5 Things Military Renters Don't Know

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

There's nothing low stress about getting ready for a military move. And at the top of the list of problems is likely your decision about where to live. Should you live on or off base? Should you rent or buy?

As a military relocation specialist I hear these questions regularly. And while I can't make all of those decisions for you, I do see some common "ah-ha" moments come up regularly for my clients.

If you're looking for the perfect rental situation, there are probably a few things about renting that you just don't know. Here are the top five I've seen with my military clients.

1. It's OK to "offer" less than list price on a rental home.

Home buyers rarely want to offer full price on a home for sale, yet renters usually just take the list price of a rental home at face value. Try bumping up your search parameters by a couple hundred dollars to see what additional home options you can find, and then ask if the owner will consider a little less for a military tenant. Getting a better deal is especially likely if the home has been on the market for awhile. If you don't ask, the answer will always be "no," right?

Renters also tend to think they are more likely to negotiate a lower price for a longer term lease, but that's not always the case. That's because doing so means the landlord would be agreeing to a lower than desired rental income for a longer period of time. A longer term lease isn't necessarily extra security when it comes to military renters, anyway. Just because you intend to be there for two to three years doesn't mean PCS or deployment orders won't take you away sooner.

Landlords do, however, usually love military tenants. In their eyes you've got that easily documented income and fairly guaranteed employment, as well as a chain of command going for you.

2. Utilizing a Realtor is usually free for renters

Why not have a professional representing, educating and navigating you through the whole process for free? If a landlord's home is listed with a real estate agent, they are typically paying for you to have a Realtor on your side, meaning he or she is free for you to use.

But also know that if a landlord is advertising their home as "For Rent by Owner," they haven't hired a real estate agent, and they may or may not be eager to work with you having one.

3. 'Lease with Option to Purchase' and 'Lease with Obligation to Purchase' are totally different things.

Most often when people throw around the term "lease to own" or "lease purchase," they mean the option to buy.

But when you use that option all you are really doing is applying and getting approved for a rental home that the seller may or may not be interested in selling to you in the future, and you may or may not then want to buy.

If you find a home you love, and you just need a little time to get your financial and household act in order, have an agent on your side that knows how to instead carefully craft the lease with obligation to purchase scenario.

Under that arrangement, you are negotiating a sales contract and lease at the same time, and they are tied closely together. You go ahead and move in with your household goods, while some extra rent is going each month towards your closing costs on the purchase, and your rental security deposit can turn into your earnest money deposit on the purchase when the time is right.

This option can work fabulously if you have a deployed spouse who just hasn't been able to see the house yet, or you need to sell another home first (but quickly). I don't recommend this option unless you can flip from rent to buy within three months because you are negotiating a sales price when you move in, and the market value could change (for the better or the worse).

4. Don't sign a lease until you actually have orders.

Having specialized in military relocations for 15 years, I know the fear of being homeless is strong. But waiting until you actually have orders is one of my main recommendations for families preparing for a move.

People desperate for a home like to rely on the famous military clause which "should" kick in and get you out of a Lease without penalty when you have PCS or deployment orders at least 90 days long. Some argue that even without a military clause, you are still protected by the SCRA (Servicemember Civil Relief Act).

But I have yet to find two people who agree on this topic, and laws vary by state. For example, in Virginia, your TDY orders also have to be greater than 35 miles away. So unless your landlords are really nice and you are a pro at providing proper notice in accordance with your lease, you can find yourself at the JAG office and/or still owe some rent when your orders come down for Korea instead of Kentucky.

No matter what, you will likely have a security deposit tied up in one home while you need to pivot and apply on a different home at another duty station.

5. When applying with pets, an adorable photo of your fur babies can go a long way.

Renting to someone with pets can be a big risk for any landlord. But who can say "no" to an adorable pair of puppy eyes? Be sure to include a photo of your pets with your application, especially if you own a dog from which landlords may shy away due to size or breed.

6. Protect your Property and Belongings

Private insurance is also a good way to protect your personal property and covers you in case of personal liability. Get free quotes.

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