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5 Things You Get When You Move Off Cycle

 Posted by on August 15, 2016 at 07:00
Aug 152016
 
Kristi

Kristi

All the boxes — I’ll take all the boxes. That’s my thought every time I see a post on our community’s Facebook page from yet another new neighbor that advertises “boxes and packing paper free on the porch.”

There’s nothing like the smell of cardboard in the summer in a military-heavy neighborhood, but it’s hard to get in the spirit of moving season when you watch new faces settle in as you scramble to get your kid ready for kindergarten while simultaneously filling out paperwork for a mid-year transfer on the complete opposite side of the country — 2,869 miles to be exact.

This is my first move off cycle, and so far I can describe it as having our invitation to the party lost in the mail.

#1: School breaks never, repeat never, align.

A summer PCS takes advantage of a season-long vacation from school, but moving literally any other time in the year means pulling kids out of one school and dropping them in another mid-year.

This leaves parents like me doing crazy real-life word problems like, “Student A starts spring break in California on March 20 and has two weeks off. His family leaves to move across the country on March 31. He arrives at his new home on April 8. His new school takes spring break from April 10-17. How many weeks of school will he miss?” Four — the answer is roughly one month out of school. Widen your eyes just a little more, and you’ll be at my level of amazement.

What’s a parent to do? We do our homework — lots and lots of homework — to make sure every little detail is attended to (enrollment paperwork, grade transfers and school physicals), so that all we have to do is show up and be the new kid (and we hope that doesn’t become an issue all its own). So far, the school liaison at our future installation has been amazing. Make this lifeline your first point of contact every time.

#2: Weaving a vacation into an off-cycle PCS is tricky.

Our summer move to California was the stuff of dreams. We could have been the spokesmodels for the great American road trip. State by state, we checked items off our bucket lists. Naturally, I wanted to replicate this grand cross-country trip (the optimist in me thinks this might be our last time driving all the way across), but we planned to take a northern route. Funny thing about the north in early spring: It’s frozen. I’ve already axed the Yellowstone adventure and glamping in Montana. We’ll hit Seattle, Mount Rushmore, Chicago and hope we aren’t racing a late blizzard.

#3: Rental houses hibernate in the winter.

If you’re ever bored (or you’re just a premature house hunter, like me), take a peek at rental listings during the summer. Our future duty station currently has pages and pages of options within our housing allowance. I have serious concerns that we’ll be dealing with a skeleton crew when we start our search after the holidays. Maybe I’m wrong — I hope I’m wrong — but from my experience as a landlord, I know that pickings tend to be slim outside of the summer months.

#4: We mean it when we insist on no gifts for the holidays.

Oh, Grandma and Nana — and you too, Uncle K, with your tradition of gifting gigantic stuffed animals — the months leading up to a move are traditionally the purging months in this house. If I’m not running things to the dump or the donation bin, I’m probably hosting a yard sale in which everything must go. The last thing I need is one more thing to pack and unpack. What I won’t say no to are some things that could be helpful during the move — maybe a road trip game, a book, a movie, travel funding, etc. We are all in agreement that we want the kids to have a memorable holiday, and believe me, they will — we’re planning a trip instead of focusing on gifts. And, if that’s not enough, just wait until you see their faces light up as they unpack everything that’s been in storage for two years, “And you get a kitchen set. And you get a trampoline. How about a TV for the playroom?”

#5: “One [really] is the loneliest number.”

No one throws around Facebook “likes” like I do in the summer — moving boxes, moving trucks, PCS vacations, saying goodbye to old friends and embracing new friends. Like, like, love, sad face, like — I really get in the moving season spirit. But it’s bittersweet when you watch all the friends you’ve made at a duty station pack up and leave without you. We’ve already said goodbye to friends here, and there’s another wave coming just before the holidays. We’ll be holding down the fort here on the block all by ourselves for three months after our friends have moved on.

I’m pretty independent, so I’ll be OK (aside from missing them dearly, of course). But I think about my kids starting to lose their friends months before their move. That’s a long timeline of emotion for such tender hearts. I also think about how — even on the days we weren’t purposely spending time together — our neighbors and friends were just part of our lives here, and that even simple things, like checking the mail or taking out the garbage, will be a little different without them.

It’s not all bad

Like any other part of military life, we can’t change the fact that we may once (please) or twice (hopefully not) have to move off cycle. So, we can wallow in the unfortunate timing or dig through that packing paper for a silver lining. Some perks of moving off cycle, include:

  • All the gently used packing paper and boxes we can handle
  • Cooler temps on moving day (in theory, anyway)
  • Built-in child care on moving day (unless your kids happen to be on a school break)
  • Lower home prices (also in theory — homeowners that didn’t sell or rent their places in the summer may lower the price to entice buyers or renters)

I am sure when it’s all said and done, I’ll have a whole new blog to write about “what not to do during an off-cycle move,” but I’m going to roll with it for now and try to get my 5-year old to keep his enthusiasm for his month-long spring break at a minimum.

