by Heather Wilson, Guest Contributor
My husband recently separated from the Navy and just last month we made our way across the United States to settle into our new home.
Choosing a location and a forever house wasn’t exactly an easy decision for us.
I was settled in my career and life in San Diego when he and I met then married at the “ripe old ages” of 37 and 38; ancient by military standards! Years prior, I had left my hometown of Miami for a slower pace of life in California and I loved it there.
My husband, the quintessential country guy, received orders there and while he liked it, the lifestyle wasn’t quite his cup of tea. Still, we decided we’d stay because I love my job, they’re very good to me and while he preferred a slower pace, he agreed San Diego wasn’t a bad place to end up. Best laid plans…
As time progressed we saw the effect the distance was having on his daughters who lived 1,600 miles away in his hometown. It was affecting us too. How was I really going to get to know the girls when we were so far apart? My husband’s kids were growing up without their dad nearby and when it came down to it, nothing was more important than being close to his girls.
So I did something I never thought I’d do – I suggested we move to the rural, land-locked area of the United States from which he hails; an area that has “real” winters (did I mention I hate the cold?)! I was quite nervous, but I went to my employer to ask if they’d consider allowing me to work remotely, they agreed. Believe me when I write we are grateful beyond words.
We broke the news to the girls, who were elated, and the house-hunting began. We have both purchased homes in the past, but this time around we had several considerations that hadn’t existed before we got married.
After looking at hundreds of houses online, flying to Arkansas several times and seeing dozens of houses in-person; many of which didn’t quite look like the pictures, we made offers on three of them.
Not one worked out (they’re all still for sale, ironically, and each has been on the market for over two years). We even missed an opportunity because a house we wanted to make an offer on sold while our Realtor was on vacation.
Then when we least expected it, we finally found “THE ONE.”
While our situation won’t be the same as everyone else’s experience, here are 10 tips from us to you as you decide where your final “station” will be.
1. Location, Location, Location
At first this felt daunting. My dad was Air Force. My husband was Navy. The military chooses the next destination and you almost come to rely on them to call the shots.
Then, although it feels like the day may never come, it does. It’s your turn to choose where you’ll end up. For a lot of people this is a no-brainer and for others they have no idea where to choose. Whether you want to live close to family, move overseas or buy an RV to road trip it for a while, consider the options that will make you and your family happiest and go from there.
Of course one of the most important aspects of deciding on a house is how much you can afford. Make sure that the cost of living where you want to move is affordable and acceptable for you. If you will be using a VA loan, check their website to find out the maximum loan amount for the state and county where you’re looking. Be realistic, but keep in mind that housing prices are negotiable. It doesn’t hurt to make a fair offer even if the original asking price is slightly over your budget. In Arkansas our dollars go a lot further than in San Diego making the transition much easier than had we moved to a more expensive area (like my hometown of Miami).
3. Your Credit
Get to work on that credit! Believe me when I tell you that you’d be surprised at what can show up on your credit report. My credit report had several mistakes that took hours of phone calls to fix. It’s another 60- to 90-day waiting period to have these mistakes removed from your credit reports! Make sure you get a letter from the creditor stating they are fixing these mistakes. It will come in handy!
The minimum score for a VA loan is reasonable at a 620, but the better your score, the better your rates.
Check your score and pull a complete report from all three agencies to make sure the data is accurate and consistent. When it comes time to get your loan, you’ll be prepared and confident there won’t be any issues in securing financing.
3. The Kids
We took the girls with us when we looked for houses. I know they were sometimes bored out of their minds, but it was important to get their input on what they liked and what they didn’t. Ultimately the decision was ours, but to know they had a part in providing feedback was meaningful for all of us. If you’re considering schools and colleges, you’ll also want to factor in where you’re establishing residency. The man from whom we got our new home moved back to the state of his alma mater to re-establish residency there; proud his youngest daughter was following in his footsteps and glad to save money on her tuition in the process!
If you hate the cold and winter you may not want to move to Alaska. If the beach isn’t your thing, Florida may not be the place for you and if you do want sunshine year-round, perhaps you should avoid Seattle.
