Moving to DC is not like any other military move. Here are a few things I wish I knew before my PCSing and military move to Washington, DC.
1. Your lifestyle is driven by your commute.
How you will be getting to work should be at the top of your list when it comes to deciding where you will be living. Many people making a military move to Washington, DC are not aware of the restrictions on parking at the major military installations. If you are going to be stationed at Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall, or JBAB you will probably be allowed to drive to work and park. However, if you are going to be working in DC, at the Pentagon, or the USCG Headquarters there are many restrictions on who is allowed to park at work. Talk to your sponsor early about parking at your assignment.
The good news is that you are not in this alone. Every installation has a carpool or rideshare program to assist you and for those choosing public transportation, you may be eligible for a Metro Subsidy to deter the cost of transportation to and from work.
Also, there is a unique form of ridesharing in the DC area, called “slugging”. Drivers needing to fill seats to meet carpool restrictions for HOV lanes, toll reductions, or parking restrictions stop and pick up passengers from designated spots called “slug lines.” (Check out our article on tolls here)
2. You will need the help of a local expert.
Before my PCS’ing to Washington D.C., I had the advantage of being stationed at Fort Belvoir for Temporary Duty. I planned to spend those four months “getting to know the market” and finding a house to buy. For two months I spent every night scouring the internet, every Saturday and Sunday driving to open houses, and after two months I was no further in my home search than when I started.
You can not approach your housing search here the same way here as you have for previous assignments. The spring real estate market in DC and Northern Virginia moves fast…list on Thursday sold by Monday with multiple offers fast… Going at it alone is not the way to shop for housing in this area. Many homes are sold BEFORE they even go on the market, the Realtor to Realtor network here is very important.
Whether you are planning to buy or rent I recommend you hire a real estate agent, you have nothing to lose (except the house of your dreams if you don’t get to it in time).
3. The DC real estate market is competitive.
When I made the military move to Washington, DC it was towards the end of my career and I considered myself to be an experienced buyer. During our military career, my wife and I had amassed an inventory of 5 investment properties by buying, living in, then renting out our homes. I approached this move like I had all others, figured I would do it on my own (see #2 above).
What really distinguishes the market here from most other parts of the country is the competition. This is a highly transient area, between military movers, federal government employees, diplomats, lobbyists, and contractors people are always buying, selling, and renting. Which is great if you own property, but can be frustrating if you are looking to buy.
In this market, once you find a place you like you need to be prepared to compete with many other prospective buyers for the property. Having a good agent that knows how to prepare you in advance, advocate on your behalf, negotiate, and also make your offer as competitive as possible is important.
Here the price is not always the top consideration, but also knowing how to leverage or shorten contingencies, while still protecting the buyers best interest is a valuable skill. Buyers in this area often waive home inspection, appraisal, and even finance contingencies, which can lead to big trouble for a buyer if something goes wrong.
4. Having a local lender is important…very important.
I had purchased several properties before my military move to Washington, DC and every time my first call was to my bank. I have a great bank, they are fantastic at banking and insurance and in the past, they had been adequate to pre-qualifying me for a mortgage. But in DC having a local lender gives you a distinct advantage to those financed by out of town banks. Here is why.
- It’s tremendously helpful when lenders are in your same time zone. A three-hour delay from a west coast lender can cause you to miss important deadlines. Also in the DC area, lenders are typically reachable on weekends and evenings.
- A local lender is with your loan from contract to close and the processing of the loan is also local. Large lenders have consolidated operations in a west coast team with no knowledge of the DC market is underwriting and processing your loan.
- Your lender will provide you with estimates of closing costs, which can vary greatly from one state or jurisdiction to the next. Even between Virginia and the District, closing costs and taxes vary widely. For this reason, it’s always wise to work with a lender who is familiar with the numbers in your jurisdiction.
- A lender in your market will use local appraisers for your property’s appraisal which can make an enormous difference in the end result. An appraiser with knowledge of the local market will provide the best and most accurate value of the property. A bad appraisal many cost you your house or delay settlement because of this many sellers see this as a red flag.
5. This is an amazing place to live.
Like many of you, I had taken great pride in my ability to avoid the “horrible Pentagon assignment” for the majority of my career. That is a BIG mistake! This is absolutely an amazing place to live (here are some of our favorite things). Get out and enjoy it!
Making a military move to Washington, DC or the DC Metro area soon? Contact us today for a neighborhood tour: