In my opinion, the most important decisions for you to make during your permanent change of station (PCS), or military pcs, are whether to rent/sell any homes you currently own, and whether to buy/rent a residence at your next duty station. The actual act of moving across the country—while stressful—is fairly simple, and there are a ton of people in place to help you navigate your permanent change of station successfully.
Sell or Rent Your Current Home?
Before we dive into executing your PCS in the military, I want to touch on something that I am asked about all the time…whether you should sell, or rent, your current home when moving.
There are many factors that go into this decision, but as a rule of thumb, I tell people to:
Lean Toward Selling Your Home If…
- You would have to take money out of your pocket every month in order to hold onto the home
- You have no interest in living in that home, or location, again
- You have lots of equity in the home which could be invested somewhere else for a better return
- You can’t find a property manager and don’t want to manage the property yourself
- You don’t want to own any more rental properties in that market
- Owning a house will stress you out—you need to be able to sleep at night
Lean Toward Renting Your home If…
- You intend to live in the house, or town, again
- You will be able to cash flow after accounting for all expenses
- You would like to buy other rental properties in that location
- Or if you would like an excuse to live in, or visit, that town again
Does the Military Help You Move?
As long as your move is part of a PCS, or retirement, the military will arrange for transportation of your household goods at their expense.
Moving Across the Country (or the world) For a Military PCS
Now, let’s talk about some of the considerations you need to take when preparing to move across the country (or world) during a permanent change of station. There are a ton of “if this, then that” and “it depends” pieces of the PCS puzzle, and you’ll want to make sure you talk with your local administration personnel in order to verify what you need to do based on the installation you’re moving to/from.
That being said, here is a quick outline of things you should be considering prior to the move.
Personally Procured Move (PPM)
Conducting a personally procured move (PPM) means that you would prefer to handle the packing and moving of your household goods personally. In this case, the government will reimburse you for 95% of what it could cost for them to pay a moving company to move you.
The military determines this amount by the weight of the household goods you ship, and if you’re able to move for less than it would have cost the moving company you will get to keep the difference. The other benefit of conducting a PPM is that you are in control of the schedule and don’t have to worry about a shipping company damaging any of your belongings.
Even so, I prefer to hire a moving company because it is much less stressful than a PPM.
Schedule a Moving Company
The reason I think it is less stressful to hire a moving company is that you don’t have to pack your entire house, drive a U-Haul across the country, or deal with any of the logistics involved in the move. You simply oversee the movers loading—and unloading on the back end—your house, and then get you and your family to your new duty station by plane, train, or automobile.
An additional benefit to this, is that if something does break in transit, the moving company will reimburse you for it, as opposed to moving yourself and having to replace any broken items yourself.
To schedule your moving company you simply talk with your base transportation section—In the Marine Corps we call this the distribution management office (DMO)—and they will work with you in order to schedule the moving company.
After scheduling, the moving company will reach out to discuss the larger items you need to move, and explain the process. Then you sit back, and wait for moving day.
On moving day the company arrives, and packs your entire house for you. Some moving companies are better than others, but it sure is nice to let somebody else pack your crap for you!
Determine Your Weight Allowance
The amount of weight you’re authorized to ship is determined by your rank at the time of the move. Move.mil has a simple website that will answer all of your moving allowance questions!
Can Pets Move with Us During PCS?
You may be allowed to bring your bets with you to your next duty station, but the shipment of live animals is not covered so you will need to arrange for their transport yourself.
This is sometimes easier said than done. Hawaii, for example, has all sorts of crazy, pain-in-the-ass rules for bringing dogs onto the island. These rules are in place because the island(s) are completely free of rabies…nonetheless these rules make bringing a dog to Hawaii a painful evolution!
Some duty stations won’t allow you to travel with pets, so you’ll need to find a temporary (or permanent) home for them.
Can You Bring Guns During Your PCS?
You may include firearms in your household goods shipment, but not ammunition. You must ensure there is no ammunition packed with them—or anywhere in the shipment—and can only bring firearms that comply with state and local laws.
