A new website for finding rentals near military bases worldwide went live for service members late last month.
Homes.mil is meant as a DoD-sanctioned replacement for AHRN.com, with which the DoD previously had a contract. That site, however, is still in operation and still free for service members to use.
The new site allows both property managers and landlords (such as military members who want to rent out their home) to list their property on the site. Military members can then use the site to search for available living quarters near their new duty station. Pushing those looking to rent a home through a DoD-run site allows the local housing office to have direct control over what is listed, officials told us last summer when the project was first announced.
Contrary to what officials told us last year, the site does not appear allow you to save searches -- that functionality will be added in February, they said. You can view listings without a log-in, but you can't click through to see any details beyond price and size. Once you create an account (available to anyone -- .mil email address not required), you choose your duty station and can search for listings near any duty station worldwide.
Each listing contains the basic housing details (price, size, etc.) but also contains a detail on whether or not the home has been "inspected." That's because, officials said, each listing is inspected by housing office officials to make sure it meets minimum requirements, including being well maintained, safe, have adequate utilities and, depending on location, air conditioning system and a permanently installed heater. (You can see all the minimum requirements here on page 13).
Adding a listing as a property manager or landlord seems to be simple enough, but I didn't walk through the entire process. Based on the listings at Fort Campbell, Ky., all of the over 80-available homes or apartments appeared to be through property managers, not other service members.
When I tested the site while working on this article, I noticed a few things. Here are my thoughts:
1. The site is really bare-bones.
Unlike AHRN.com, which contains bonus information for house-hunters like BAH data, rent averages and saved searches, Homes.mil does none of that stuff. For now all you'll get from this site right now are the basics on homes or apartments that are available near your duty station, and the ability to pull them up on a click-through Google map.
2. Creating a log-in was really painful.
Instead of letting you use your DS-login, which is used for a myriad of other DoD sites including Military OneSource and accessing Tricare information, this site requires you to create a new username and password -- and oh is that password long and secure ... AND expires every 60 days. I'm as big of a fan of security as anyone else, but why in the world do I need a 15-character password that contains no dictionary words (or even accidental ones ... I tried to form a password that didn't spell out a full word but contained within the letter string the word "was" ... nope, try again) to search for housing? Insane. And why can't I use my DS-Login?
3. There still isn't a way to look at housing that is actually on the base.
This site seems like a great opportunity for the DoD to seamlessly integrate off-base housing options and on-base ones. You could search for listings in the community or click over to the "housing office" tab and see some information - any information - on what's available through their office.
But it's an opportunity they missed.
Instead, if you click over to "housing office" you are fed some details about how to contact them, a form if you want to use it, their office hours and their location. Bummer.
4. But I did like that the housing office is "approving" listings.
It's really easy to get ripped-off with housing, especially if you are renting without actually visiting. And then there are those scammers who steal photos from other listings and then list the homes as their own, hooking service members into putting down deposits that they can't get back from homes that don't actually exist.
Presumably with officials involved that kind of thing won't be happening on this site. Having them "approved" does add a certain comfort. You know they are going to safe, clean and include certain minimum things (you can see a full list here on page 13).
5. All in all this is a nice resource, but not as nice as it could.
If you use this site to find housing, let us know how it goes!