Your Military Move: Should You Live On or Off Base?
Wendy Kedzierski
April 25, 2022 — Read in 5 mins · 1006 words

If your family is facing a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) to the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, you have a lot of decisions to make. The D.C. Metropolitan region has several military installations, each with distinct on- and off-base communities. One of the biggest decisions you may face when relocating to one of these bases is whether to live in military housing (government or privatized housing) on base or to live in a nearby community. 

“Military families face many challenges with a PCS – or even when making their final location decisions after retiring,” says Tina Bodolosky, CENTURY 21 Redwood Realty’s Director of Relocation Services. “The service member, their spouse and children, all have concerns about their new base. These concerns include the decisions they will need to make about housing.”

What factors should you consider when making your determination?

Pros of living on base

  • Finances – If your house is owned by the Department of Defense, they manage the property and you won’t pay rent.
  • Convenience – You will be closer to on-base support features like the gym, library, medical clinic, commissary, base exchange, youth center, and childcare center. 
  • Community – Your military community understands the struggles that military families face and can be supportive to families who may have a deployed parent. 
  • Camaraderie – Your kids may enjoy the company of other military kids.
  • Commute – Your commute won’t get much better than living where you work.
  • Safety – Living behind gates with armed guards definitely fosters a sense of security.

Cons of living on base

  • Condition – Some bases have excellent government-owned family housing; others have housing that is in need of renovation. Privatized housing is often available, but the companies who own these houses may not be as attentive to the properties as you would like. 
  • Wait time – Some bases have waiting lists for family housing, so you may need to rent off base until something on base becomes available. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure your lease includes a “military clause” that allows you to break the lease without penalty. Keep in mind: security deposits and moving costs can add up.
  • Isolation – You might experience feelings of isolation from the vast surrounding off-base area. You may feel as though you are living in a cultural bubble.
  • Balance – It may be harder to feel like you have a separation between your work and private life. Your coworkers or even your boss might live right next door.
  • Inconvenience – You may have to pass through a security gate each time you enter or exit.
  • Noise – It could be noisy, depending on the type of base. You may be subjected to gun ranges, training exercises, and/or aircraft coming and going.
  • Rules – You may not be able to remodel your home to suit your needs. 

Choosing to live off base

If your family decides to purchase a home in a neighboring community rather than living on base, there are many incentives.

  • Financial benefit – Some families are able to pay less for a house than their BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). This  allows them to save the difference, or use the extra money for other things. Note: The reverse can happen, too. You may end up paying out of pocket for some things that BAH won’t cover. However, purchasing a home can also be a good investment opportunity, particularly in an area that is growing.
  • Freedom – You have the freedom of choosing your neighborhood. Would you prefer a bigger lot? A specific school system? More shopping and dining experiences?
  • Features – You have a better choice of house features – as well as the ability to remodel as you please.
  • Balance – There’s much more separation between your work and your personal life.

Military Relocation Professionals

Having an advocate, particularly a real estate agent who is familiar with all the different challenges of a PCS can really help ease the stress that these military families feel.  

REALTORS® with a Military Relocation Professional (MRP) certification are experienced in working with service members and their families – as well as veterans – to find housing solutions that best suit their needs. They will also help you take full advantage of available benefits and support.

“Agents who specialize in military families and relocations know what questions to ask, what information to provide and how to help them maneuver through a move with sometimes complicated details,” says Tina. “They can help you find temporary rentals, coordinate with the listing agent in your previous location, work with moving companies, provide information on local schools and recreation. They can even provide the right resources to help find the employment options for the spouse.”

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Military Relocation Professionals can help you:

  • Understand processes and procedures involved in a military relocation and how these impact service members’ relocation and housing choices.
  • Provide information to help members through a rent or buy, including the sell or rent decision-making process. 
  • Identify and provide services that help service members sell or find and purchase suitable homes.
  • Guide service members through the real estate transaction.
  • Explain the basics of VA financing.
  • Gain access to the members-only marketing tools and resources.

CENTURY 21 Redwood Realty currently has about 150 military certified relocation agents who can help you buy, sell or rent. Not only will these professionals guide you through the entire process, they know how to help you get the most financial gain from your move.

“We offer cash back programs when you buy or sell a home through our Navy Federal Realty Plus or Military Rewards programs and utilize one of our background checked and military relocation certified agents,” says Tina Bodolosky. 

In the end, finances, personality, and preferences all factor into your decision.

Download this list of pros and cons of living on base versus off base.

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