Jun 282016
 
Kelli

Kelli

Before you say “been there done that” regarding a PCS move, note that all moves are not created equal. Each time you move, your family is a little older, a little more involved in your community and sometimes a little bigger. If you’re moving with teenagers, strap in; it’s a whole new experience!

Moving with small children was a challenge. It was more exhausting than I realized. As our family grew and we added babies and dogs, the logistics of a move became overwhelming at times. Now that my children are all into the preteen, teenager and “they think they are grownups” stages, I look back fondly on those early moves as being a piece of cake. What I didn’t take into account was TEENAGERS and all their emotions, feelings and independent thinking. How dare they start to grow up and become their own person! Throw out everything you think you know about moving when it comes to moving with teens.

I’m not sure when the shift happens, and it’s different with each child. But when it does and they suddenly become aware of what moving means on deeper levels, you have your work cut out for you. When the kids were little, we could say we’re moving, and you get a new house and a new room! We focused on the journey and all the fun things we would do in our new location. It was an exciting adventure for all.

Teenagers will not swallow that spoonful of sugar so easily. They are egocentric to begin with, it’s just the nature of being a teen; add to that a change in their whole world, and you could possibly have a melted pool of emotions at your feet bemoaning their fate. Preparation for a move takes on a whole new meaning.

In their defense, the teen years are fraught with emotions, hormones, weekly self-esteem crises and the ever-evolving social circle. It’s more like a social amoeba oozing through middle and high schools organizing and reorganizing best friends and social groups.

In parents’ defense, we really never know how our teen is going to react, so really I don’t know that there is any true preparation. It’s more like damage control after you announce the impending orders.

I have one son who was ready to move, or so he thought. He was relatively easygoing through the whole process — even helpful! I was shocked. He and I were the last to leave our duty station heading to our new home. Our family is so large we left in three shifts. You could say he and I were the rear detachment — finishing up the last few things like the packers and movers, cleaning the house, turning in the storage keys and being the last to kiss the town goodbye. Fast forward six months, and it dawns on this man child that he desperately needs to go back and live with someone there. I’ll give you 10 days to visit son-shine, but that won’t happen! His adjustment was a bit rocky and hard to watch. No one wants to see their children hurting, sad or feeling friendless. After about 18 months, he began settling in, finding his niche. Yes, I said EIGHTEEN MONTHS. (This is where you should feel sorry for me.)

On another move, one daughter literally melted onto the floor sobbing when her dad came home and announced orders. “I’m going to die!” “I’ll never make new friends!” “How will I go on?!”

Once we got Princess Dramatic up off the floor, the discussions began. They turned into negotiations of potential visits to ease the pain of leaving and then threats of finding a tower to put her in if she didn’t pull herself together. She not only made new friends, rather quickly I might add, but has yet to go back and visit. Life took over and she quickly adjusted. Who knew?

Here is my advice for moving with teenagers:

Education

For us this was a big one. I recommend you find a Military School Liaison Officer. NOW. Even if you are moving from one military community to another, you still need to know who to go to if the need arises. You’d be surprised at the “needs that arise.” If you have high school-age students, the officer can be instrumental in helping you navigate the required graduation credits from one state to another.

Emotions

All of a sudden these tiny children, who you could tell what to wear and lead by your example on how to feel about all of it, are suddenly independent and HAVE THEIR OWN IDEAS AND FEELINGS about the move. It can be exhausting. However, it’s so important you acknowledge their feelings and validate them. They have a right to feel the way they feel. It is also important you not get sucked into their feelings, but keep an eye on the big picture and help them navigate those emotions. Think of it as a chance to help them develop coping skills that will stay with them long after life with you and the military is behind them.

Social

Making new friends is not easy for everyone. I have some children who dive in and come home with a new best friend within the first week. I have others who have struggled to find their place. I wish I could tell you how to help manage that process, but I can’t. All you can do is be a soft place for them to land as they navigate the waters of teenage society, and guide them along the way.

These wonderful, difficult, fabulous children are blossoming before our very eyes into incredible adults. We are instrumental in that growth and development, and our role does not take a sabbatical during a move. Do your homework, use the resources provided to you through the installations and Military OneSource to be more fully prepared to help them through the adjustments that come with a move.

Most of all, look forward yourself with a glass-half-full attitude. If you do, you’ve already laid the ground work for an incredible new adventure for you and your family.

 

Congratulations, You’re Still Homeowners

 Posted by on May 23, 2016 at 11:18
May 232016
 
Kristi

Kristi

That sparkly American dream saw us coming from a mile away. My Marine and I got married, got orders and got right into homeownership in North Carolina in 2009. If you know anything about the housing market at that time, you’ll recall it was a “buyer’s market.”

With rock-bottom home prices, a new neighborhood popping up on every block and a VA home loan burning a hole in our pocket, we bought what we now only semi-affectionately call our “cookie-cutter” starter home — because it was the textbook 3-bedroom, 2-bath floorplan that looked just like the house next door…and the house across the street…and you get the picture. What could possibly go wrong?

