Sydney and her husband holding the key to their new home.

MilFam Tips for Buying a Home

Many looked at us like we had three heads when we told them we were buying a house.

In this market? Why don’t you wait until things cool off? The housing market is about to crash!

We’d heard all sorts of things about the market — but the reality was that we didn’t have many other options than to buy. As a military family, we are told when to move, and so we had to take the housing market however it was — even if it was January of 2022 — just recently marked the most competitive month in housing-market history.

I’ll admit, as first-time buyers (or as buyers in general), there is a lot that is not ideal about the current housing market. Most homes are being sold in as is condition. Buyers are finding it almost impossible to get a decent home without taking some financial risks — whether it be offering way over appraisal, leaving out financial or inspection contingencies to make competitive offers, and/or risking major issues with inspection that sellers most likely won’t agree to fix.

We would have loved to avoid the 2022 buyer frenzy, the stress of low inventory, the financial disadvantages of the seller’s market, the impossible competition … but we felt it was our best option to dig our heels in and pray hard that something would work out. I’m not going to go into detail here, but the on-post housing, as well as the rental market at our next duty station, were not going to be feasible for us for a few significant reasons. It took us two very devoted months of intensive searching and trying to get a house. My husband and I are both stereotypical oldest children, and probably approached the process with more-than-average caution. There were many times we almost gave up, but we never did — because we knew we didn’t really have a great alternative.

After just going through this process and finally ending up with a wonderful home after a not-so- wonderful process, I thought I’d share some tips that helped us out.

Find a good realtor

This is hands-down the most important thing in finding a home. In our experience, it’s best to get word-of-mouth suggestions from people you trust; but if you don’t have any connections, there are helpful resources online that can point you to a good realtor in the area.

When working with a realtor, you should make sure they are responsive and willing to go above and beyond to answer questions and investigate things for you. They should be patient and positive. They may be pushy at times but should be respectful of your boundaries. They should base their searches off your criteria, but also give you a reality check as needed. As first-time buyers in this particular market, we started out with our heads in the clouds a bit, but our realtor helped bring us down and give us some realistic options and strategies that would work with our particular needs and budget. Once you have a realtor you can trust, you will give your list of needs and wants and cash usage limit, and then trust they can use that information to take care of the rest.

Visit the area in person

While it’s unavoidable at times, no one wants to buy a home “sight unseen.” As a military family, you are most likely not within driving distance from your next duty station and will need to schedule a flight to the area at some point early in the house-hunting process, and possibly, child care. Even if you don’t end up making any offers while you’re visiting, you can at least get a feel for the different areas and narrow down the places you’d like to live.

One important tip: If you do buy sight unseen, it might be best to focus on homes in neighborhoods with HOAs so you at least have the assurance there are no absurd landmarks outside your home (and never will be) that will hinder you from selling in the future. In a neighborhood with an HOA, you can at least know the homes and yards are cared for and will make a pleasant place to live for your future prospective buyers.

Discuss finances before beginning the offering process

If you have a good realtor, one of their questions to you should be the amount of money you have to “play around with,” meaning, cash you have to use beyond covering the basic things like closing costs and inspection fees. This is money they will use to help structure your offers. It is important to discuss this with your spouse ahead of time, so both of you come to an understanding of the number you are willing to give and not exceed. Once you enter the competition of placing offers, it will be tempting to raise your number — but this can put you in a financially-compromised situation if you take that too far. We found it best to give our realtor a firm “budget” and let them play around with the numbers and structure our offers how they saw best fit.

One strategy that worked well for us was looking at homes that met our needs but were under our budget. In this market, sellers are repairing little to nothing — and it is usually near impossible for a buyer to back out of an offer without losing a serious amount of money. This can leave buyers moving into a home with huge repairs needed (i.e., new roof or heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, etc.). My husband and I made sure to get a home that was under our budget to allow a “buffer” with our remaining Basic Housing Allowance to finance repairs, if needed.

When deciding your cash budget together, you should be anticipating the worst-case scenario with inspection results and appraisal and be prepared for it. Knowing you can afford significant repairs or pay the cash you offered out of pocket will help you not lose sleep at night while you wait for those answers. This isn’t ideal in any way, but it’s the reality of this market.

