PCS'ing to a new duty station can be scary, intimidating, and overwhelming all at the same time. And you have no choice but to buck up and move there. Even if you don't have a network to rely on for insider information, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a firm grip on what the area will be like before you get there!
№1 — Embrace Your Base
There is always going to be a place you absolutely dread going to (I’m looking at you, Minot, N.D.), but that’s not going to stop the military from sending you there. So instead of going into your next PCS with a stomach full of lead, try looking at the bright side!
Before you arrive at your base, give it a chance. Start looking into the on- and off-base activities. What’s going on in the local area? Are there major cities or attractions nearby that would be fun to check out? Start planning mini-trips and putting local events on your calendar for after you arrive. That’ll help you take a break from all the moving boxes and embrace your new surroundings.
While you’re at it, familiarize yourself with the base. Start looking at the duty station’s website (I know they can be clunky, but they often have a wealth of information). Find out what amenities are available on base and start estimating how much time you plan to spend there. If the installation can provide for your lifestyle better than the surrounding communities, then you're one step closer to making a housing decision.
№2 — Go Social
When you find out where you’re headed next, get on Google and search “pcsing to ____.” Look past the first few results to some of the lower results on the first page, and even consider going to the second page (eek!). You’ll often find forums or chats related to your duty station where people have already asked questions that you have right now.
Dive headfirst into the blogosphere to learn from fellow military spouses, local photographers, foodies, and real estate agents about what the area is like. Many of these people write posts on their personal experiences of the area, which is a great first-hand resource to tap into! Just be sure to look out for sponsored posts, and keep their affiliate status in mind when weighing their input.
Getting connected with installation-specific Facebook groups is a popular recourse as well. Ask members of the public groups if there are any secret groups available for you to join. Make it clear you have specific questions to ask that you’d feel more comfortable asking in a more secure group (sometimes unit-specific groups are secret and you'll need an admin to invite you). Oftentimes fellow group members will add you, or at least vouch for your entry.
№3 — Work Your Network!
Military spouses have networks that even put Kevin Bacon's fame to shame. As soon as you receive orders (or a hint that you’re moving in the future) reach out to your network and ask if anyone has lived at the duty station you’re headed to. Take it one step further and ask them to introduce you to someone they know who has lived there or currently lives there. Then pick their brains on the base and the area.
№4 — Nail Down the Brass Tacks
There are two critical things you need to figure out about your new duty station right away: The housing market and the schools.
For the market, using Zillow can provide a good baseline for what home prices are like in the area. Start looking for homes in areas around the base that you find attractive. Then take it one step further and click on the link for “county data” or “see more resources.” That will offer you specific neighborhood names that you can then reach out to your networks and ask about. This in-depth research will give you a more realistic idea of what the neighborhood is like. For a more in-depth, customized approach, working with a Realtor (hint, hint) is going to be your best bet.
While this can be a lot of work, in the end, it’s worth it. However, if research really isn’t your thing and you’re worried about finding a good neighborhood, that's what I'm here for!
For school research, start with GreatSchools.org. They gather tons of information from schools every year and compile it all into one score that you can use to compare schools in the area. But be aware that those scores are just numbers at the end of the day.
You can also go one step further and connect with your base’s School Liaison Officer. They’re going to have the best info on the schools in your area and will be able to guide you to one that’s appropriate for your kids. You can also check out my School Scope toolkit for a comprehensive overview of what to look for in a new school and where your child will thrive!
№5 — Map It Out
As soon as you find out where you’re moving next, hop on Google Maps to get a visual of the area. Start by finding out where the base is located and then work outwards from there.
The cool thing about Google Maps is you can customize them and create labels, notes, and other designations that are relevant to you. You can outline general areas you’re considering buying a home in; you can drop a pin at the nearest Target and Chipotle (two essential items); you can note where other vital amenities are and how far of a commute they are from the base or your potential home.
The possibilities are endless.
Then use Google Street View to see what the area actually looks like, from an on-the-ground perspective. By going one step further and mapping out your next base, you’re acquainting yourself with the area, and saving yourself the headache of repeatedly getting lost when you first arrive.
Getting a jump on this research will help orient you to your new home and help you start identifying where you think you're interested in living! Once you have an idea of that, or even before, let me know what you're thinking and I can help you find the perfect home. I know it's hard, but we can start working well before the ink is dry on your orders and have on your way to a smooth, much coveted door-to-door move!