Finding a Home in America After Living Overseas
by Jessica Lynn - June 2nd, 2021
We’ve all seen those cute little signs that say, “Home is where the military sends you,” but what happens when you’re stationed overseas and get orders to move back to America? Finding an actual home to call your own in the U.S. after an OCONUS move can be harder than you might think, but it doesn’t have to be.
Melissa Long, an Air Force spouse moving from England to Colorado, shares a struggle many families can relate to. “Finding a home for your family is extremely challenging, especially when you only have a few months to figure it all out.”
She goes on to explain that things get even trickier when you have school-aged kids. “You cannot enroll them [in school] until you have an address, and we don’t want to enroll them in one school and have to move them to another a few weeks later.”
If you’re PCSing OCONUS to CONUS, here are some tips to get you on the right track and into a new home sooner rather than later.
Think about your options
As with any move, consider your options for housing at your next location. Will you live on base, rent (month to month, a short-term agreement, or for the entire duration), or buy a home in your new town?
Answering these questions may help you decide:
How long will you be stationed at your new destination?
What neighborhoods are the safest?
What’s the cost of living and how much BAH (base housing allowance) will you receive?
How are the schools (if you have school-aged kids)?
How long is the on-base housing waitlist?
What is the market looking like right now if you want to purchase a home?
Take some quality time to answer these questions, and then once you’ve narrowed down your decision, it’s time to move on to the next step. PCSgrades can help with reviews written by military families, for military families.
How to (actually) find a place
While a house-hunting trip is the ideal way to get the lay of the land, and see the area with your own eyes, it’s not always possible when you live overseas. Here are some ways to keep an eye out for available homes/apartments when you can’t actually be there to look.
Laura Pita, a marine spouse who moved from Okinawa, Japan, to Jacksonville, North Carolina, suggests starting research immediately after you get word that you’re PCSing. “Join local spouse’s groups, and search neighborhood options, or ask for advice from friends who’ve lived there before,” she says.
Word of mouth can be one of the most effective and essential ways to find a home when you’re moving from overseas. Joining local, base-specific Facebook groups is one of the bests ways to get up-to-date information, especially if you don’t know anyone who lives there yet.
One benefit to having a trusted, local source helping you, is that you can ask for a video tour of potential places. It’s not the same as doing a walk through in real life, but it’s better than nothing.
Places are often snatched up quickly, and sometimes before they even hit the market. Having an inside scoop from locals can help immensely.
Get on a waitlist ASAP
If living on base is your preference, Pita recommends getting on a waitlist ASAP. They sent in their application in March and didn’t hear back until September. Thankfully, they had enough time since they received their orders early. If they got them any later, though, that would be a different story.
Long mentioned that they looked into living on base, but there are no homes available, and since their tour will only be for two years, it’s not worth getting on a wait list only to have to move again.
It’s called a “wait” list for a reason, so if base housing is your first option, make sure there’s a Plan B in place.
Keep an eye online
If word of mouth isn’t panning out, there are many reputable sites—specially curated for military families—out there to look for rentals or homes to buy.
“We watched the rental sites online close to when it was moving time,” says Lauren H., who moved from Germany to Georgia, “But rentals go so fast in the area we were looking at, that it was a completely new list by the time we arrived.”
She ended up getting in touch with a local property management company that shared a home before it was even public.
Hire a real estate agent
Looking to buy a house at your new destination? Find a real estate agent and a lender as soon as you get a copy of your orders.
Margie Stachurski, a realtor with Golden Key Realty in Warner Robins, Georgia, works with a lot of military families, and encourages potential home buyers to find a realtor they trust.
“So many of my out-of-town clients rely on me for FaceTime or Facebook Video Messenger or video showings, but that will only show a buyer so much,” she says. Stachurski encourages realtors to go a few steps further for their OCONUS clients. “I try to point out visible defects that a buyer may not be able to see with normal pics and video. Video the surrounding neighbors or the drive into a neighborhood.”
Stachurski also insists that a realtor can go beyond selling and showing homes but can also assist with local mortgage lenders familiar with the market, has good rates, and good fees for a VA loan.
Buying a home without even laying eyes on it isn’t as uncommon as you think. Just make sure there’s someone, or a team, you trust on the other side helping you out.
What works for you
An OCONUS move back stateside definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. But the good news is that there are options when it comes to housing; there are just a lot of moving pieces things to think about before making final decisions.
If you’ve bought or rented a house, or lived on base after returning to America, we’d love to hear your process, and any tips you might have.