Article by: Tara O’Meara, Airforce Spouse
A few years ago my husband and I decided to take a big step and buy our very first house. We were stationed in Ohio and had just found out the landlord of our current home would not be extending the lease. We had been in Ohio for two years and were starting our home search for the second time in this PCS move.
We started looking at houses but were having trouble finding the right fit. When talking to friends about our dilemma one of them asked if we had considered buying a home over renting. They pointed out that their mortgage was less than our rental budget, which made us really look at our options. We could rent for the next 2+years at a higher price or we could purchase a home now, and rent it when we moved away. Then if we ever returned to Ohio we would have a house to come home to.
Our Realtor mentioned this new neighborhood right near base that had an abundance of open lots and a deal worth looking into. We found we could build a house specific to everything we wanted for less than some of the 20-year-old houses we had been looking at. We decided to go with building a new house and turning it into a rental because we didn’t have to worry about big fixes for a few years since everything would be under warranty.
After picking the perfect floor plan, all of the real work began. We had to pick every appliance, all of the exterior colors, stone features, roof color, doors, lighting fixtures, flooring, cabinets, wall colors, kitchen countertops, and countless other little details. It was a fun and exciting process.
We tried to find the perfect mix of what we wanted, needed, and what future renters would be looking for. We put a lot of thought into every decision. Getting to experience the entire process from groundbreaking to the final walk through was really incredible. We literally got to watch our dreams turn into reality. I will never forget the day they handed us the keys and shook our hands. We had done it, we had just bought our very first house!
After moving in, we hit the ground running. We painted the walls, we built a deck and patio, we put a backsplash up in the kitchen, we fenced in the yard and that spring we bought trees and flowers and bushes. We loved turning our house into a home.
Shortly after moving in we found out I was pregnant with our first child. We were eager to transform one of the extra bedrooms into a nursery. We had just painted the nursery a soft grey (after considering about a bazillion different shades) when my husband came home from work with PCS move orders in hand. We would be moving before our daughter was born. She would never spend a night in the perfectly painted nursery. It absolutely broke my heart. We knew we wouldn’t be in the house forever, but we also didn’t think we would be moving quite so soon.
So after eight months of living in our brand new home, the movers came and packed us out. As I watched the moving trucks pull away I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was in my third trimester. PCSing while pregnant certainly has its own set of challenges.
We went from homeowners to landlords, all while becoming parents. It was an adjustment I didn’t know how to prepare for. In the beginning, we had some major ups and downs, and now almost a year and a half later we are still learning as we go. I would like to share a few words of advice about becoming landlords.
Find the Right Property Manager
I must have met with at least a dozen different property managers trying to find the perfect person to fit our wants, needs, and budget. After meeting with each one, I thought I had found our perfect match. I was so incredibly wrong. He was all talk and great while we were in Ohio, but as soon as we left the state things changed. He wasn’t following through on things as promised and often left us feeling lost. I will say the one positive is that when we started looking for a new property manager we knew what we really needed. We needed someone that would keep us in the loop and give us some control over our property.
Only Sign a One Year Contract with Your Property Manager
I wanted to sign a multiple year contract with our choose property manager, but my husband insisted on just singing for the minimum of a year. Man, am I glad I listened to him! It was nice to know after our one year contract we were free to find what really worked for us! I would much rather have to sign and fax a few pieces of paper once a year than be stuck in a contract with a less than perfect property manager.
Make Sure to Include All Costs when Determining the Costs to Rent
Make sure the rent you are charging covers more than simply the mortgage payment. Make sure to include the cost of taxes, HOA (if applicable), insurance, mortgage, and the property managers fee. Beware if you build new you will be paying taxes on just the land for the first year and then your taxes will increase significantly once the house is factored in. Make a list of all of the house expenses and figure out exactly how much the house will cost you each year and then divide by 12; you now have your bottom line to help you calculate rent without paying out of pocket.
Open a Bank Account for Your House
Owning a house comes with surprise expenses. It is nice to have a separate account to pull from when necessary. This is something we are still working on. My goal is to have enough to cover 3 months of our mortgage in our house bank account just in case it ever sits on the market between renters.
I think the most important thing we learned about being landlords is it can be stressful and exciting. I try to look at it as another part of the adventure of being part of a military family!
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Tara is a military spouse, mommy of one beautiful little girl and also two crazy puppies! She started her blog, An Aiming High Wife to bring military spouses and families together to be each others greatest support system. She enjoys sharing her adventures as a military spouse, mom, crafter and kitchen adventurer. Recently she became a contributor for Military Spouse Magazine. When not writing, she loves spending time with her family. They love to travel and really experience every adventure the military sends their way!Tara O'Meara