If you’re reading this and thinking that I’m telling your story, then you know exactly what went wrong: We all had the same idea. When we received orders three years after signing our mortgage on the dotted line, selling our house was hardly a viable option. If — and that is the most hypothetical “if” I’ve ever tossed into the internet — we were able to sell our home in a timeframe that didn’t leave us strapped paying for housing in two places on one basic housing allowance, we were going to take a major financial loss on the deal.

Not fans of losing hard-earned cash, we opted to hang onto our house as an “income property” — I’ll get to the seemingly unnecessary quotation marks in a second — until the new construction calmed itself down and we stood a chance of at least breaking even on our investment.

Renting for beginners

Between the two of us, my husband and I knew only one thing about managing a rental property from thousands of miles away: We couldn’t do it on our own. Some military property owners can successfully manage property across state lines and time zones; let me take a minute to give you a slow clap because that is impressive. Instead, we hired a property management company to manage our house and our business — because that’s truly what it is, a business.

If you’re considering using a property management company, you should expect a reputable company to:

  • Advise you on price and lease terms
  • Advertise your property
  • Find renters and run credit and background checks before agreeing to lease to them
  • Serve as the liaison between you, the property owner, and your renters
  • Handle rent collection and deposit to the account you name
  • Take a cut — in the ballpark of 10 percent (in North Carolina, anyway)
  • Inspect your home on an annual, semi-annual, quarterly or monthly basis depending on your lease terms
  • Alert you to issues with your home that require your attention (and your cash), like broken appliances, leaks, etc.
  • Handle turnover to new tenants, including walk-throughs, deposits and readvertising
  • Communicate openly and respond promptly to your concerns

The absolute best way to find a good management company is to ask around for recommendations, but remember that it’s a big job. You’re putting a lot of trust in one company to care for your biggest investment, so get input from more than one person and check with the Better Business Bureau before you sign anything.

The anti-income property

You’ll recall those quotation marks around “income property” a few paragraphs ago. That was to indicate that our home brings us very little income. Currently, I’d say we make about $25 a month on our house. But, I did get an email that our garbage disposal cracked last week, so that will probably wipe out our “profit” from that last year — there I go with those quotes again.

For a while, I found this lack of extra income incredibly discouraging. Why wasn’t I looking more like the Monopoly guy? Perhaps we impulsively took Baltic Avenue under our wing with false hopes that it would magically transform to Park Place overnight. But, something adjusted my expectations in a big way.

Just before the holidays two years ago we found out that our perfect renters were breaking their lease six months early, penalty-free (thanks to their military clause — which you should absolutely use to your advantage every time). If you know anything about renting, you know that it’s typically easier to rent in the summer months, so smack-dab in the middle of the holidays is not ideal. Our house was empty for almost six months. For six months we drained the account dedicated to receiving rent and paying the mortgage — luckily we actually were profiting during their lease term or we would’ve been in serious hot water.

We were forced to lower the rent, and at that time we finally landed a qualified renter. It was when my husband and I were wrestling with whether or not to lower the rent to a cost that would no longer cover the mortgage payment that we concluded: Getting some of our payment covered was better than fronting all of it ourselves.

So, for almost a year we actually paid $25 each month to our mortgage payment in addition to the rent we collected, and only now that the rates have shifted for 2016 are we making a few adorable little dollars each month.

Why selling wasn’t for us

In the military community, we don’t have the luxury of hanging around until the house sells. When we have to go, we have to go. This was our primary reason for renting instead of selling. If we could’ve hung around a few more years updating and upgrading things, I might be telling a different story now. We hope that when our current renters move out in another year, we will be in a better position to sell. The uncertainty, the monthly gamble of it is not our idea of fun — or a lucrative side business.

May 052016
 
Melissa

Melissa

I have so many friends who recently received orders for overseas duty stations. Some are headed to Europe and other exciting locales. But most people I know are headed to Japan, which is weight restricted for some branches of service as far as household goods are concerned. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of all of that, but usually folks are looking at being able to take 25 percent of their maximum allowable weight or in plain English, about 2,500-4.500 pounds of their “stuff.” If you want to get into the nitty gritty, check your spouse’s orders or visit Move.mil for the current weight allowance charts.

While only taking a fraction of your stuff may cause you to panic, remember that there is loaner furniture available to you during your tour. It will not be extravagant or Pinterest-worthy, but it’s furniture. A question I keep getting repeatedly is what folks should take to fill that maximum allowed. I am not going to tell you about taking the obvious stuff such as clothes, kitchen items, silverware, etc. Instead, here is my list of things I wish I had brought or was so glad that I did.

