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We’re Home

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The golden sun is setting on the western desert landscape. The horizon swallows the sun and welcomes the moon as it casts pastel shadows on the arid plains. I sit and gaze out my tall windows to witness an end of another day in El Paso, Texas. I am calm and relieved that our cross-country move is now behind us. I am reflective on our travel and the obstacles we overcame. I am feeling spirited because I feel like I am home.

Earlier, I wrote about serendipity. This is indeed it. Brandon and I had our doubts about this unseen land, but we fit in like extended family. Being from Phoenix, Arizona, this feels like our native state. Rolling tumbleweeds. Soaptree Yuccas. Dry, sandy air. Terracotta rooftops peppered along Sedona mountains. Prickly Pear Cactus centered in gritty, barren fields. It might be hell for some. But it feels like home to us.

El Paso Sky Line

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Finding our new home was time consuming, but rewarding. If you have the opportunity to fly or drive to your new location to house / apartment / condo / room hunt, I highly recommend it. We, however, did not have the time or money to do that prior to signing a lease. 

Here are some ideas we used to get into a house without getting, ahem, skrewed-over. We are renting our house. Tips on buying a house or condo from out-of-state is beyond the scope of this post.

1.) Brandon made a spreadsheet of all the houses we liked using an Excel Spreadsheet (and I thought I was the OCD one.) He used columns for monthly rent, square footage, nearby elementary school, and distance/time to base, among others. We punched in new houses as we searched, and had about 6 total properties at any given time. Unfortunately, most owners won’t rent a house unless you’re about 15 days away from moving in. Therefore, many of our top rated houses rented before we were even eligible, but this kept us looking and narrowing until we found the right one.

Master List Bliss Homes

2.) If you have the resources, ask fellow military who have already moved to where you’re headed to help house scout. They were in your shoes recently, and know that you need assistance. There are also base welcome committees who can offer area assistance. We made our own POC (point-of-contacts) to help us find the right area for us by proactively emailing friends-of-friends. Furthermore, we emailed the Ft Bliss MWR (Moral, Welfare, and Recreation.) Our contact emailed us with a lengthy list of better schools in the El Paso, TX area, and how to get into contact with each school’s military liaison to aid in school-aged children’s transition.

3.) There are wonderful recourses to help military house hunt. Some of the web sites we used were:
A.) AHRN.com (Automated Housing Referral Network)
Pros: This is a military friendly site for housing near installations. Therefore, you may find that owners and realty companies will offer a slight drop in price through this site than what is offered on other general public listings.
Cons: Logging-in is more time-consuming than other sites. Members must use the service member’s DOD email address as the user name and create a complicated password. I often forgot what both were, leaving me frustrated when all I was trying to do was view local homes for rent; I wasn’t trying to get into my on-line banking or other personally sensitive information! Also, the site doesn’t have a smart phone app, but the mobile version is easy to navigate, however, it does not save your log-in details.

B.) Google.com
Google Maps, baby. Want to see your house from the sky and know if you’re moving across the street from a gentleman’s club or on the border of Mexico? Google map it. No pros and cons. Just do it.

C.) GreatSchools.org
Pros: If you’re searching for homes near a desired school district, the smart phone app is fantastic. You can search by city, zip code, or it will pull from your current location. It also syncs with your web account and saves your list of “My Schools.” Also, the web-version offers details such as test scores, diversity rating, and detailed GreatSchools Rating and Community Ratings.
Cons: I found that the ratings for some of the elementary schools near houses we liked were skewed. Parents often left poor reviews based on guidelines that were either non-academic or out of the school’s control. For example, I read one review from a parent who was upset over the hours of extracurricular activities. She gave her overall rating of the entire school one star and a poor review based on how the hours of her son’s football practice didn’t fit into her personal schedule. If you take several of these non-academic reviews and add them all up, well, you get a poorly rated school, even though, academically, they could pump out test scores in the top 10% of the district or even in the city. We couldn’t put much stock into the ratings they provide.

D.) MilitaryByOwner.com
Pros: Much like AHRN.com, listed properties for sale or rent are owned by military. You may find that the price they offer on this site is slightly less than their general public listing.
Cons: The smart phone app tries to be convenient, but it left me feeling frustrated. It allows you to quickly search for homes at nearby bases, however, it does not save your search criteria. Therefore, you must select the same search information every time you open the app.

E.) MyMilitaryLife App through the National Military Family Association
Pros: This app offers many detailed instructions and ideas on how to make your move as seamless as possible. In the Housing section, you will find information raging from “What should we do once we receive orders to PCS?” and “How do we set up our military move?” to “What items will the military not move?” The app offers other information outside of pcsing such as spousal employment and reintegrating the service member after deployment.
Cons: I would like to see more of a virtual community with this app. I have found other pcsing military through outside social networking sites (such as Instagram,) and I see a need for virtual connection.

F.) Realtor.com
Pros: You can save your search criteria, and they have a smart phone app that is extremely easy to navigate. Also, the photos are easy to scroll through and it provides detailed housing information including city information.
Cons: None that I could find.

Of course, there are many other sites you will find that aide in your journey. These are just what we used.  And now we’re home. And we're happy. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sip a margarita with my carne asada filled burrito.

- EB

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