Tips for military families moving to D.C.

Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:24 PM

l Be prepared for sticker shock. The D.C. area is much more expensive than most military towns. You'll receive a larger housing allowance, but it may still be tough to afford what you want.

l Understand that 20 miles does not equal 30 minutes. "Traffic is usually a huge shock to people that move into this area," says Sarah Phelps, an agent with Ron & Susan Associates with Long & Foster in Lorton. "I highly recommend that my clients stay in a hotel somewhere near where they are thinking of purchasing and trying out the commute on a weekday."

l Check out the rental market for the house. If you do end up moving in two or three years, as most military families do, can the house rent for enough to cover your mortgage, utilities and management fees? Most parts of the D.C. area do have an active rental market, especially near military bases.

l Research military resources in the area. Many bases in the area have a hospital or medical clinic, commissary, Post Exchange store and entertainment, which can be attractive to your family even if you're commuting to a different base.

l Don't just rely on the housing resources from the base, which usually don't pre-screen the homes for neighborhood, schools or commuting distance. Work with an agent who knows the neighborhoods, and start your research on Web sites such as MilitaryByOwner.com and the "plan my move" tool on MilitaryHomefront.com.

l Consider renting. Patrick Beagle, a former Marine helicopter pilot who is now a certified financial planner in Springfield, near Fort Belvoir, usually recommends that military members rent for at least a year while they scope out the area. And if your housing allowance doesn't stretch far, consider living on base or renting for the full tour, which could help you afford a larger and closer home.

- Kimberly Lankford

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