When my parents were house shopping, way back in the early 1980s, they made a list of possible properties. Then they went to each and every home to take a tour. And then, after weighing all the options and running the numbers, they made a decision. They took their time, were careful.
Cut to 2015. And I’m looking for a house across the country from where I currently live. There won’t be any in-person home tours for me, just a bunch of online listings with a ton of (possibly misleadingly staged) photos. My contact with the listing agent or home owner will be almost exclusively through email.
So far, we’ve been pretty lucky. There haven’t been any real issues for us yet, knock on wood.
Find a Rental Home from Far Away
How have we managed to hit the rental property lottery so often over the course of a decade of military life? Honestly, I don’t know.
But this year we’re on the hunt yet again. Except that this time there are several continents and an ocean in between our current location and where we’re looking for homes.
This year, we’re trying a few different techniques to find our next rental home from far away.
Start With the Basics
First, you need a place to move. As long as you’ve got a general next location, you’re golden. Take my advice, gained over the last 10 years, and do not house hunt before those orders drop. It just leads to disappointment all around.
Once you know where you’re headed, start narrowing down your possible options.
Here’s what we look for:
- short commute distance
- BAH rates
- playgrounds and parks
- running routes
- public transit
Once we’ve set up these parameters, it narrows down our search area. This allows us to focus on just one or two specific zip codes or a few neighborhoods instead of hunting everywhere.
All the Real Estate Apps
My first step in years past has been Craigslist. Even I’m cringing right now, typing the sentence. Even as recently as 2012, going the Cragislist route might have been okay. But between then and now, it’s gotten a good bit sketchier.
Which leads me to the apps. We’re talking Zillow, Trulia and MilitaryByOwner. Most properties are cross-posted, but there could be a rare gem that’s only listed on one of the apps. We’ve also noticed that sometimes the same property has different pictures on the different apps.
I really like MBO because it’s military specific. The homes listed as typically owned by military families, either active duty or retired personnel. And they’re looking for military tenants. You can also search by proximity to your preferred base.
I’m constantly scanning the search results on all three of my apps. I mix up my filters, switching up zip codes and rental prices.
Using the real estate search sites allows me to narrow down my search, excluding any houses that don’t fit my exact criteria. That saves me some heartache in the long run.
Power of Facebooking
Back in 2015, I found a home in the perfect location with the exact right features via Facebook. The current tenants, another military family, posted their rental property that was coming up for a new family. I reached out, sent a message and within just a few days that house was ours!
In just the last few years, tons and tons of Facebook groups have sprung up aiming to help families PCSing. They are location specific and members can post housing searches and listings.
These Facebook PCS-specific groups as well as more general military spouse groups create easy ways to grab houses before they hit the market. Plus, by using your connections, you’re able to rent a property that is already military family-approved!
Lots of Legwork
I love leg day at the gym, but don’t really enjoy chasing down real estate leads. Still, getting into the most ideal home for us does require a good bit of work.
With each promising house that pops up in the searches, I mark it. It goes onto the list of the day. My husband and I sit down to go over the options every night or so. the houses we decide to keep on the list each get an email via one of the apps.
Now, not every email we send doesn’t get a response. The people we do hear back from, we review those responses and decide which homes to pursue further.
This process of email, review, respond and pursue keeps on going until we find “the one.”
Enlist Extra Help
Now, in the past, we’ve done this mostly alone, with maybe a little help from Facebook connections and military spouse groups. That’s just not cutting it with an OCONUS move.
So this time around, we enlisted the expert advice of a Realtor. We chose someone who also happens to be a military spouse. She’s totally in touch with the unique concerns and considerations of this lifestyle. It’s been so helpful to have an extra set of eyes looking for properties!
Plus, should we need someone to visit a home or give us a neutral opinion, she’s right there for us. And our Realtor can also get paperwork started on our behalf.
Seriously, I don’t know why we didn’t go this route sooner!