’s the best way to determine the best answer in any given situation? A pro/cons list! Even if you’re not a list person, there’s no denying that writing out all the potential benefits and pitfalls allows you to view a situation objectively and see the clear path forward.
The Pros and Cons of Owning a Home as a Military Member
Financial investment: Investing in real estate is one of America’s favorite ways to grow wealth. With intentionality, homeownership can lead to equity and, if the market and location are right, the property might even appreciate, making it worth more when you sell than when you buy. But are we able to reap the benefits of homeownership as military members moving every few years? Good question; more on that later!
Ability to customize: Who doesn’t love the option to paint without asking permission or make updates or changes to the property that reflect your personality and taste? Homeownership offers a freedom that renting can’t.
Privacy: One of the biggest downsides to renting and therefore perks to homeownership is privacy! When you eliminate a landlord from the situation, you no longer have to be ready for them to pop by for inspections or catch them doing a drive-by check.
High upfront costs: Of course, buying a home costs more upfront than renting does. Even with security deposits, pet deposits, and your first two months' rent upfront, homeownership takes the cake with this one. While your mortgage may cost less than rent for an equivalent home, you’re looking at spending anywhere from 2%-5% of the purchase price for the down payment. Then, you have the ankle biters that add up like the appraisal cost, attorney fees, application fee, property taxes, PMI, homeowners insurance, and more.
Maintenance/Repairs: Who do you call when there’s a leak in the faucet? Not your landlord! With homeownership comes a great deal of responsibility. When something goes wrong (and it will), it’s up to you to repair it or find someone who can. With proper budgeting, you can negate the financial strain of homeownership. However, headaches are sometimes inevitable.
Less flexible: Military families move often. We know this. One thing that makes renting appealing to military members is the ability to drop proper notice to your landlord, move out, and be on your way to the next place without ever looking back. When you own the home, it’s not so easy. When you get orders to PCS, you have to decide whether you want to sell or rent out the property. Then, you get to start the tedious work of cleaning up, staging, advertising your home, finding a real estate agent (maybe) or a property manager. It's doable, but it’s not as simple as ending your lease.
Indications That It Might Be Time to Buy a Home in the Military
If you’re unsure, there are a few indications that you can watch for to help you decide whether owning a home as a military member is the right choice for you. A huge part of this is organizing your exit strategy. While it sounds morbid to think about the end before the beginning, it’s crucial.
Are you only open to selling, or are you interested in renting out the property when you leave? When you start to think about your end goal, you’ll realize that your answer is dependent on just a handful of variables.
1) The current housing market.
How does the housing market look? The U.S. is currently in a hot seller's market. Keep in mind that you'll risk selling the property for less than you purchased it should the market fall in just a few years. While no one wants to lose money on a home sale, you can negate some of the financial risks in this scenario by choosing to rent out the property when you PCS so you can hang onto it long enough for the market to meet your needs. However, if you’re unwilling to become a landlord, then buying a home in the current market might not make the most sense for you.
2) The home's location.
Zoom out beyond the property's location. While the neighborhood, proximity to the base, and school district hold weight, take a look beyond the details and at the geographical location overall. Some duty stations located in cities like San Diego, San Antonio, Tampa, and more foster a healthier real estate market with an ample amount of military families coming and going. However, smaller duty stations can make renting out a home more challenging and riskier than it’s worth.
3) Your willingness to become a landlord.
Real wealth grows when you’re able to live in or own the home as long as possible. Since military life doesn’t allow military families to claim primary residence in one place for long, the alternative (to make home-buying worth it), is to turn it into a rental property.
While some costs will increase, like homeowners insurance, cleaning fees, and property management costs should you choose to hire a manager, the incoming rent payments each month should more than cover your monthly mortgage payments. In this case, you’re able to not only create passive income (hooray!), but you’re able to build equity and exponentially grow your wealth.
Now, does every rental property investment pan out so beautifully? No. Unfortunately, some renters raise hell and cost money. You’ve undoubtedly heard some landlord horror stories that left you scarred. But remember, everyone is different. While it’s good to know both sides of the equation, it’s important to remember that each testimony you hear is but one sample.
With a foundation, you can formulate a plan to counter the potential pitfalls and gain the financial stability to withstand landlord life.
4) Your finances.
There’s no sense in jeopardizing your finances to become a homeowner. While buying real estate can lead to wealth, straining your pre-existing debt and financial commitments to dive deeper into debt might not be the answer.
Here are a few things to consider:Your credit score. A credit score of 620 or higher is ideal when applying for a home loan. You can buy a home with bad credit, but it might not be the best financially minded decision.
Your pre-approval amount. Your pre-approval amount is a fair indication of whether or not you can afford to buy a home that meets your needs. Just remember that this number doesn’t necessarily reflect how much you should spend on a home.
Your safety net. Can you afford to budget for repairs, maintenance, HOA fees, utilities, and homeowners insurance, in addition to the upfront costs associated with buying a home?
Mortgage rates. While housing prices are up, mortgage rates continue to sit low, making an affordable mortgage rate all the more attainable. Taking a look at this monthly expense is crucial to understanding how much money owning a home will cost you right now.
- What to Know About Your Finances Before Buying a Home
- The Effect of Capital Gain Tax Exclusions on Military Home Sellers
- Preparing Your Finances for Buying a House
There’s a lot to consider when you’re thinking about buying a home in the military. But that’s not a bad thing. You certainly wouldn't want to jump into a financial commitment of this magnitude without first looking under every nook and cranny to see if it’s a good idea or not.
But we’re here for you when you’re ready. Head over to our home page to start your hunt for a home to buy!