Items to consider:

  • Holiday decorations. I was soooooooo glad I brought one tote of Christmas items. It made the holidays feel more “real” to me having my familiar favorites. Also, I liked not having to fight the good fight over the last package of generic-colored ornament balls.
  • Hostess and serving pieces. I have no idea what I was thinking by not taking extra dishes, extra serving trays, party supplies etc. Being overseas is so much fun because everyone becomes your family, and that means you are always at someone’s home or your own having a big feast, especially at holidays. I am now back in America with double of all my hostess items since I couldn’t go 3 years without hosting people for dinner.
  • Home décor. I foolishly followed advice to leave all home décor at home. I wish I had brought a few framed art pieces or mirrors, a few throw pillows or SOMETHING that would have made our little bunker feel more like home without having to repurchase items once we got there. Please don’t bring your whole house full of décor, but a few neutral pieces that can work anywhere are advised.
  • Personal pictures. I took all of our photo albums to my parents to store while we were overseas. I wish I had taken at least one or two albums to peruse during our three-year tour. Call me cheesy, but I missed thumbing through our wedding album every year on our anniversary. I also wished I had pictures of our families.
  • Craft/hobby supplies. I am an avid sewist and wish I had brought tons more fabric. Yes, you can more than likely get craft supplies in your new location or you will be able to order them, but sometimes I just wish I had more of the basics already on hand. So if you have a specific hobby, consider bringing along extra of whatever it is you may use most.
  • Your bed. Yeah, yeah, I know I mentioned you will be given loaner furniture during your tour, but the government beds aren’t exactly dual pillow-top memory foam if you are catching what I am saying. So if a comfortable bed is important to you, pack it up and ship it over! No need to send the whole matching solid wood bedroom suite over. Just the mattress and rails. No all your furniture won’t match, but that’s part of the charm of overseas living.
  • Clothes for another climate. If you are going to Guam you may think you can ditch the winter coats and snow gear at home. But what happens if you go back to America during the winter and your family lives in Billings, Montana where there is likely snow on the ground. You don’t want to arrive in flip flops now do you? Many folks I know, took vacations up to snowy and cold Sapparo, Japan and needed their winter coats. So don’t take a whole wardrobe of winter gear, but a few outfits, just in case.

Remember, no matter what you take or leave behind, it isn’t forever. No one expects matching plates, silverware, home décor or furniture when you are living overseas. We all “get it,” so don’t stress it. Spend more time out their exploring your new home instead of worrying about what you left behind!

12 Mistakes to Avoid When Getting Ready for Your PCS

 Posted by on March 23, 2016 at 08:00
Mar 232016
 
Kristi

Kristi

Moving in the military is very much a learn-as-you-go process. Which, I have to admit, totally stinks because that means you’re basically gambling for success while using your stuff and your family’s comfort as collateral. Talk about high stakes — no pressure, right?

My first move as a military spouse was textbook disaster. A PCS was described to me (by my brand new husband) as a piece of cake. “People come in and do everything for you,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about a thing,” he said.

So, I headed off to a full day of teaching seventh graders without a care in the world. Long story short, we lost the deposit on our apartment for lack of cleaning — which, by the way, I will still contest as my expensive, custom bleach trays were lost forever, and I unpacked a trashcan full of trash in North Carolina. Those were just some of the highlights.

Lessons learned, right? I would never again be so trusting. The helicoptering, micromanaging mover was born. Our next PCS was with a dog…and a kid. So, obviously the challenges changed. Our stuff arrived accounted for and in one piece, but I was teetering on the brink of lunacy strategizing what toys and snacks to pack in the car. We ended up packing two full cars (and full is not an exaggeration). And I completely spaced on the logistics of pit stops with a dog. Obviously, we couldn’t all spend an afternoon experiencing a museum or taking an hour to venture into an actual restaurant instead of fast food because there was a dog in the car. And hotels — I learned an important lesson: pet-friendly hotels fill up quickly during PCS season.

Then there’s the most recent move. Things were broken. Things were lost forever. A half-eaten sandwich that we bought for our movers was packed in a box along with my office supplies — we found them when we unpacked a month later. I’ll never eat another roast beef sandwich as long as I live.

There are mistakes to make and lessons to learn, but, luckily, I’ve made enough PCS mistakes to teach us all a little something:

  1. Never assume anyone cares about your stuff as much as you do. Movers work against the clock. They start rocking and rolling, and when quitting time rolls around, they’ve been known to roll anything in sight into the last box. Keep your eyes peeled for haphazard packing, and speak up for your stuff.
  2. Always buy lunch and water for the movers. I used to feel like this was a matter of preference, but I’ve changed my mind. Failure to provide food and drinks can mean your heavy lifters take off for a 2-hour lunch. Your one-day job might just turn into a two-day job. That being said, offer to take their trash. That’s the best way to ensure that leftovers don’t move with you.
  3. Always purge clutter and toys, books and clothes you’ve outgrown before the move. If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself why in the world we moved “blank,” I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now because I would be independently wealthy. If you don’t like something now, you won’t magically fall in love with it in a new place. Kick it to the curb — better yet, kick it to a donation bin.
  4. Always isolate items that you plan to hand carry on the move. Hide your keys. Hide your purse. Hide your phone charger. Lock up the dog food. For any other suggestions, see a full list of items to hand carry. If you will need it, lock it up — no exceptions.
  5. Always handle utility hookups and cutoffs in advance. Waiting until the last second could make you the lucky recipient of double utility payments, cancellation fees or a week without Internet at your new place (oh, the horror).
  6. Always clean. Clean after the truck is loaded. Clean before the truck arrives. It might just save your deposit at point A and your health at point B.
  7. Never wait for “them” to call you. It doesn’t matter if “them” means the moving company, your landlord or even the monitor while you wait for orders. Be proactive and be impressed with how efficiently stuff gets done.
  8. Always factor travel expenses into your moving budget. Hotels, gas, airline tickets and food add up during a move. Sure, there’s an allowance, but don’t always count on getting that on the front end of the move. Make sure to save any receipts you’ll need as documentation for reimbursement.
  9. Always scout out pet-friendly hotels on your route. Your fur babies can make it tough to stop for the night, so give yourself some options.
  10. Never be so preoccupied by the destination that you forget the journey. Even the speediest of moves leave a little time for sightseeing. Break up your trip and see something new or someone you haven’t seen in a while.
  11. Always use your network to learn about your new home. Get to know that friend of a friend of a friend at your new duty station. Blast private Facebook groups in your new area with questions. Word of mouth is a great way to learn about neighborhoods, schools, physicians, dentists, activities for the kids and more.
  12. Always, always take pictures of damaged items. If you expect anyone to care about your dented ironing board or your whale statue that is now tail-less, take pictures before you trash them or glue them back together.