Be realistic

We certainly went into the buying process as the classic first-time buyers with rose-tinted glasses, but those lenses quickly turned foggy and dull as we entered this particular market everyone had warned us about.

Our realtor gave us a reality check a few times that wasn’t ever fun to hear, but we knew was necessary. She eventually talked us into accepting things we didn’t want to. The unfavorable realities in this market such as the willingness to buy sight-unseen, taking on a house that needed some repairs, jumping on a home in “coming soon status” and offering more cash than we’d initially wanted to.

Another helpful piece of advice from our realtor that really stuck with us was what was called the “80-10-10 rule.” Plan on loving 80% of the house, changing 10% and accepting the other 10% that you don’t love but can’t change.

Be strategic and creative with your offers

Some strategies that worked for us in finally getting an accepted offer were offering random numbers. For instance, instead of offering $5k in due diligence and $10k over appraisal, you could offer $7k in due diligence and $11k over appraisal. That way, you have a slight edge over others who are offering similar numbers to you in more conventional increments.

Another thing we did was offer to pay partial seller’s closing costs. This not only helped increase sellers’ net-gain (their end goal) by having them pay less out of pocket, but also showed a nice gesture to help with their costs.

Lastly…be patient! Go into the process knowing you most likely won’t get the first house you try for. It will probably take at least two or three, if not more, offers before you get a home. Of course, if you are attempting to get a home “out of your league,” you may be trying for a while. Or if you are taking on an older project home, you may not have to make multiple offers. It’s a pretty safe rule of thumb that the more work you are willing to do to a house, the less money you’ll need to offer up.

We finally close on our home this week. We got exactly what we needed — even if it wasn’t the brand-new turnkey home with granite counter tops and stainless-steel appliances I’d imagined. But it’s a charming, practical home that meets our needs, and more. With patience and determination (and a great realtor), we can finally say we bought our first home, and in one of the craziest times in housing-market history!

A clock that reads 12:02, the numbers are in different colors.

Learning To Live in Temporary

This year, my family has had a real taste of civilian life due to my husband’s assignment. Realizing how temporary our lives are is hard. As I’m getting older the desire to set roots down is more intense. I haven’t realized how often the word “temporary” has echoed through the chambers of my mind. When I’m at the vintage market and start considering an item to purchase, I think, “How hard will this be to move with? Will it last through the first purge? Is it worth curating my tastes inside a temporary house that will become a totally new house with different space, layouts and colors?” I never buy anything. Instead, I leave with a daydream and a sharper idea of design about a future that doesn’t include temporary living. A future I can’t quite see approaching.

There are a million scenarios where the temporary sentiment plays like a broken record in my head. It’s louder now and hard to ignore. Each time it burrows a little further down in my heart, a new layer of callus forms over the surface to mend the exposed portion.

Recently, roots are being planted all around us and, selfishly, it’s a reminder how far we have yet to go. Several friends decided to get out of the Army. And honestly, it stung. The reality is our friends decided this isn’t the best lifestyle for them and their families. I get it, I totally get it. And I can’t help but question, are they right? This life is very, very hard. It’s hard on spouses, hard on kids, hard on parents, hard on family.

We’ve been in long enough that the enthusiasm has run dry. Now, we face the reality of life in the military without rose-colored glasses, but through clear lenses. Our kids are growing up. My daughter is ten. We are halfway through to retirement. The sacrifice of it all hits a vulnerable spot in my heart that longs to be settled.

There are so many moments that feel like a timer slowly ticking down to the next hardship. When life in one place only lasts a couple years, the limited amount of time I have with new friends, new colleagues, new schools, a new church, a new hairdresser, a new park and a new library feels pressured. The rationed time I know I have with my spouse before he leaves again, tick, tick, ticks away. The intensity to make the most of this regulated time feels dense and heavy like a thick fog. A burden pushing me towards the door, out of the house, reminding me to make the best of it. Make a connection, a new friend to make new memories with, at least for a while.

Is there rest in this temporary space? Is it a constant merry-go-round? Can I find some solitude amongst the boxes and tape? Movers, new neighbors, new activities, new coffee shops, new post office, new life — repeat.

