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Military Housing: The Pros & Cons of Living Off-Base

When you’re a member of the military, relocating to a new base means making a lot of important decisions at once — including whether to get on-base or off-base housing. In some cases, this decision will be made for you, but how do you decide when you’re given the option of living off-base? Are there advantages to living on-base versus off-base? What are the financial considerations? Is there an advantage to buying a home versus renting? If you’re married and/or have children, is living off-base a better option for them? Lowder New Homes has worked with many military families who are stationed at nearby Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of living off-base so you can make an informed decision.

How Military Housing Works

If you’re a new recruit, you’ll start your career living on the base – namely, in the barracks during Basic Training. Once your Basic Training is complete, if you’re single and have no dependents, you’ll probably stay on-base in a dormitory or some other type of on-base military housing. Once you start moving up the ranks, you may eventually be given the option of living off-base.

If you’re married and/or have kids, you may have more housing options to accommodate your family. On-base housing for families is usually subject to availability. When you report to base, you’ll go to the Housing Office to discuss whether on-base military housing is an option and if so, when it will be available. You can choose to stay in temporary housing to wait for an opening, or you may be allowed to find off-base housing as a permanent solution. The Housing Office may give you a list of recommendations of places to rent, but you typically don’t have to use their recommendations. If you end up living on the base, your housing costs are covered in full; if you live off-base, you’ll be given a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to help cover those costs. The actual amount of BAH will depend on such factors as your rank and the cost of housing in your local area.

Living On-Base vs. Off-Base

While your duties as an active service member are the same regardless of where you’re housed, living on the base and living off-base can be two very different experiences — both for you and your family. Let’s talk about some of these differences.

Many military members describe living on a base as being part of an extremely tight-knit community. That’s a fair assessment because the military lifestyle has its own sense of “normal” apart from civilian life, and people who share a unique experience tend to have strong bonds between them. You can expect to be quite close with your neighbors, and your children will likely have plenty to keep them busy. A military base functions much like towns in their own right — with a post office, shops, eating establishments, medical facilities, and more. In fact, there are so many conveniences on the base that you might not feel the need to leave for weeks at a time, which can make you feel disconnected at times from the civilian world outside.

By contrast, if you live off-base, you function more as a commuter. Your military duties are your job that you go to every day, then you go home to your family at night. You may not feel as strong a connection to the community that lives on the base, but you’ll have more autonomy, especially during your times off duty. Off-base living can be good for families, as well, because they feel less married to the military and more connected to the “real” world.

Pros and Cons of Living Off-Base

Living off the base may have its appeal, but it’s not necessarily for everyone. There are plusses, minuses, and tradeoffs compared to living on the base. Now that we have some context, let’s look at some pros and cons.

The Advantages

  • Freedom to choose your own housing. On-base military housing doesn’t afford much in the way of selection — you’re generally offered what is available. Living off-base lets you choose what works best for you and your family.
  • Sense of normalcy for your family. Given the transient nature of military life, many service people feel that living off-base give their spouses and kids a stronger sense of stability and a chance to live more like civilians.
  • Opportunity for homeownership. With affordable VA loans available, living off-base gives you a chance to buy your own home — something that isn’t possible when living on a base.

The Disadvantages

  • Less connected to the military community. Living on a base offers a strong sense of community that some military families prefer over living off-base.
  • May increase housing costs. Depending on what you buy or rent, your BAH may not be enough to cover the total cost of your housing off-base. (When living on a base, your housing is completely covered.)
  • Commuting. You’ll need to afford the extra time and travel expenses to commute to and from the base — although here in Montgomery, commutes are usually a minimal issue, especially when living close to the base.

Tips for Choosing Off-Base Housing

If you are relocating to Maxwell AFB — or any other military base, for that matter — and you have the option of living off-base, here are a few tips to be aware of:

  • Look for places that minimize your commute. Look for housing either in towns or neighborhoods close to base, or near a main travel artery that keeps your commute time to a minimum.
  • Look for military-friendly communities. You can often recover some of the community found on a base by living in a neighborhood near other military families. (Near Maxwell AFB, for example, Prattville has a high concentration of military residents.)
  • Look for military-friendly rentals. The base Housing Office may require a waiver on your lease allowing you to break the lease without penalty if you are transferred or given orders. Many landlords near base understand this and other needs of military personnel.
  • Consider buying, not just renting. Buying a home may be a better financial investment than renting, even for military personnel.

Consider Buying, not Just Renting

Many military members assume it’s better to rent a house or apartment when stationed at a base because of the possibility of transfer. However, buying a home may be a better choice for some military personnel — and buying a new construction home might be even better. Here’s why:

  • Buying a home may be more cost-effective. VA loans make it easy to get into a home with no downpayment, and mortgage payments are often less than rent.
  • You’re investing in yourself and your family. If you do get transferred, you’ll usually still make a profit on the home when you sell due to rising home values. You can also rent the property out for additional income.
  • A military-friendly builder can make it easier to own a new construction home. Some builders (like Lowder) offer additional financial incentives to military personnel, and they often have preferred lenders who specialize in VA loans.

If you are considering off-base housing near Maxwell AFB, Lowder New Homes would love to talk to you about the possibilities of buying a new construction home. Our team includes several certified Military Relocation Professionals (MRPs) who know how to address your unique needs. Call us at 334-270-6789 to learn more.

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