Before my husband received orders, we were set on finding a home off-post for this time around. Our new duty station had great on-post options, but since it would just be my husband and I, it seemed unnecessary to take up a perfectly good spot for a family needing the space and honestly, we wanted to bank on saving a bit of money.
Once orders were in hand, I knew I would be doing the house hunting and research alone. I was game, especially with all my previous experience in finding civilian housing. From 2004 to 2013, I moved 5 times. Our move in January 2014 was my sixth move and I’m not counting the Korea PCS en route through Arizona, which I was a part of too (luckily, my stuff stayed put for the meantime).
When I made the leap to set-up (temporary) roots in NYC, I gradually took neighborhood hunting to an obsessive level because, literally, you can turn a corner and be on a questionable block. It also made me realize that despite an amazing home, the area can be shady. True story: my first apartment in Queens was HUGE and we thought we lucked out. I have friends in law enforcement and one told me about a recent raid that took place down the street. Needless to say, we moved out of there once our lease was up.
Anyway, the same goes for military families looking for a perfect home. It can’t always be about the house. The neighborhood plays a big factor in your family’s happiness and safety too.
I suggest that pinpointing a neighborhood should be a top priority when you are reading through an inventory of listings. If you have a solid idea of the ideal neighborhood, this will help keep your search on track.
Consider these 6 important tips to help you find the right home in the perfect neighborhood:
Word of mouth. You might know someone that knows someone that’s been stationed at your gaining installation. In that case, pick their brain and talk through your family’s needs to get an opinion. There are also opportunities for military spouses to network online about desired living locations on local spouse forums or social media pages. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
Hardcore online research. Hitting the Internet is another great way to collect information about possible neighborhoods. You can easily Google the location and if you’re like me, spend lots of time digesting everything you can about your new city. I found it helpful to use online resources that are available to military members like AHRN.com, a online referral site that aggregates data and incorporates your BAH with available housing. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about streamlining the search process. The site also shows nearby schools, which brings me to my next point.
School district ranking. Although my husband and I don’t have children yet, it’s still another factor that contributes to the quality of the neighborhood. It’s a cruel reality, but as a concerned citizen, the ranking of the schools nearby correlate to the type of area. I can only imagine the importance of school district ranking is for a concerned parent. Never take it for granted and utilize GreatSchools.org to see what schools are around your new installation. As a silly comparison, my parents opted for a home that was a 30-minute drive from my father’s base when we were stationed in Texas, so I could go to a school that was brand-new with good reviews.
Analyzing crime data. This is by far the scariest part of neighborhood searching, but it has to be done! Remember that home I had in Queens? If I had only researched the crime data in the area, we could have avoided the issue sooner. CrimeReports.com and NeighborhoodScout.com are sites that I use now and for your children’s safety, FamilyWatchdog and City-Data.com provides a map of registered sex offenders at a given location.
Calculating distance to important landmarks. Family morale is also very important. Does the neighborhood you’re looking into have the appropriate parks, activities and sites for your children? What are the things that make your family happy? Take the time to write out a list and prioritize the family’s desires. For us, we wanted to be near bike-friendly parks and close distance to a gym for the winter months.
Scope out the ‘hood yourself. If given the opportunity, spend some time to actually drive or walk around potential neighborhoods. I recommend utilizing permissive TDY at a time that’s most convenient for your family, so you and your spouse can evaluate choices together. Depending on your situation and/or command, military members are allowed to request permissive TDY at any time after you receive paper orders. It’s common to use permissive TDY once you arrive at your new location because that type of leave doesn’t offer any type of per diem rate or reimbursement. Nothing beats your gut feeling about a place. It’s really important to get the opportunity to see a place with your own eyes, especially if you couldn’t get any kind of inside scoop from a friend.