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While associated most often with home buying, house hunting isn’t reserved solely for military buyers. Finding a rental also takes careful consideration. Not only are you looking for a roof to go over your head, but you’re also looking for a property that you can make feel like home.
With whispers of an upcoming move, you can start your research on the proposed duty station. While it’s not recommended to make any firm plans before having orders in hand, you can talk to friends and scour 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. Identify Your Priorities and Establish a Budget
The same variables resurface with every move: proximity to work, desirable school district, safe neighborhood, distance to nearby shopping and restaurants. A little research will go a long way in setting proper expectations. It doesn’t take long to get a feel for the cost of living and a realistic understanding of how far your money takes you. 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? The answer will help you create a budget to narrow your househunting search. For instance, if you’re PCSing to Camp Pendleton, you might decide that it’s worth the extra money to live closer to the base in Oceanside or Carlsbad to avoid a long commute and gas prices. Or, if you feel that space is of higher importance, then perhaps you’re okay with looking in Temecula, further away from base but with lower rental prices and (often) larger square footage along with high-rating schools.
While your BAH is the perfect starting point for your budget, it’s essential to consider all aspects of your finances. Be realistic about your financial goals, tackling any potential debt you may have, saving for retirement, storing up for a rainy day, or even putting money aside for children’s college funds. It’s after you’ve done this step that you can narrow your search and look for properties that fall within your means.
2. Start Early and Search Often
The phrase “the early bird gets the worm” is particularly true in the rental market. Start searching for a rental home as soon as you are confident of your relocation, meaning when you have orders in hand for military families.
Keep MilitaryByOwner on refresh as new homes go live constantly. If you see a new home advertised that you like, don't hesitate to contact the advertiser and open the lines of communication, especially in a competitive rental market.
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 will likely involve a few fees, but you might find that the lessened stress is worth every penny. Another option? Contact a property manager near your new military installation to assist you. Local experts 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 with details of potential rentals.
Pro Tip: Friends may not fit into the professional category, but they are an invaluable resource when you’re searching for homes from afar. If you have friends near your new duty station, utilize them to help your 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. If you can’t remember your previous address, you’re not alone. Moving every couple of years tends to scramble the numbers, and zip codes can be difficult to retrieve from memory. Create a list that includes all this information for future use.
The landlord will also request a copy of your orders. Though it might seem overreaching, many request orders to verify that you are reporting for duty at the nearby installation—it’s another way for landlords to protect their investment.
Keeping this documentation on hand communicates how serious you are about the rental property and might even give you the edge over other potential tenants.
Pro Tip: Protect yourself and blackout any personal information such as social security numbers.
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5. Know Your Credit Score
Especially in a competitive housing market, your credit score might make or break your application. A good one can provide you with negotiating power, while a less-than-perfect one probably needs to be addressed head-on.
It’s uncommon to improve your overall credit score at a moment’s notice, but viewing a credit report allows 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.
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6. Be Upfront and Honest
Be forthcoming about marks on your credit, bad references, or experiences with previous landlords. Honesty establishes trust and makes for a better landlord/tenant relationship over time. The alternative is that your potential landlord discovers these shortcomings on their own and doesn’t give you the opportunity to explain, which is far worse.
7. Understand What the Military Clause Means
Military life is anything but predictable. While you thought you were staying put for one more year, the military has decided that you’re now moving in three months. Whether or not the “military clause” is inserted in your lease, landlords must abide by it and it’s a good idea to discuss it ahead of time with your landlord. Here’s more info from Understanding the Military Clause:
“It’s important for landlords and tenants alike to realize that the SCRA is a matter of federal law. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows service members to terminate a residential lease if they have written orders for deployments or TDYs longer than 90 days or permanent change of station (PCS).
Landlords are required to comply and terminate your lease after you give a written notice of your orders, which will terminate your lease 30 days after the next payment is due. SCRA rights apply to service members as well as to their families.
It’s also important to note that, since the SCRA was enacted, it’s less common for landlords and property managers to include a military clause in a lease. If the lease does reference the military clause, it’s only legal if it follows the SCRA guidelines.”
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8. Provide References
References provide some much-needed insight for your landlord as they hope to protect their investment by choosing a tenant who will care for the property as their own. If you don’t have an extensive rental history, provide references from employers, neighbors, friends, and even family. These will help the landlord gain vital information on the type of tenant you are.
References from previous landlords are going to carry the most weight. 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’re willing to ask.
Yes, it seems strange and maybe a bit uncomfortable to request references. But a good landlord should have no problem providing you with the contact information for their current or previous tenants.
Working with a property management company is different from working with a private owner. Consider which type of professional you’d like to work with before leasing.
- Owner. Do you want an independent landlord/homeowner who manages the property themselves? Renting from an individual may allow you to have a more relaxed relationship.
- Property management company. Renting a home or an apartment through a company often eliminates the personal aspect of the relationship. If you want the assurance of working with a business, renting from a management company may better suit you.
- In-home rental. If you’re considering renting a room or apartment in someone’s home, screening them is even more crucial. Not only should you be confident that you're compatible, but since you’re sharing space, you need to be clear about expectations ahead of time.
Whichever the landlord type, be sure that you get along with them:
- Does each party communicate clearly?
- Do you understand their needs and expectations?
- Do they understand your needs and expectations of them?
Establishing a healthy relationship with your landlord before move-in day is essential to protecting your quality of time there.
10. Trust Your Gut
Following your gut is the most important rule of all. Military relocations come with pressure and stress, and the priority of securing a new house only adds to it.
Before you sign the lease, if anything seems out of order, pay attention to it. Try discussing your concerns with someone outside of the immediate picture. An outside perspective can often provide clarity.
Whether you’re renting or buying, let MilitaryByOwner help you find your new home! We have listings near military installations across the U.S., Guam, and Puerto Rico.
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