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10 Reasons Military Families Choose Not to Live on Base

by PCSgrades Staff - April 7th, 2022

10 Reasons Military Families Choose Not to Live on Base

Should military families live on base or off?  It is a tough question military families face when they get PCS orders to a new duty station. A lot goes into making the decision. What is best for the family? What are the schools like (and are there even schools on base)? How old is the base or post housing? Is off-base housing reasonably priced? And where do you even start in deciding what to do?

Where to find reliable reviews about base housing

Base housing websites can be a good resource, but they rarely have all of the information you need. Installation-specific websites often provide a decent overview, but maybe not the details you are searching for. And Facebook groups? We all know that while some are amazing, they are not always a reliable source of information. Ultimately, it is great to go straight to the source: the military community. Asking other military families will help you get the information you need to decide whether to love on base or choose an off-base neighborhood instead.

We are fortunate at PCSgrades to be a part of an incredible network of military members, spouses, and families. Our reliable views come straight from military families just like yours, with all the details you won't find anywhere else.

Access housing reviews for both on- and off-base housing, moving companies, schools, neighborhoods, and more, all for free at pcsgrades.com.

10 Reasons military families choose not to live on base

PCSgrades asked military families for their feedback, and you delivered! Here are ten common reasons military families choose not to live on base.

1. Separating work from home

Many of you told us that having a home off base allowed your family and your service member to separate from military life, which is essential to the health of your family. As Karen S. said, “We didn’t want to live ‘knee-deep in the hooah.’ He wanted to leave the job at the unit. When he deployed, I wanted to be closer to my civilian friends.”

Living on base fully immerses you and your family in military life - and that's not something everyone wants.

2. The waiting list was too long 

Even if the waiting list is only a couple of months long, many families want to get settled into their new location as soon as possible. Waiting more than a few days or weeks simply isn’t an option in many cases.

Rochelle M. says, “We waited for what felt like forever and kept getting the runaround from the housing office. We ended up maxing out our government storage time, were denied an extension, and ended up finding a rental in town right before our storage expired. And wouldn’t you know it, the housing office called and offered us the place we’d been waiting for the DAY AFTER we put down a deposit on an amazing home.”

3. Housing wasn’t worth giving up our BAH

We heard this reason a lot. Base housing is typically dated and small compared to newer construction homes off base. Living on base means forfeiting your entire BAH while living off base often costs the same (or even less) each month. It's possible to get a larger, newer home off base and still pocket some of your BAH at the end of the month.

Plus, off-base housing gives you more options: More room, updated spaces, different amenities, and more space between neighbors, all of which were factors for our survey respondents. 

Katie B. shared, “We didn’t want to give up all our BAH for something we didn’t feel was worth the high cost they placed on it. We rented a huge townhome with three pools for $400 less than on base.”

What is your BAH? Use our BAH Calculator to find out.

4. Difficult on-base housing offices

Sometimes working with the private companies that manage base housing can be a nightmare. Maintenance issues that aren't fixed in a timely manner, poor communication about housing availability, and excessive fines/fees for infractions or damages are just a few of the reasons some military families choose not to live on base.

Sara Jane I. shared, “We hated dealing with the companies who were managing the properties. We have lived on base twice, and off base twice, and both times off base living has been a MUCH better experience. We got a nicer house and didn’t have to pay extra for utilities.”  

5. Better schools

In some cases, military installations have schools available for students living on base. Those schools can be wonderful, with small class sizes and parents who are actively involved in the classroom.

In other cases, children living on a military base go to school off base, at a local private, charter, or public school. Living on base means your children will have few (if any) options in their schooling.

Living off base allows parents to choose there they live and, therefore, which schools their children will attend.

Want the inside scoop on neighborhoods and schools at your next location? Click here to read reviews from military families like yours.

6. Breed restrictions

Are you bringing furry family members along with you? If you live on base, you will likely face breed restrictions and other pet guidelines. Living off base allows you to choose municipalities that allow your particular breed of pet.

Buying a home off base gives you even more freedom. You won't have to deal with landlords, pet deposits, or other pet restrictions. If you're interested in buying a home, find a military-friendly real estate agent first.

7. Homeownership

Speaking of owning a home, buying a house can be a great decision for some military families. Having a lot of pets, needing more space, and having the ability to make whatever changes you want are a few of the reasons some choose this path. Many families choose to use their housing allowance to invest in property by buying a home

Brittany B. told us, “We purchase homes at our duty stations as an investment opportunity. For us, it makes more financial sense to purchase a home instead of renting. We understand not everyone can do this, however, it has worked for us over the past ten years.”     

8. It’s simply not fair

Many families take issue with the system currently in place where everyone pays their full housing allowance for their home, regardless of its size or how new the construction is.

An E3 with three children may be in the exact same size/age house as an E6 with one child, but the higher-ranking service member pays quite a great deal more for that house each month.

As Michelle K. pointed out, “But really, there’s no bang for the buck (I’m an E7 and husband is a warrant). Why should I get the same as an E3 but pay more?!”        

9. Barking dogs

This might seem like a small thing, but for many military families, it creates a real problem. Due to the close proximity of houses in some base housing communities, the connected homes with thin walls, and the tiny back yards, pets can be just one part of the noise problem. Whether it is barking dogs, children playing outside, or neighbors who like their music a little loud… noise is a big factor.  

10. Drama 

Yes, it’s true. Sometimes there can be drama associated with living on base. Maybe it is just the close proximity. Perhaps it is the mix of folks from so many different places. No matter the reason, many military families choose to live off base to avoid it. In case you think this list is one-sided, don’t worry, we want to explore both the pros and cons of living on base. Find the reasons that military families LOVE living on base in this article.

A top priority

When we get PCS orders, choosing where to live is a top priority for many of us.

Thank you to all those who shared their thoughts for this article. If you need any help researching your on- or off-base housing options, PCSgrades is here to help! Have a positive or negative experience with on-base housing you wish to share? Let your voice be heard by registering for your FREE account at www.PCSgrades.com.

screenshot of member reviews
screenshot of member reviews

PCSgrades Staff