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Moving House: Educate the Experts!

by Lizann Lightfoot - June 24th, 2021

How many times has your family done a PCS move?

We’ve been fortunate to only move four times total. We moved from Eglin AFB to Robins AFB, then Langley AFB, and back to Robins AFB, where he is now retired and works on base. The biggest challenge for me was the children and the schools, trying to acclimate them. The home prices were so totally different at the various bases. You want to be in the right school zone and get your kids connected and involved. 

Did you have a dream military base?

I thought it would be cool to get stationed in Hawaii, but I struggled with the idea of taking the children so far from family. If we went there, I would have only wanted it to be for a year. I’m happy with how it all worked out, and I believe there is a plan for everything.

What do military families want real estate agents to know?

We need good resale properties. We know we will leave again, and we want the home to be a good resale property a few years down the road.

We want to know about schools. This is more important at some duty stations than others. Real estate agents can’t actually refer you to a particular school district. But schools will impact the resale value, so they are very important. Visit, or ask your service member about good resources and people to ask on base.

We want remote or virtual purchase opportunities because we can’t always use house hunting leave, and don’t have the option to visit and buy in person. 

Commute times to base are so important too!

When you got PCS orders, did you sell your home or rent?

It depends on the market. In this area, sales are pretty steady, so you may be able to sell it for slightly more than you originally paid for it if you are in the right area. But if there is a chance you will return and get orders back here, you may want to keep the home and rent it out. But if you come back years later and have more kids, you may want to continue renting out that property and buy a bigger house to accommodate the bedroom needs of your larger family. 

When we were in Langley, prices were insane and the costs kept going up, so it was an easy choice to sell and walk away with a profit

Currently, the market is moving so quickly that homes are only on the market for a few days before they close. 

It can be difficult to manage a rental from a distance. You want to either use a property manager or make sure you have local friends/family who can respond quickly to emergencies. If you work, make sure you have the time to commit to managing a rental. 

What should military families look for in a real estate agent?

You want an experienced real estate agent, preferably one who has been in the military and understands BAH. You want someone who is honest about school zones and resale value, because one in a high-value school zone will sell more quickly and easily. Many people ask for referrals on social media in the local spouse community. It’s so important to have an agent with regular contact and speedy communication. Many times, families are home shopping from a different time zone, and the agent must be able to adjust and actually listen to our military family needs. Getting feedback from other military families can help give you realistic expectations.

PCSgrades is familiar with all these challenges, and we want to help military families connect to a military-friendly real estate agent

What do you wish the real estate community knew about military families?

We always wish the agents could tell us more about school zones, even though they aren’t allowed to specifically say that. Resale is so important down the road. We always do our best to help people find a great home. So many people buy from me, then end up selling with me, and referring someone else through word of mouth. It’s so important to be honest and have integrity with every family. I’m financially stable, but I still do this because I absolutely love it!

Sometimes military families are only looking to rent, and of course that isn’t where the most money can be made. But those rental families can provide an excellent referral to the rest of the military community, so they may be the ones to provide leads to future home sales!

It’s okay to interview potential real estate agents and ask how many sales they have experienced in the local area, how often they work with military families, etc. You want a real estate agent who can anticipate your needs and walk you through potential complications. 

Is there a penalty when a military family sells a home early?

There are real estate fees, so depending what you paid for your house, it may ding you and give you less profit if you have just recently purchased. But whether you use a VA Loan or not, there is not a penalty to sell. There are markets where it may make more sense to keep the house as a rental than to sell it as a quick turnaround. This will depend on the monthly mortgage payment compared to the overall amount of the debt. There are situations where you may want to accept a small loss of $5,000 in the long run to relieve yourself of the debt so you can move on to the next property. It is up to the agent to educate you about those options. 

When should military families look for a new home?

COVID is not slowing anything down. Agents and lenders are still working regularly. It usually takes 30-45 days to close on a home, so you want to start looking about 3 months before your move. You can stay in contact with your agent ahead of that to discuss your goals and options, but you definitely want to start early to discuss things with your agent to learn your possible choices and discuss when to put in an offer. Knowledge is power. You can ask a local lender how much you want to pay monthly based on BAH calculations, and then they can tell you what amount you are approved for a home. That will give you an idea whether you want to live on base, or if you can afford a nice home off base. If you live off base, you get the tax breaks for home ownership, plus you get something back when you sell the home.

Our Guest is Renea Anderson:  I’m a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Access Reality, in Warner-Robins Georgia, with 14 years of experience now. My husband and I dated for 9 years. Our first child was born at Eglin AFB and the second was born at Robins AFB, and we are now empty nesters! I absolutely love real estate!

DoD PCS Updates: We have clarification about the 7-day spread for packout dates. When you request your pick-up date in DPS, they will automatically input the pack-out dates. The 7-day window means that if you put in May 10 as your pickup date, then they have to pick it up by 7 days after May 10. When your moving company receives your request for shipment, they will set up a specific pick-up date, but it has to be within 7 days of that original requested date. That doesn’t mean you will be waiting around for 7 days. You will know your pick-up date in advance and be able to plan for it. They should establish this date within 3 business days of you putting in your request. 

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot, the "Seasoned Spouse" is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, her family has been through 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves. Lizann has raised 5 children and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is "Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses" published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann's articles and resources at