Planning Can Make or Break a PCS Move in the 2021 Housing Market

A moving truck sits on a city block.

After months of travel restrictions, public health measures and record-low mortgage rates boosted demand for housing and tightened supply, PCS season has been especially brutal for military family members this year.

Houses are hard to find at service members' new duty stations. Movers and truck drivers are scarce, and costs are rising.

"Even down to the wood, with lumber being so high -- the prices affect the crating of household goods," said Krista Bowie Ickles, lead CONUS advocate for the USMC PCS Family Advocacy Council.

"[The] Department of Defense has acknowledged it," she said. "My experience has been that they are doing everything they can to help their customers. But there's only so much you can do when the truck driver doesn't exist."

However, resources are available to ease the burden, even in a hot housing market, Ickles said.

When a service member receives PCS orders, their first stop should be and the base's transportation office, she said.

"You need to learn, listen to your friends, and you need to know policy and procedures," Ickles said.

"I wish people knew how much the leadership cares about your move. All the branches and United States Transportation Command -- they want your move to be successful. There really is help. There are people there to help you."

Lindsey Litton, of the MilHousing Network, is one of those resources.

"The biggest thing, for the current climate, is to be informed," she said. "Even more informed than in years past."

Litton's office helps families plan moves and evaluate whether their housing allowance and personal budget is enough to cover living off base.

"Does it make sense to buy a home right now? It might not, for many," she said.

But, on-base military housing has its own challenges as competitive real-estate markets increase demand.

The military's support services, which route through a base's transportation office, attempt to make that easier. Oscar Ordonez, chief of the housing division for the Presidio of Monterey, said in an email that the Army's privatized housing partner in Monterey began offering pre-leasing options to inbound families in September.

"During the months of April to June 2021, we had more than 100 homes pre-leased to inbound families, peaking at nearly 160 in the month of June 2021," he said. "It has tapered slightly going into July at about 95 homes pre-leased out to 29 July 2021."

Ordonez said families who make contact with the housing office before their arrival tend to be placed in homes faster.

If you do plan to buy off base, Litton said it's important, especially for first-time PCS moves, to seek out experienced help and mentorship.

"Get connected to a Realtor who is selling 24 to 30 homes a year, and they'll have enough information to help guide the process," she said.

Retired Marine 1st Sgt. Duan Rockette, now managing broker at NP Dodge Real Estate in Omaha, Nebraska, has helped service members and veterans find homes for 14 years.

Rockette recently helped a family relocate from Okinawa, Japan. He said an agent walked the family through the home-buying process over Zoom.

Like most of the country right now, houses in Omaha were in short supply.

"The buyers felt that they didn't have a chance at seeing a home in this market," Rockette said, adding that buyers were paying up to $50,000 cash above asking prices for some properties.

Finally, a home became available, and the family submitted an offer of $10,000 above the asking price, offered to pay their own closing cost and close within 30 days, and included a letter about themselves that explained why they wanted to purchase the property.

Rockette said the sellers received multiple offers on their home but decided against accepting the offer that would net them the largest sum of money.

"Instead, they accepted the offer that was submitted by our military buyers," he said.

The listing agent later disclosed that the sellers were a Gold Star family; their son, who was also a Marine, died serving in Fallujah, Iraq.

"For the sellers, knowing this Marine and his family would be living in their home really was a very comforting feeling for them," Rockette said.

-- Gerald Witt is a reporter for Three Creeks Media.

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