Should You Rent Out Your Home or GeoBach Until You Sell?

I have a sixth sense for when we are about to get orders. I inexplicably start painting everything white.

When we move in to a place, I see color -- apple greens, butter yellows, sky blues.

As soon as a move is in the offing, I get all Mick Jagger-y and see a red door and I want it painted black. Or white. Or something really, really neutral.

After 16 moves, I know that getting orders means we are going to have to sell or rent our house. But figuring out which of these options a military family should take isn’t that simple.

Our pals at USAA offer seven survival tips for renting your home including finding a good tenant, figuring out how much to charge, getting a lease, figuring out insurance and hiring a management company.

Those are our worries, but not our first worries. When military families are first getting ready for a move, we must decide whether we will sell, rent or geobach. Here are some of the questions folks ask each other. What would you add to this list?

8 Decision Points Before You Sell, Rent or Geobach:

Do you love this house? My husband and I love our house. It isn’t the biggest house we have ever owned. It isn’t the most expensive. Yet it wraps its arms around us and makes us feel at home. We would definitely want to live in this house again. Other houses we have owned were more like Tupperware containers for our stuff—they were easy to let go.

Are you VERY likely to be stationed here again? Depending on your branch of service, certain locations will draw you back like you were attached to a bungee cord. Since my husband is either on a ship that carries Marines or working spreadsheets in the Pentagon, it would have made sense to hold houses located in Norfolk, San Diego or Washington, DC. Homes in New Orleans or Newport don’t have that same potential for us.

What is likely for your specialty? Ask senior people in your field to find out. I’d say you were looking for at least an 80% chance of return to make it worth while.

CAN you sell your house? It sure seems like every real estate market in every area of the country is in flux. A slow market now might be moving right along when you need to sell. To get a rough estimate of what your house is currently worth, check out a site like Zillow.com or Realtor.com. For a more accurate estimate, consult a local realtor. Will you be able to get out from under your mortgage without a huge financial loss?

Is your area glutted with homes for rent? Some military areas are glutted with rental homes because builders know the military market. They can build a new house for military couples at an exact price point to get them to sign on the dotted line. That can mean when it is time for you to sell or rent, you are competing with brand new homes. A tough sell.

Is the assignment for a year or less?  If this assignment has a quick turnaround (a school, a ship that is changing homeport, an immediate deployment) it might not be worth it to move--especially if your servicemember will return to this duty station.

Will you be able to tolerate the wear a tenant will put on a house? It may not make sense to anyone else, but I often hear from military spouses that they don’t want to rent because renters are so hard on a house. People do sometimes treat a rental home like a rental car and it costs a lot to get the house back to the way it was before renters. Research lease agreements and deposits to protect your home.

Will you be able to handle the stress of dealing with a bad tenant? Some military spouses worry so much about whether or not the renter is going to pay this month or whether the renter will move out unexpectedly that renting isn’t worth the stress. Do you have a financial cushion to balance the months without rental income? Do you trust your management company to screen applicants? Or is it less stressful for you to have the spouse and kids stay with the house until it sells?

Does your servicemember have a free or cheap place to live? If you are considering going the geobach route, here are some things your family should consider first. Yet one of the biggest factors in the geobach decision is the cost. Geobaching ain’t cheap. The cost of maintaining two households needs to be figured in to your decision. I also think you should add even more dollars than you think for the misery factor. Geobaching can work, but it can be miserable for the servicemember.

PCS moves are a constant factor in military life. Mentally working through the issues together can be the difference between a working solution and debt that lasts for years. Let us know your story. What worked for you? What didn't?

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