Is there an untouched piece of earth waiting for me? Will we build the home we’ve longed for? A spot to remain, to settle and be known? Will I be able to plant a tree and watch it grow?

The solace I find lies in the life lived, in the stories yet to be told. The places yet to be explored. The friends yet to be made. The strength yet to be called on in time of need. The doses of hardship my children will learn from. The choice he made. The commitment we make to each other. The gravity that holds our family together when the spinning and spiraling environments change and shift.

The requirement of service is vast. The places and experiences fleeting. I’ve learned that time itself is temporary. Maybe it’s a comfort knowing the stride of all our clocks are equal. No matter how deep our roots grow, or how many roots grow next to ours, we make a mark. The skies change day to day. No matter where our house is or how temporary your time there, the sky changes.

I know I’m not alone. I know a lot of spouses deal with temporary. Where do your future daydreams take you?

Lizann's book

Much-Needed Support for Military Spouses

It’s no secret that military spouses need support at numerous moments throughout military life. PCS moves are stressful for everyone. Deployments can be emotionally draining. Living far from family can leave military spouses feeling like they don’t have a supportive network.

So yes, military spouses can often use support. But where can they expect to find it? Non-military friends and neighbors often do not understand the unique challenges of military life. Programs and supportive resources available at one base may not exist at the next one. In-person activities and events were in decline even before the pandemic, as increasing numbers of military spouses have been seeking full-time employment. Social media groups and pages — while convenient and accessible — are unreliable and often dissolve into name-calling or petty drama.

The MilSpouse community still faces many of the same challenges it has dealt with for generations: global conflict, frequent moves and uncertain plans for families. We still need support to face these trials, but the help military spouses crave has come a long way from the days of white gloves and tea parties.

In lieu of fancy traditions and structured spouse groups, many military spouses now seek support that is individual, empathetic and readily available. That is exactly the reassuring and supportive message found in the new book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses. I wrote this book, with letters for military spouses to “open when” they are facing various challenges of military life, to be a refreshing new resource to support our community.

What kind of support do military spouses really need?

After working with young military spouses for the past six years, I noticed a shortage of resources for the emotional needs of military spouses. Sure, we can use Google to learn more about a new duty station or read a “Military 101” booklet to learn about TRICARE or DEERS, but those resources feel cold and impersonal. Here’s the support that is usually missing in our community.

Acknowledgement of shared hardships

Military spouses or significant others want to be seen and understood. With only 1% of the American population serving in the active-duty military, most civilians don’t understand the challenges of PCS moves, training missions or deployments. Living far from family can feel isolating. We seek validation from the military community to help determine what emotions are “normal.” We want solidarity with others facing common struggles during the MilSpouse journey. Sharing a burden and acknowledging it as a common challenge makes it easier for everyone to bear.

Encouraging advice

When dealing with military life struggles, no one likes to be shut down and told to “suck it up” or “put on your big girl panties.” When someone asks for support, they want a helping hand, not a lecture about how their situation could be much worse. We want more practical support to help us take the next step forward. We want someone who will patiently answer our questions about how to prepare for a PCS move or offer strategies for solo parenting during deployment. The most meaningful support is encouraging advice because this will actually make the journey easier.

Positive MilSpouse role models

Military relationships are challenging, and spouses are surrounded by stories of failures. Whether it is their friends and family members who assume the service member will cheat, or social media groups who bully and trash spouses for the tiniest things, we are all familiar with the negative stereotypes of military relationships. What we crave are success stories of military spouses who made it — those who have a happy marriage for more than two decades, a successful career despite all the moves, or a positive accomplishment during deployment. We want to hear stories of spouses who demonstrated strength in challenging situations so we can be inspired to find our own strengths. On a difficult day, military spouses want to be able to see a glimmer of light on the road ahead.

New book offers support for spouses to “open when” needed

Our MilSpouse community has needed a resource that focuses on acknowledging hardships, encouraging advice and positive role models. These were my guiding principles when I wrote each letter of the “Open When” book. I wanted each chapter to feel like a warm conversation with a friend who gets military life — someone who has been there and understands the challenge, but who also offers encouragement and inspiration to help you move through it. Consider using this approach next time you’re speaking to a MilSpouse friend who is struggling with the numerous frustrations of military life.  Read this book when you need support for your own military journey!

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