Yes, there’s always something to learn with each PCS, but my face-palm moments don’t have to only teach me. Hopefully you’ll walk away less likely to find a fuzzy sandwich while you unpack.

Check It off the Bucket List Before You Move

 Posted by on January 22, 2016 at 11:09
Jan 222016
 
Kristi

Kristi

It’s Saturday morning after the workweek that just wouldn’t quit, and you have a decision to make. Is it time to lay around and sip coffee in your favorite sweats while you catch up a week’s worth of prime-time TV? Or, is it time to get out and experience the little area where the military has plopped you for the time being?

A year ago, I would’ve been perfectly content to stick around the house all weekend, but something clicked for me recently — maybe it was turning thirty, maybe it wasn’t, but there’s no need to draw attention to that (or ever, ever mention it again).

The point is, I suddenly realized that life is short, and our time at each duty station is even shorter. The silver linings of mandatory relocation is getting to see different parts of the world that this girl from south Texas might never know of otherwise.

So my new philosophy is to do as the locals do and squeeze every ounce of experience I can out of each duty station. But, regular, everyday life does have to happen between once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and you’re finances have to be up for adventure too. Here is how I organize our installation bucket list:

Plan ahead

Obviously, coordinating the moving truck and housing is your first priority after receiving orders, but close behind should be your installation bucket list. It can be as formal or informal as you prefer — store it in the back of your mind or list it alphabetically and laminate it — your call. Just start talking up a list of must-do activities with your family, and start soon.

Give yourself some space

If I had my choice we would just all call in sick to work (and preschool) for three months and fly through our bucket list in one fell swoop. But that’s not really a viable option since we need cash to fund our fun. So, the admission tickets, hikes, road trips, etc. have to be spaced out over weekends, holidays and that blissful vacation time.

Spread the wealth

Chances are your installation bucket list has some free fun, like free outdoor activities (although, don’t be surprised if you encounter parking fees or park admission fees), activities that require a ticket, like museums, aquariums, and theme parks, and you probably even have a road trip or two in there, also.

My method is to space out the high-cost trips and fill the time between with cheaper experiences. To help you manage the big fun with the big price tag, be sure to:

  • Score your America the Beautiful national park pass with your military ID.
  • Check for tickets through Information, Tickets and Travel.
  • Rent any necessary equipment from your installation’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program. This will save you from dropping hundreds of dollars on ski equipment or camping supplies that you might not have on hand.
  • Make reservations at military lodging whenever possible.
  • Inquire about military discounts everywhere adventure takes you, including restaurants, hotels, museums, parks, theme parks and more.

Consult the calendar

Once you have a rough idea when you’ll head to the beach or hike up a mountain, it’s worth peeking at the calendar to make sure your plan makes sense. For example, if you hope to see roaring waterfalls in Yosemite, but you have a winter vacation penciled in, think again — those roaring waters are going to be frozen and parts of certain parks may even be closed seasonally. Think about what you want out of the experience, and make sure your timing allows for it. Also, take into account the peak seasons. A relaxing weekend on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is not so relaxing when every college and high school on the east coast is on spring break.

After six months of taking in panoramic views, visiting iconic places and living like a local — which currently means dropping everything to see a pod of whales or a purple sunset — I’ve never greeted a Monday morning wishing I would have just drawn the blinds and lounged around all weekend. Instead, I’m bombarding my Facebook friends with picture after picture of living life to the fullest.

It just takes a little planning on your part, and you may need to neglect your sweatpants and couch, but they’ll get over it because — well — they don’t have feelings. Don’t pack regrets the next time you move. Get out there and make some memories.

How to Be a Good Landlord in the Military

 Posted by on June 26, 2015 at 12:30
Jun 262015
 

Even after renting from landlords and being a landlord, I still have this completely cliché picture of what a landlord does. I just can’t seem to let go of this fictional image of a guy in overalls with a utility belt, who comes to the rescue at 3 a.m. when the kitchen faucet springs a leak or the toilet overflows.

