When you PCS to a new base, you’ll have to make one of the hardest decisions of your career; should you live on-base or off-base? The answer to whether to purchase or rent your own home or live in military housing can be complicated and should take plenty of time and consideration.

There are on-base housing options for both single service members and for those with families. When facing PCS moves, many active duty members choose to live in military housing. The following comparison will give you some perspective and, hopefully, aid  in making the correct choice for you and your family.

Quality

Quality of available housing is always an important factor. If you’re purchasing your own home, you typically have more control of where you and your family will live. The choice is literally all yours after you factor in your total buying power and other factors.

Most bases have contractor owned military housing. Private companies such as Balfour Beatty,  bid on contracts to build, operate, and maintain military housing, and rent it exclusively to military members, in exchange for their housing allowance. While most of these housing projects start off well, their quality and maintenance can slip over time because of strict budget calculations and contract clauses with the base.

According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, “About 43 percent of DoD base housing, 58,000 units, are old and in need of extensive repair.” Those who opt for military housing during PCS season may not get assigned to a living area that’s up to their standards.

On-base family housing is a gamble. While many bases have outstanding family housing, others are in dire need of renovation or replacement.

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Freedom

On-base housing may provide a means to feel connected to the military community but many active duty personnel choose to buy homes off base because they want the freedom that comes with owning their own private property. Off-base housing allows service members to connect with their neighborhood and to fully immerse themselves in the community the local city has to offer.

The freedom to alter any property features is always an option when you own your own home off-base. You won’t get that same freedom on-base because of strict rules that apply to on-base housing such as curfews, surprise home inspections and home alteration restrictions.

Affordability

Home affordability in some areas of the country are well within reach of military members when they start their PCS relocation planning. Military members can use their VA loan benefits to purchase a home and they typically are obtained with no money down and no mortgage insurance premiums.

Another factor to consider is that owning a home can oftentimes be cheaper than renting an apartment. Housing offices and apartments conduct market analysis and research what a military member’s basic allowance for housing is and then set their rental prices based off of that.

On the flip side, owning a home does add another long term financial commitment and if you’re not prepared for it, the expenses can really burden your finances. When purchasing a home, you have to consider the initial purchase price as well as covering real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and maintenance costs.

These added financial costs don’t exist when you live in on-base housing. You’re typically charged your full housing allowance and in exchange the housing office is tasked with maintaining your home and repairing any broken items.

Commuting Time

When picking your house, you have to factor in your commute to work. If you live off-base you’ll need to map the distance and travel time to figure out how long it will take to make it on base. Don’t forget to factor in traffic and plan ahead for contingencies if a particular road is blocked off.

You should also factor in the financial side of commuting since you’ll have to consider added wear and tear to your car, routine maintenance, and fuel expenses. Make sure your car is efficient as possible because the daily cost to drive to and from work can pile up quickly.

When you live on-base, you’re already on base! That means you shouldn’t have more than a 5-10-minute drive from your house to your office. This can save you time, money, and maintenance trips.

Neighborhood

Picking the neighborhood you live in is just as important, if not more important than picking the actual home. You may have the opportunity to buy a bigger house but if it’s too far from work or there are no nearby amenities then that could spell disaster for you and your family. If you have kids and pets then make sure to check for schools and pet friendly areas like parks and walking paths.

Living on-base provides all of the necessary amenities such as the commissary, BX, post office, dry cleaner, etc. but you’re locked into a heavily gated community. Most bases have at least one park but again, it will all depend on their capabilities to maintain those areas and you’ll have to decide if that’s the best situation for you and your family.

military dogs

Pets

Pets are part of your family and you want them to be as comfortable as possible. If you live off base you have the chance to pick an area that has a lot of pet friendly areas such as parks, rivers, running paths, and puppy day care.

When picking your home you should factor in the needs and comforts for your pets. If you have a big dog that likes to run around then a large fenced yard might be a necessity. If you only have a hamster or small cat then a yard isn’t really a requirement.

A lot of on-base housing takes pets on a case-by-case basis. Some areas of base housing have blanket pet friendly areas while other areas have strict no pet policies. When applying for base housing sometimes you have little to no choice on what area you get assigned to.

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About The Author

Johnny Buckhingham

Johnny Cruz Buckingham runs his company, Military Crashpad, which specializes in fully furnished, corporate housing for people looking for temporary lodging near military bases. Johnny served as a Captain and Pilot in the U.S. Air Force for ten years before transitioning to his role of real estate investor and CEO. He writes articles on housing, moving, personal finance as well as manages his other company, CorporateCrashpad.com.

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