This article was originally posted on MilitaryByOwner.com. For up to date property listings, call The Litton Group at 210.802.8310.
Military families engage in home buying like no other. We buy homes in just several days and we buy homes for other people to live in. Who does that?!
For one, we don’t spent much time on home shopping, but that’s because service members only receive ten days of house hunting leave. Take time ahead of moving to whittle down the number of houses on your list, then virtually tour that list before deciding what to use your precious time on to visit in person. Taking two to three days to house hunt and having seven to eight days to decompress between assignments–priceless!
Here’s the other, and perhaps greater, differentiator between military family home shopping and civilian family home shopping: We buy a home we’ll only live in for two or three years. That’s crazy talk by civilian standards. According to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders, the average civilian family remains in their home for approximately 13 years; meanwhile, a typical military family has moved four times. Knowing that you must (typically) own a home for at least five years before breaking even on the cost of purchase and general home ownership costs, why then would military families choose to buy homes again and again?
The key word in that statement was “own.” Just because you own a home, doesn’t mean you have to (or get to…) live in it. What steps should you take as you look to purchase a home with the view of renting it later?
Prepare your family’s short list of home needs.
Keep in mind the distinction between “needs” and “wants.” A three bedroom home to accommodate parents and four children is a legal need (most states only permit two kiddos per room), while quartz countertops are a want. Your casserole will taste just as delicious when served from Formica countertops. Promise. Upgrades like that only become something akin to a need when they’re essential for helping to make your home competitive in a rental versus home selling market. You’ll generally need higher upgrades for selling than you will for renting, and when buying a home to rent, you want to minimize high end upgrades when possible because that will help keep your long-term replacement costs down. Your list may look like something similar to the following:
- A great master bedroom for parents: renters and homebuyers alike want this, too.
- Three additional bedrooms: you need space for three kids and room for visiting guests.
- A space for mom to work from home: this could be a separate office or you could build one into a room. Check out the post on Creative Home Office Spaces for Military Spouses for additional ideas.
- A space for dad’s hobbies: if dad is a part-time carpenter, for example, then you’ll need a garage or shed.
- A space for the dog: this could be a fenced yard or a nearby dog park.
…and that’s it. Unfortunately, you have to keep your list of needs small so that you can keep your options open for the best places to buy a home that’s both good for your family AND good for your family’s long-term needs as an investment property. A little sacrifice in a few niceties now can help your military family reap dividends in the returns on your investment real estate property.
Research property managers. Ask your real estate agent for recommendation and Google reviews of property managers in your community.
Select a short list of no less than five property managers to contact. Though you may find a property manager who looks ideal, she may not be a good fit for you based on her cost model, her operational model, or because she’s simply not accepting any new clients because she’s planning to retire. You’ll find that at least one of the other property managers simply won’t respond to your inquiry. Another one may not have sufficient answers to your questions, and you may not get a good vibe from another. Remember, you’re planning to entrust one of your greatest assets to this person, so if you don’t have a good feeling about it, trust your instinct and move on; you’ll find someone else.
Prepare a template email for the property managers. In the email you will explain who you are, and your intention. This is key. Your intention is to find a home that meets your family’s short list of requirements and is also in an area with high rental viability. The home must meet your family’s short list of requirements, so make sure you include that list.
Send out the template emails and scrutinize the responses! However the property manager responds to you is a direct reflection of how she will respond to your prospective tenants. Keep an eye out for the following:
- Timeliness: You don’t want your home sitting on the market and costing you money because your property manager is not efficient in responding to inquiries.
- Communication skills: As a landlord, you are ripe for lawsuits. Make sure you have a property manager who communicates firmly and clearly, so that there will never be any misunderstandings between her and you, or her and your tenant.
- A market analysis: Does he know what types of homes are in highest demand? This doesn’t have to be a fancy updated graph, but rather a discussion of the market, trends, and rental market needs. What inquiries does he receive, and what regular requests does he find hard to fill? Ideally, your short list of home needs will meet up with the requests that he finds hard to fill.
Take that information back to your real estate agent to analyze with you. Is the information from the property manager’s in-line with his understanding of the market? If there are major discrepancies, then repeat the process and speak with additional property managers until you find the answers you need.
Run the numbers. Make sure that you calculate not only the mortgage and interest costs, but also insurance costs, HOA costs, higher tax rates for investment rentals, property management fees, and a budget for maintenance (roughly one month’s rental is a good place to start). If, based on all of the market analysis that you’ve conducted, you won’t be able to rent and have these costs covered, then buying a home and rental combo this time around is not necessarily a good option for your military family. If that’s the case, rent a home that will allow you to save and buy at your next duty station.
Do you have any advice to help out your fellow military families?