If you're military, you're moving. And every time you move, you need to find a new place to live. In many situations, renting off base may be the best option for your situation. If you've never rented a home, the process may be confusing. And if the rental market is competitive, like it is in many locations right now, the process can be frustrating and expensive.
Here's what to expect when you rent a property:
Figure Out Your Budget
The first step to finding your new home is figuring out how much you can pay. Service members receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if they aren't living in military housing. Many people look for houses in the range of their BAH, but that might not be the best answer, depending on your situation. There are good reasons to spend more or less than the BAH on your housing.
Other financial considerations include the cost of utilities, how the location will impact your transportation costs and what amenities are included in the rental price. For example, an apartment complex with a great fitness center might save you money if it means you can give up a separate gym membership. A unit with window coverings will save you the cost of buying blinds and curtains as soon as you move in. A toll between the home and your work will add to your commuting expenses. It's all a balance.
Thanks to the internet, you have a huge number of ways to shop for your new home. Using a realtor might be necessary in some markets, but in other markets, you can use apartment or real estate websites or social media groups. Look online at a wide range of properties to get an idea what prices are and what you can expect in your budget range.
Be sure to look out for rental scams. The most common scam involves someone advertising a property that they don't actually own or manage. Red flags include never wanting to meet in person, or wanting you to put down a deposit or rent without seeing the property.
Apply for the Apartment or House
This part of the process can be really expensive. Most applications come with a fee that may cover the cost of the credit check, criminal background check or other costs. If you have more than one applicant (spouses, roommates, etc.), each applicant will probably need to pay the application fee.
You may be able to save a few dollars by asking some questions before you pay. Is this unit definitely still available? Do I meet the criteria based on the information you have now? Will I get a refund if I meet the criteria but you select someone else? (Don't expect this, but it doesn't hurt to ask.) Do you have other applicants who you'll be submitting at the same time? Unless it is absolutely the only option, it may not make sense to spend $30 or more to apply for a unit where 15 other people are applying.
Sign and Pay
Once you've been accepted, you'll need to sign the lease and make whatever upfront payments are required.
If you're inexperienced with leases, asking your installation legal services to review the lease is a good idea. Ask them to point out any items that are important or unusual. You'll learn at the same time as reviewing your lease.
It is typical to pay the security deposit and first month's rent up front. Some places also want the last month's rent to be paid in advance. It can get expensive. If you don't have enough savings to cover these costs, you can request an Advance Basic Allowance for Housing or apply for an interest-free loan from your branch's relief or aid society.
Setting Up Your New Home
As if you haven't already spent enough money, moving in brings its own expenses. You will need to set up your utilities if they aren't included in your rent. Many utility companies will want a deposit if you don't have a utility payment history. You can ask for a waiver because you're military (it might happen!) or ask to have the deposit split across the first few bills.
You may need window coverings, floor coverings, a shower curtain and rings, or a liner for kitchen cupboards. That first trip to the big-box store will likely be pretty expensive. Figure out how to keep your costs down, at least at first. No matter how tempting, don't go all out the first week. A cheap shower curtain liner will be enough until you have the budget to buy a nicer curtain.
The process and cost of finding a new home can be overwhelming, especially if you've never done it before. Being prepared for the steps and the expense can make it feel just a little bit smoother, even if it is still a lot of work and money.
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