Consider the inconveniences like heavy traffic along with the weather; certain areas are more prone to natural disasters. It will affect your mental well-being and your housing insurance rates. For me, while I don’t like the cold I get to shop for four seasons. There’s always a bright side!
5. What Type of Home Do You Want?
Do you want a high-rise with views? Or is a house with land more your speed? Is it just you and your partner or do your kids need room to grow up? What about brand new construction that makes you part of the building process vs. older homes that may come along with things that need to be updated and/or fixed?
Being pro-active about narrowing down the type of home you want to live in will help in your forever home search. If a two-story is out because you want to avoid stairs, eliminate it from your searches.
Make a list of your Must-Haves, Nice to Haves and Absolutely Nots.
If you’re working with a Realtor, be sure to share it with them! With four girls coming and going, the need for a home office and the hope of having a “fun area” we needed a bigger place and established our parameters early on in the searching process. This made it easier on us walking into a potential home. Sometimes we didn’t even have to see inside to know it wasn’t for us.
6. Don’t Forget Your Pets
Consider your pets (or that future puppy that might come along). If you have animals that need room to roam, a condo might not be right for you. Consider whether you need a large yard or fencing to make sure they’re contained. We plan on adding to our animal repertoire so we got a house with acreage to accommodate future pets. Of course, this leads me to…
7. Lawn and Yard Care
My husband loves working outdoors, now owns a tree service and has the knowledge to keep up our land. We enjoy the deer and wildlife that visit, but if lawn and tree maintenance aren’t your things and you don’t want to budget for someone else to do the upkeep, consider a smaller yard. If you want a lot of land, make sure you’re factoring this into the purchase price of your new home.
8. Current Décor or Future Renovations?
Much of the paint in our new place pays homage to the previous owner’s love of his college– a very deep red (ketchup) while the living room is an interesting shade of mustard yellow and my office currently looks like pickle relish is on the walls. We call it the “condiment look.”
While it doesn’t look bad per se, we are in the process of painting. There are also small cosmetic changes we’ll be making to the home as we continue to settle in.
If you walk into a house and it is exactly everything you ever wanted, you are lucky! When you’re looking at houses be sure to budget for extra dollars toward renovations, painting or other changes you’ll want to make when you move in.
9. What About HOAs?
We knew that when it came to finding a house we did not want to be restricted by neighborhood covenants or a Homeowners Association. We also did not want to add on hundreds of extra dollars a month for HOA fees.
While it wasn’t right for us, HOAs do have benefits like providing security, lawn maintenance and amenities like clubhouses and pools. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons and find out what the monthly cost is. Many states require a seller to disclose whether the home is governed by covenants.
Check the MLS listing or ask your Realtor before you tour so you know what to expect.
10. Be Patient, Open-Minded and Flexible
It took us well over a year to find our forever house. There were several times we became discouraged and tired of looking to the point we took a month off from the pressure of finding the perfect place and then went back to searching again.
We also didn’t want to negotiate on our Must-Have list (OK, I didn’t want to negotiate) and in the end, when we (I) decided to be more open-minded we found the house that actually exceeded our initial wish list.
As you turn the page to your next chapter, don’t get discouraged and believe that while you’re looking, the right house will find YOU! Best of luck in your search!
Where do you plan to live after military life? How will you pick your forever home? Tell us in the comments section.
Business Traveler NA’s Business Traveler of the Year, Heather Wilson, is a corporate event marketing manager proudly married to a Navy sailor. A newlywed and proud cancer survivor who made history with her belly-button, she is addicted to loose-leaf tea and despite being half-Colombian has never had a cup of coffee in her life. Heather blogs about her adventures and all things “life” at Life of a Traveling Navy Wife. When she’s not traveling the world, you can find Heather with her husband on their Harley Davidson enjoying the beautiful San Diego scenery, strolling through Balboa Park walking her pet lizards, giving back to her community and trying to figure out to which hair color she should finally stick. You can follow Heather on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.