Kristi

Kristi

This is not only false, but just downright comical — I mean, who wears overalls at 3 a.m.? And while we’re clearing up landlord myths, is “landlord” not a widely used term anymore? My spell check is insisting that the right term is “property owner.” Agree to disagree, squiggly blue line.

My husband and I became landlords when we couldn’t sell our little starter home in North Carolina. Our first move was to hire a property manager. What was our reasoning? Simple, we have:

  • No knowledge of drafting contracts
  • No knowledge of real estate (aside from buying a house once)
  • No time to learn either of the above
  • Little to no time to research repairmen, painters and carpet cleaners
  • Thousands of miles and a handful of time zones between our rental property and our current home

Right about now you’re either raising your hands to the sky, thanking the universe that someone gets the need for property managers, or you’re rolling your eyes and elbowing the person closest to you to announce disagreement with our decision to hire a property manager.

Well, you say “potato” and I say “potato.” OK, so some things don’t translate well to print, but you get it. There are two very strong sides to the property manager versus no property manager debate. Neither side is in the right, neither is crazy…or wrong…or misinformed. It’s gray, not black and white.

Heated debate aside, you can be an awful landlord with or without a property manager. And you can also be a really fantastic landlord either way.

What makes a good military landlord?

Trustworthy military family seeks a three bedroom, two-bath home with a yard and a good landlord.

  1. Communicate well.

If you’re doing a walk-through next week, tell your tenant. If your tenant calls three times and leaves three voice mails, something is probably up. Don’t wait three days to call back.

  1. Fix things when they’re broken.

We once moved into a house with all kinds of problems. We picked our battles: rusty dishwasher baskets. After two months of waiting, I was expecting a delivery any day. Instead I got a text message saying our landlord had some unexpected car expenses, so the dishwasher baskets had to wait. Say what, now?

We’ve also dealt with:

  • Humming toilets
  • Rotten exterior walls
  • A play set that looked like a death trap
  • A kitchen faucet held together with tape
  • A front-loading washing machine that I can only assume was used in a mildew-growing science experiment
  • Dead, thorny vines covering our patio
  • A water heater that flooded our garage
  • An air conditioner that just blew around hot Texas air
  • Light fixtures that don’t light on one side
  • Carpet covered in holes and stains
  • Carpet with puddles and stale laundry smell after a flood — this was especially fun two weeks before our move out. Instead of checking for damage or mold, our landlord simply hoped the rain would end soon.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, girl, that’s your fault for not telling your landlord.” We were upfront, open, honest and punctual with all updates. Unfortunately, we can’t control how our landlord reacts to that information.

  1. Don’t complain about a tight budget.

Back to the dishwasher debacle of 2012 — if I’m paying full basic allowance for housing to live in your house, please don’t tell me you can’t front the money to fix a situation. Landlords have to just make it work — we’re all working with BAH and unexpected expenses. As someone who has a middleman (aka property manager), if our dishwasher had rusty baskets, the baskets would be fixed ASAP, and it would’ve come out of our monthly check. You’re in charge of someone else’s quality of life; don’t take it lightly.

  1. Understand the definitions of “turnover” and “normal wear and tear.”

When we moved into our current rental, we picked up our keys from the previous renters on their way out. There was obviously no final walk-through, let alone cleaning of any kind. Sure, the worn-out carpet was steamed, but that was like putting a bandage on a broken bone — it did nothing.

Take time for turnover — clean, fix, touch up and update. If you can’t see your property in person between renters because you’re stationed out of state, get your property manager, neighbor or friend to share pictures of the house.

  1. Recognize time zones.

If your renter is calling you at 4 a.m. your time, it’s probably a big deal. You should probably answer it. If you’re a landlord texting at 11 p.m. in your renter’s time zone, it better be important.

  1. Be professional.

The neighbor — who just happens to be the landlord’s buddy — is not a neutral, third-party individual capable of performing a final walk-through.

  1. Recognize inconvenience. Our current landlord is trying to sell the house after we leave. This creates a triangle of chaos between the renter, landlord and realtor. It’s not ideal for any party, but I might argue that the renter is the most inconvenienced. The renter reaps no benefit from the sale. The renter is the one getting kicked out of their house (sometimes with 15-minutes notice…with kids…and work).

I’ve heard rumors of landlords who discount rent or drop gift cards in the mail as an incentive to cooperate during the home-sale process. It doesn’t have to be a huge monetary gesture — just a little something to say, “Hey, I know this is a pain in the you-know-what, but thanks for cooperating.” And, if you’re lucky enough to have cooperative renters, don’t take advantage of a good relationship.

  1. Let renters “live” in the house. I’m a control freak, so this is hard to say: landlords have to let go. Even though it isn’t home forever, renters need to feel at home for a while. You don’t have to cave on everything, just keep an open mind about paint colors, pets, landscaping.

