Househunting isn’t reserved solely for the home buyer. Renters must also start house hunting for the perfect rental. While it’s not recommended to make any firm plans prior to having orders in hand, the legwork can begin long before you have confirmation that you are moving.
The moment you hear whispers of an upcoming move, start your research on the proposed duty station. Talk to friends and search the Internet for information on desired areas to live surrounding the military installation. Then, start the house hunt for your perfect rental home with these ten tips.
1. Define Your Priorities
During your research, your priorities will become clear: location to work, desired school districts, safe neighborhood, walking distance to nearby attractions, and so on.
Familiarizing yourself with your new duty station will give you proper expectations of rental prices in the area. Then, with your BAH (Basic Housing Allowance) in mind, you can prioritize your finances. Do you want to save money or are you willing to spend out of pocket? Answering this question will help you create a budget to narrow your househunting search.
If you have school age children, prioritize your househunt by school district. Websites like Public School Review and Military Town Advisor provide reviews of schools in your area so you can decide which one is right for your children. This information allows you to narrow your househunt to that specific neighborhood.
2. Start Early and Search Often
"The early bird gets the worm" is particularly true when it comes to the rental market. Start searching for a rental home as soon as you are certain of your relocation which, for military, is typically when you have orders in hand.
Search sites such as MilitaryByOwner for rental properties near your next duty station. It is important to make a frequent practice of this, as new homes are posted on a consistent basis. If you see a new home advertised that you are interested in, do not hesitate to contact the advertiser and open the lines of communication.
Depending on the rental market in the area you’re relocating to, homes can rent in a matter of hours, so you do not want to wait.
3. Consider a Professional
If you can’t spare the time or energy to find your next home, then consider hiring a broker in the new area to assist you.
This route may involve fees, but in the end it could make the process easier and less stressful than trying to do it yourself. Another option is to contact a property manager near your new military base to assist you. Property managers often have the pulse on the various neighborhoods or know when homes may be coming on the market. Be specific about what you’re looking for, and ask them to send you photos and details on potential rentals.
Working with a property management company is different than working with a private owner, so consider which type of professional you’d like to work with before hiring.
Friends may not fit into the professional category, but they are invaluable when you’re searching for homes from afar. Nobody will have your best interest in mind like a friend will. So if you have friends near your new duty station, utilize them to help you search for the perfect rental.
4. Have Your Information Ready
If you’ve found the perfect home and opened communication with the advertiser, then the next step will be to submit a rental application.
Most rental applications ask for information on your previous residence, addresses, dates of occupancy, names of landlords, and employment information. Creating, and then saving, a list of this information will serve you well when trying to provide it in a timely manner.
The landlord will also request that you provide a copy of your orders--this is a way for them to confirm that you will be stationed in the area.
Having this documentation on hand will communicate how serious you are about the rental property and might even give you the edge over other potential tenants. Just be sure to protect yourself by blacking out any personal information such as a social security number.
5. Know Your Credit Score
While your credit should be good for more reasons than one, you may want to request a free credit report before you submit a rental application.
You aren’t likely to improve your overall credit score on a moment’s notice, but viewing a credit report will allow you to see if there are any erroneous or outdated marks on your credit report. You might be able to resolve any issues or, at the very least, address the matter with your landlord.
Visit myFICO and 5 Tips to Build Your Credit for more information regarding your credit score and how to repair it.
6. Be Upfront and Honest
Be forthcoming about marks on your credit, bad references, or experiences with previous landlords. Your honesty will establish trust and make for a better landlord/tenant relationship over time. It’s far worse for you if your landlord to discovers these shortcomings on their own and doesn’t give you the opportunity to explain.
Nobody likes to be caught off guard, especially after the lease is signed. So being honest from the beginning will ultimately help you in the end.
7. Understand What the Military Clause Means
As we know, military life is anything but stable. For instance, the three-year orders you received six months ago were changed abruptly, and you are on the move sooner than you thought. This is enough to send anyone into a state of panic, particularly when you have signed a lease agreement for a longer length of time.
Before you ever sign a lease, look for the military clause. If one isn’t established, ask the landlord if they are willing to include a military clause in the rental agreement. Landlords who are familiar with the military lifestyle will surely understand your request for this wording to be included in the lease.
Further information regarding the military clause:
8. Provide References
References from previous landlords are going to carry the most weight. If you don’t have an extensive rental background, then provide references from employers, neighbors, friends, and even family. These will help the landlord gain vital information on the type of tenant you are.
Give some thought ahead of time to who you would like to have as a reference and ask their permission before providing their contact information to the potential landlord.
9. Ask for References
We’ve all heard the nightmare stories of the landlord who doesn’t respond to a tenant’s phone calls, doesn’t make timely repairs, has unreasonable expectations, or consistently retains security deposits upon moving out. Previous tenants may be more than happy to share this information with you, if you are willing to ask.
Yes, it seems strange and maybe a bit uncomfortable, but a good landlord will have no problem providing you with the contact information for their current or previous tenants.
In fact, the good landlords will probably appreciate the fact that you asked. While the assumption is that the landlord has all of the control, this is hardly the truth. Landlords rely on their tenants to provide them with a monthly income and take care of the property, so the relationship should strike balance and mutual respect.
For tips on how to foster a healthy relationship with your landlord, check out Dear Future Tenant, Here’s What I Need From You.
10. Follow Your Gut
This is the most important rule of all! Military relocations come with an enormous amount of pressure and stress, and the priority of securing a new house can drive anyone into frenzy.
Take a deep breath and a step back, and make sure that there are not any alarms going off inside your head before you sign your name to that lease agreement. If anything seems out of order, try discussing your concerns with someone who is not in the pressure cooker with you. An outside perspective can often provide clarity.
As you begin the house hunt for your new rental home, keep these ten tips in mind. However, there is no better resource for advice and information than other military members. If you have any tips to add to our list, please share them!
Article by Monica Schaefer, updated 2018 by Danielle Keech.