PCS 101: Home Purchase vs. Military Housing

Small wooden house sitting on top of a calculator

The question of whether to choose military housing or to purchase your own home is complicated, and you'll need to take a lot of factors into account before you make your decision. This guide can give you some perspective, and hopefully it'll make your choice a bit easier. So sit down by yourself, or with your family, and go through these pros and cons to decide what's best for you.

Reasons to Buy a Home During PCS Relocation

About 38% of service members own their own homes. It's a big step, but even during an uncertain and confusing time like PCS season, many still find it in their best interest to buy a private home. Here are a few of the factors that influence the thinking of veterans who've purchased a home:

Location Options. When you buy a home of your own, you don’t just pick the house – you choose the neighborhood too. Some families prefer an urban or a country lifestyle, and these options may not be available with some military housing. Buying a house of your own also means you’ll have greater control over your school district and your children’s education.

Quality Housing. In many areas, it can be easier to find high-quality private homes than it is to find adequate on-base homes. According to figures released by the DoD, “About 43 percent of DoD base housing, 58,000 units, are old and in need of extensive repair.” Those who opt for military housing during PCS season may not get assigned to a living area that’s up to their standards. If you’re purchasing your own home, you may have more control of where you and your family live.

Independence. Although living on base may provide a means to feel connected to the military community, many active-duty military personnel buy homes because they like the idea of owning private property. Living off base allows service members to connect with their town and with the varied people who live in it. Living on your own also means you won’t have to abide by some of the strict rules that often come with military housing, like lights-out policies, surprise home inspections or home and lawn care limitations.

Putting Down Roots. Military moves can make it hard for service men and women to feel connected to a community. When officers begin to think about relocating for what may be the last time as their careers draw to a close, many of them decide to plan for their future by purchasing a home. This way, when they retire, they may not need to worry about moving all over again.

Stable Living Conditions. Sometimes unforeseen events can force families to move out of military housing. For example, if you divorce while you’re living in military family housing and your spouse moves out, you may be forced to give up your home to another family. Sometimes you can even be asked to move if your living situation remains the same.

Affordable Mortgage Payments. When military members research their new areas before PCS relocation, sometimes they’re surprised at just how affordably the nearby homes are priced. Most VA purchase loans are obtained without a down payment, and loans never require monthly mortgage insurance premiums.  In fact, after learning about VA loans, service members often realize that they can afford a house that’s bigger than what they imagined. What’s more, in many areas owning a home can actually be cheaper than renting one. For these reasons, a lot of members put their housing allowance toward home ownership. Some even have money left over at the end of the month – money that they can use for whatever they’d like.

Reasons to Stick With Military Housing During PCS Relocation

Around 22% percent of service member families with permanent duty stations in the US currently live in military family housing. There are housing options for single servicemembers and for those who live with their families on bases, both throughout the U.S. and abroad. When facing PCS moves, many active duty members choose to live in military housing. Here are a few reasons why this option might be right for you:

Current Financial Burdens. Homeownership can add financial commitments that military housing does not. For example, you’ll need to add money to cover real estate taxes and home maintenance costs to your annual expenses. PCSers who are already living on a tight budget may decide that they’re not ready for the financial responsibility that comes with owning a home.

Access to Amenities. Military bases are often like self-contained communities. Sometimes officers choose military housing so they can live close to certain amenities that they might not have access to in other neighborhoods, like affordable shopping centers, child care, a fitness center and health care offices. Living on base may also makes it easier to participate in military family functions and to feel connected to the military community.

Safety and Security. There are few safer places to live than on a military base. Security is strict – every person who enters or leaves the area must first have their identity verified by guards. Military police patrol the area, and because these neighborhoods are full of fellow service members, it’s easy to feel like someone’s always around to watch out for you and your family.

After weighing the pros and cons of military homeownership, servicemembers may have the information they need to make the appropriate decision for themselves and their families.

Remember, no two military members will experience PCS season the same way, so it doesn’t pay to automatically do what your comrades do. After all, you may be living with the choices you make for years, decades or even the rest of your life. That’s why it’s so important to think about what’s best for yourself, and for your family, above all else. If you consider every angle of your decision, if you base your choices on facts, and if you discuss your options openly with your spouse or other family members, you’ll feel much more secure about the path you choose.

Ready to Get Started?

If you're ready to get started, or just want to get more information on the process, the first step is to get multiple rate quotes with no obligation. You can then discuss qualifications, debt to income ratios, and any other concerns you have about the process with the lenders.

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