Personally Owned Vehicle (POV)
For movements within the continental United States (CONUS) the government doesn’t cover the cost of shipping a car, but it will allow you to include motorcycles, boats, and other recreational vehicles as part of your weight allowance.
If you’re moving outside of the continental United States (OCONUS) the government will cover the cost of shipping a single POV to your new duty station!
Document Your Valuables
Take the time to document the condition of any and all valuable items you’re shipping. This could be art, jewelry, electronics, heirlooms, and anything else you consider valuable, and you owe it to yourself to document their condition prior to being loaded out by the moving company.
You do this by taking pictures and videos of all your items to create a record of their condition prior before moving. This documentation will help your case if you end up having to file a lost or damaged goods claim after the move.
That being said, I advise you to keep all of your small valuables on your person in order to avoid them disappearing.
In preparation for moving day you should be emptying, defrosting, and cleaning your refrigerator, disconnecting appliances, taking wall-mounted items down, and grouping things together for each room in order to make things easier for the movers.
On moving day you want to ensure that you’re present in order to supervise the loading of your home. Watch the movers to ensure they wrap and load everything correctly, and verify the inventory to ensure everything they listed was physically loaded on the vehicle prior to signing all of the documents.
Missing and Broken Items
Don’t worry about items getting lost or broken in transit because you will have plenty of time to file a lost or damaged goods claim. In the past, I have had some electronics get damaged, and the moving company reimbursed me for these items—albeit with some annoying paperwork—so that I could replace them just fine.
Hopefully, your move will go off without a hitch, and you won’t have to deal with this process, but at least you’re covered regardless!
Rent or Buy At Your New Duty Station?
The decision to rent, or buy, at your new duty station is a coming debate during a military PCS.
I have purchased homes at duty stations, and rented homes at duty stations. There is no wrong answer here, and you should not let your ego—or peer pressure from others—get in the way of making the best decision for your personal situation.
I decided to rent a home at my last duty station—albeit I was still able to house hack with short term rentals and a roommate—despite owning multiple rental properties, and being fully capable of buying a home.
I chose to rent because I couldn’t find a home that met my personal investing criteria while I was house hunting.
Don’t fall prey to the age old advice to “buy a home at every duty station” as sometimes this is not the best idea.
Lean Toward Buying a Home If…
- You want to leverage the VA loan to build wealth—especially powerful with the house hacking strategy
- You will be able to cash flow with the property as a rental after you move out
- You plan to live in this location again—whether being stationed there, or retiring there—or would like an excuse to visit this location again in the future
- If you can buy a good deal
Lean Toward Renting a Home If…
- You prefer the convenience of living on base, and can still save/invest in other assets
- You have no desire to live in, or visit, this location in the future, and don’t want to own more rentals here
- You won’t be able to cash flow with the property as a rental after you move out
- You’re not comfortable buying a home, or your finances aren’t ready to qualify
What to Look for in a Real Estate Agent…
- Experience—you want a real estate agent who has been in business for a while, and has been averaging consistently doing multiple deals
- You want an agent who understands the VA loan, and knows how to get offers accepted with it—even in a hot market
- You want an agent who has their finger on the pulse of their market, and knows how to negotiate
- An agent who invests in real estate—or at least understands investing (especially house hacking)—is a valuable asset, though not required
- Stay away from a friend or family member who has their license unless they sell real estate full time—they might have your best interest at heart, but most likely aren’t skilled enough to negotiate the best deals for you because of their lack of experience
Luckily, we have built a network of vetted real estate agents and VA lenders across the nation in order to help service members, past and present, get the best service. As somebody who was burned by a crummy lender in the past, I can assure you that the right real estate professional(s) make all the difference!
Are You Ready for Your Military PCS?
Take the time to begin planning your move as soon as you receive orders to your next duty station. The further ahead you begin planning for the move, the smoother it will go.
When I relocate I focus on three items right off the bat:
- What I will do with my current house (if you own it)
- What my plan is for housing at the next location
- Determining whether to conduct a PPM or let the government hire a moving company for me, and then planning accordingly
We would love to help you find a realtor/lender at your new location in order to help you determine the best course of action for housing at your future location!