The whole landlord-renter relationship is weird isn’t it? Technically, renters are houseguests in a landlord’s home, but renters pay landlords. So — landlords work for their houseguests? Maybe this is a golden rule scenario: Just treat everybody the way you want to be treated. And the same goes for how to treat a house.

So Little Hurry, So Much Wait

 Posted by on April 21, 2015 at 14:32
Apr 212015
 

I never outgrew the impatience of childhood. Are we there yet? Why is this taking so long? Just pick one, already. I’ll just do it myself. If I were a talking doll, these would be the phrases that repeat every time a child squeezed my hand — hours of fun for the whole family.

Kristi

Kristi

Imagine how the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the word “wait.” It’s like nails on a chalkboard. My brain doesn’t take breaks, and if I’m forced to wait (which, let’s be honest, I’m a military spouse — it happens daily), I have no choice but to research unlikely what-if scenarios, shop, redecorate or DIY something.

We have orders to move to California in May, and I’m in that awful purgatory: hurry up and wait. I’ve researched everything from housing to where I’ll take the kids on Tuesday mornings from 9 to 10 a.m. I prepared an entire cross-country travel itinerary, complete with timelines and scheduled stops. We’re on the housing list. The movers are scheduled. We’ve decided what will stay with us and what will be spending a tour in storage. And, it should go without saying that I’ve already jumped the gun on our full-service move and started boxing a few things myself.

Even my typically less enthusiastic husband is jumping on the crazy train for this move. It was his suggestion that we tape off the dimensions of our new house and rearrange the furniture to see if it would fit. If you’re picturing me with those little cartoon hearts bursting overhead at the moment he said that, you’re picturing that situation accurately. Best…date night…ever. I made a spreadsheet — I’m not even embarrassed to admit it.

But if I keep prepping at this rate, I am going to reach that embarrassment soon. My grandma, who packs for a weekend trip three weeks in advance, has already started teasing me. “Are you all packed yet?” she pokes sarcastically. “You’ve got time,” she says. “What’s the rush?” she questions.

Surely, I’m not the only antsy military spouse trying to grab a hold of anything move-related that I can control right now. I’m doing my best to occupy my time by:

  • Cleaning out cabinets, closets and junk drawers (again)
  • Working
  • Blogging
  • Teaching my almost 2-year-old her ABCs and 123s
  • Creating a pre-k and kindergarten homeschool curriculum from scratch
  • Creating a west coast travel bucket list

But even all that isn’t distraction enough. I actually pulled out my expired teaching certificates yesterday and toyed with renewing them. Why would I do that? I have no plans to get back into teaching — there I go trying to find something to control, even if it’s completely unnecessary.

So, the new batch of distraction I’m working with is as follows:

  • Plan birthday festivities for my daughter and husband. Their birthdays are five days apart — even that is hurry up and wait.
  • Review washers and driers (since we’ll have to buy a set when we arrive).
  • Find or create recipes that use up the random assortment of staples in the pantry, like two tubs of oatmeal, a weird amount of apple cider vinegar (I always think I’m out and buy more) and a rainbow of unopened salad dressings.
  • Refinish some furniture that I’ve been meaning to tackle (might as well, since we can’t bring those cans of stain and paint with us).
  • Replace the dead batteries in my watches (yes, plural).
  • Work through the inventory in our craft supply closet (construction paper, markers, stickers and such).
  • Get a grasp on the TRICARE situation at our new duty station — on or off base medical and dental care.
  • Potty train our daughter to avoid moving diapers and a changing table across state lines.

And that’s pretty much all I’ve got right now. I’m hoping that will hold me for a while (at least until it’s more socially acceptable for our home to resemble the inside of a storage unit).

 

Aug 272014
 
Kristi

Kristi

So you got married what seems like five minutes ago (congratulations, by the way) and now you’re preparing for your first adventure with the military: moving. We don’t just dip our toes in the pool, do we? No sir, we jump in headfirst. Whether you’re just moving in with your new better half or moving to the other side of the world on your first PCS together, you’re in for a wild ride.

But “wild” can be a good thing. Believe it or not, you can even control “wild” to an extent by focusing on the big picture, finding ways to minimize homesickness and having a heads up about common new military spouse frustrations. Let these tips help you stretch that honeymoon phase to the max:

  1. Expect to be homesick. Who wouldn’t miss the comfort and familiarity of home? It’s natural to be homesick from time to time. Give yourself something to look forward to by planning a trip home, arranging for a friend or relative to send some of your hometown or homemade favorites or inviting a loved one to visit you.
  2. Remind yourself that “home” changes too. I’ve actually PCSed back to my hometown, and I can assure you that home is a state of mind more than it is a place. It never stays just the way we remember it. Places change, people change and people move away just like we did. What we miss are the memories we made there, not the place itself. Find comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one moving on.
  3. Make home wherever you are. Create the feeling of home with your new spouse. Establish traditions, incorporate a few of your favorite things into the décor, and make the most of where you are by meeting new people and trying new local places and activities.
  4. Remember that you have to flex (often). Your service member’s career is demanding. It often requires weird hours, spur of the moment changes, bottomless baskets of laundry, cold meals and a lot of hurrying up only to wait. Accepting this chaos can help you avoid undue stress and maybe even spare you and your spouse an argument or two.
  5. Network for new opportunities. A new home means you may need a new job, a new pizza place and everything in between. Neighbors and fellow military spouses are great connections in your new community that can link you to the right people and places to help you feel at home.
  6. Keep in touch. Just because you’re no longer living with your parents or in your hometown doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch. Use social media, text, email or video chat to communicate and stay connected even from miles away.

