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Our move back to the States is approaching faster than I anticipated. It felt as if all of a sudden it was time to go into full throttle PCS-prep mode — meaning that it was time for us to figure out where we were going to live come October, when Aleksei starts his next duty assignment in Washington, at the U.S. Capitol.
He and I have learned a lot about each other during the house-hunting process. The “what are your house must-haves” question was particularly interesting. For me: character, hardwood floors, good outdoor space, and three bedrooms. For him: off-street parking, space for a man cave, a good roof, and central air. Finding it all seemed nearly impossible, especially since we were more than 3,000 miles away, but we also knew that we wouldn’t settle; if we didn’t find the perfect place quickly, we would rent until it came along.
Both Aleksei and I were excited about returning to an area we know well — he went to the Naval Academy, I went to graduate school at The George Washington University, and I stayed in the D.C. area to work after getting my master’s degree. That said, it’s never easy to find a house at another duty station; doing so from an ocean away was beginning to feel impossible.
We signed with a fantastic, patient, and thorough real estate agent. I think that I sent her listings as often as she sent them to me (I’m a Redfin junkie). After looking at a lot of places online, we thought we had found the house. It was big, it was on a corner lot, and it had parking. Yes, the house would need some work, but it seemed to have great potential. So we did what I thought we would never do: We put an offer in, sight unseen. Our offer was solid, but we didn’t get the house. The people who did had waived the home inspection — something we weren’t willing to do without seeing the place in person.
After that disappointment, we decided to take a brief pause from the house search and wait for new listings to come in the fall, just a few short weeks away. Our agent responded by asking if we’d consider coming back to the States for a marathon weekend of house hunting. That was out of the question for Aleksei; he was just too busy at work. We decided that I would go back (for three days) in hopes of finding our perfect house.
It was a risk. We knew that we could spend more than $1,000 on travel and not find anything — or that we would find something but not get it. Still, after weighing the pros and cons, I bought my ticket and headed to Washington.
I went through more than 15 houses that first day. Then, as my feet were wearing out and my jet-lagged body was begging for sleep, we pulled up to our perfect house: large front and backyard with space for parking, lots of charm, three bedrooms, a finished basement, and tons of potential. I went back to that house five times in the three days that I was in the States, and I signed an offer minutes before I boarded the plane to return to Spain.
When I sat down on the plane, it hit me: We just made an offer on a house — probably the biggest purchase we’ll ever make — and my husband didn’t see the place in person. What if he doesn’t like it? Did the 25 iPhone videos give him enough of a feel for the house?
It also hit me that for the next 15 hours, I’d have no way of knowing whether we were going to be homeowners. As I stared into space (literally) while flying across the Atlantic, my inner event planner was calculating the contingencies for every possible scenario.
After hours of sweating it out during the three flights it took to get back to our sleepy town in southern Spain, I arrived home — and there was no email from our agent. At that point I was convinced that we didn’t get the house: After all, no one likes to send bad news over email, or maybe they received a higher offer, or …. Fortunately, I was wrong, and a few hours later (once the East Coast woke up), we found out that our offer was accepted, thanks to our savvy agent and some good luck — the owner of the house lives overseas and was ready to accept the first strong offer received.
Every nonmilitary person I talked to thought that I was crazy: I flew for 30 hours to spend a weekend traipsing from house to house, and I made a decision to purchase one even though my husband wasn’t there to see it.
Every military family I talked to barely blinked: This is par for the course — it’s about being flexible, being determined, knowing your partner, and getting a little bit lucky along the way.
To be continued …