66,100,000. That’s how many blogs, articles, resources, and opinions Google generously spits back when we type in “military families own or rent.” Obviously, renting versus owning a home is a quandary that’s very much on the minds of lots of folks. In the name of convenience (we don’t imagine you’ve got time to read over 60 million citations), we thought we’d highlight the key factors you should keep in mind if this is a decision that you too are currently looking at having to make.
Just to manage your expectations, we don’t have the “right” answer for you. There are too many variables that are unique to you and your specific circumstances to take into account. But we’ve got some great questions we hope will guide you to making the “right-for-you” decision.
What is your current housing situation? Considering whether to rent or to buy is one thing if it’s your first home or apartment. That conversation quickly changes if you’re already responsible for an existing rental agreement or mortgage. For instance, if you’re living with family and searching for a place to call your own, you’re looking at potential numbers. If you’ve signed a year-long rental agreement or already hold a mortgage and are looking at another place, then you have two sets of numbers that need to play nicely together.
How is your financial health? You need to have a very clear picture of where you stand financially before you think about committing future dollars. You don’t know what you’ll be able to afford if you haven’t yet been really honest with yourself about your current financial situation. If your present financial outlook is grimmer than you’d like, then are there other priorities like reducing debt or restoring a credit score that should take priority over home ownership?
Have you run the numbers for both renting and purchasing a home? Do you have a financial advisor who can review those numbers with you and take into consideration things like tax brackets, tax breaks, real estate appreciation, and such?
How important to you is that VA loan? If you use this benefit and then need to relocate elsewhere, you’ll need to have paid off your VA loan in order to be eligible for another. That means you can’t count on the help of a VA loan for the second property purchased.
Do you have a financial safety net? Are you prepared financially (and emotionally) to pay two mortgages or a mortgage and rent if you’re unable to sell your home before you need to move?
What is your future game plan? We’ll give you a moment to stop laughing. You could randomly sample any one thousand strangers on the street and they’d no doubt be as knowledgeable about what the military has planned for you as you are. You may not know where you’ll be in the next six months (we so wish that was an exaggeration). We get it. But what’s your plan for the plan? Are you early in your military career? How many years of PCSing do you anticipate having in front of you? How close—or far—is retirement for your military family? And what’s your plan for when retirement does come? Are you sipping margaritas from an RV that you use to hop from one child’s house to the other? Are you settling into a forever home? Your end game matters…or at least your next-several-years’ game does.
What about the “you” variable that folks forget to consider? How risk-averse are you? Are you reasonably comfortable with the uncertainty of the housing market? Are you willing to be geographically separated if the sale of a home requires one person to remain back while another proceeds to a new duty location? Are you open-minded about the idea of being a landlord if you find yourself needing to rent out a house that just won’t sell?
Do you like to shovel? Rake? Weed? Or do you have a teenage workforce to whom you can delegate such tasks? Are you handy or willing to shell out money when it comes to home repairs and maintenance? Do you like purple walls but not the twenty coats of primer necessary to cover them if you move out? (Purple walls won’t likely be your decision-making factor, but how you feel about decorating, renovating, and claiming a space as your own might be.)
Are you prone to collecting children, pets, or big boulders from all the places the military has sent you? How much space will you need? How challenging is it or might it be to find child-friendly/pet-friendly/boulder-friendly rentals in the area you’re considering?
The “right-for-you” choice is… a series of conversations about your current situation, your financial health, your vision for your future, and your personal preferences and priorities. Nobody who tells you there is a singular right answer regarding whether you should rent or own is as invested in this outcome as you are. When all is said and done, this decision needs to be about what’s most important to you and your family.