Your first months of marital bliss might not look just the way you pictured. You may be living in a small town you’ve never heard of, but you’ll make the most of it because you’re a military spouse now and that’s just what we do. Welcome to the club!

Sixteen Unexpected PCS Secrets

 Posted by on April 30, 2014 at 16:52
Apr 302014
 
Kristi

Kristi

Once upon a time I had a really expensive, custom-molded bleach tray for my teeth. Then one day, I assumed that my very first permanent change of station move as a military spouse didn’t require my supervision. That was the last time I saw my bleach tray. Now, nearly six years later, I’m calling off the search, but I’m not relinquishing my bitterness. I learned quite a bit during that first PCS process (emphasis on the dreadfully long word, process).

Much of the information you need to be a successful PCS-er is – for some reason – not widely discussed. You have to know what questions to ask in order to get the answers you need, which is a situation I’ve never excelled at. Just like the times my second grade teacher would tell me to look up a word in the dictionary if I didn’t know how to spell it, my response is, “That makes no sense.” For what it’s worth, I’m still a terrible speller, so instead of committing to a lifetime of being equally bad at moving, here are my PCS secrets:

  1. No one starts planning as early as you will. If I had a superpower, it would be to make orders appear whenever I’m ready. This way we would have plenty of viable house-hunting and job-hunting months.
  2. Your family won’t understand the holdup either. Moms, dads, grandmas and great-aunts will begin asking you years in advance if you know where you’re going. Have your statement prepared.
  3. You won’t like something where you’re going if you don’t love it now. If you haven’t worn or used it lately, let it go.
  4. Packers won’t handle anything plugged in, hanging on the wall or containing batteries or liquid, but they’ll box up your full trash can.  Spend some quality time unplugging, disposing of liquids, pulling down decorations and emptying trash cans the day before the packers arrive.
  5. Annoyance pays off in every stage of your PCS. Start calling early and call often to follow up with reservations, equipment rentals, moving services, shipment delivery dates and more.
  6. You won’t use up the rest of the food in your fridge or pantry. I always think I’ll use up the ketchup or that five-pound bag of flour. For one, you won’t have your usual kitchen supplies, and your ingredients rarely add up to anything appetizing – case and point, flour topped with ketchup. Trash them, pawn them off on neighbors or prepare to carry them with you.
  7. Inflatable mattresses are useless without pillows or blankets. Enjoy the first night in your new home with the complete makeshift bedding set.
  8. Items that movers disassemble or pack, they can reassemble and unpack, but you have to ask. You aren’t obligated to use this service; we never do. I like to give the new house a good scrub before unpacking.
  9. Movers can also take care of the truckload of boxes and packing paper if they unpack your goods. Again, just ask. If they won’t, your community may have a recycling center or offer a bulk pick-up service.
  10. Cars fill up quickly; be selective with your carry-along items. If you can get by without something for a few days, pack it up so you aren’t traveling across the country in a sardine can.
  11. Cleaning supplies might not be some of your favorite things, but keep them with you. You’ll use them to clean before move out and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to clean your new home, sweet, home before you let anyone touch anything.
  12. Presents and presence are my favorite tips for interacting with the packers and movers. Be friendly and be around to answer questions. Keep them comfortable with water and possibly snacks or a meal if you’re interested.
  13. You will only need important documents if you don’t have them, so beat the system and carry everything from birth certificates to multiple copies of your orders with you as you travel.
  14. A perfectly packed car means nothing if it’s inconvenient when you stop for the night. Pack the things you’ll need for an en route, overnight hotel stay where it’s easily accessible (meaning it isn’t packed under all of your kid’s toys or your box of cleaning supplies). Also remember that your car or truck will be in a parking lot all night, so keep your belongings locked up and secure.
  15. Kids expect to be entertained on your PCS “adventure.” We used valuable car space to tote half of my son’s toys with us on our last PCS. Now with two kids, I fear we’ll need a bigger car for next year’s PCS. Plan fun stops along the way to break up the trip. Check out the Best Kept Secrets or theme parks offering free or discounted military admission and find those along your route.
  16. You will get frustrated, but remember everyone in your family is working with you not against you. Hours in the car followed by hours “sleeping” in a one-room hotel with the noisiest kids in the world turns me into one cranky mommy. I often have to remind myself that it isn’t always about the destination, but making the most of the trip.

Put your PCS fails behind you (farewell, beloved bleach tray), and move on to the next wiser and better prepared. If you have your own PCS secrets, please share them below so we can all get the answers we really need to the questions we didn’t know we needed to ask.

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.