Author Topic: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?  (Read 6968 times)

Nords

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Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« on: June 01, 2014, 11:02:47 PM »
USAA has published a public ranking of "Top Military Communities" at usaa.com/TMC.  Anyone can see the information at that link-- no login or membership required. 

It's the first time that I can remember a quantitative neighborhood analysis for factors that are important to servicemembers who want to live off base.  USAA started with the areas around the nation's five biggest military bases:
Fayetteville NC,
Killeen TX,
Norfolk VA,
San Diego, and
Washington DC.

I'd appreciate a reality check if you're in any of those areas-- especially if you're a military veteran or family member who's lived there for years.

USAA surveyed 6800 active-duty members (and their families) about their neighborhood priorities, and I'll say up front that the criteria are not necessarily Mustachian.  Their most important ones are crime rates, affordability, and school quality.  Commuting distance and neighborhood access (recreation, parks, shopping) are #4 and #5.  Commutes of 25 miles/40 minutes (each way) are considered acceptable, in DC they were pushed as far as 35 miles/one hour, and in Camp Pendleton they were stretched out to 40 miles.  Note that this might not include the traffic backed up at the gate.

"Affordability" from the military perspective is the E-6 housing allowance (with dependents).  Each area on the website includes the median home prices and rents from DoD databases.  If you want to dig into the details of E-6 BAH then you can enter ZIP codes into this calculator:
http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bahCalc.cfm

I'm reasonably familiar with the San Diego area but please post your feedback on the others.  I'd like to let people know what's misleading or even not so good about this data.

I'm writing a blog post to put up in a few days.  I could easily draft one like a USAA fanboi, but I'd rather try to offer constructive criticism or suggest other improvements.  If this ranking gains traction with servicemembers then USAA could expand it to the rest of the nation's military bases. 

A unique military perspective on commuting distance is that tours are typically 24-36 months and usually include a deployment.  A servicemember might not be making that commute for too long, it would certainly be at "off-peak" hours, and they'd be willing to live 40 miles away from Camp Pendleton if their family is happy.  Other servicemembers might homestead in a "military concentration area" of several large bases like the Norfolk area.  One base might be a painful commute, but a follow-on tour to a different command at a closer base might be a great deal-- and the family wouldn't have to move between the two tours.

If you know of any other "best places for active-duty servicemembers" rankings based on quantitative criteria then I'll add those to the post too.  Instead of crowdsourcing or a popularity contest, though, it should be derived from public databases that can be ranked & weighted for further analysis.

If you're curious, E-6 BAH (with dependents) in the ZIP code of our Central Oahu rental property is $2952/month.  In an unsurprising coincidence, we charge $2900/month for a 4BR/2BA single-family home that meets all of USAA's criteria and would even support a bicycle commute of 11 miles.  (The tenants still have to pay their own utilities.)  Neighborhood rents for similar homes are about to break the $3000/month barrier.  If USAA expanded their list to the top 25 military bases then Oahu and nearly every other large base in America would make the cut.

Boz86

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2014, 08:35:11 AM »
I concur with Basenji's post. We picked Southern Maryland vice Virginia because I was at Andrews for a while, and you got more house for the money in decent school districts compared to DC. And I didn't want a big bridge in the commute as I've found they tend to be traffic choke points. I disagree with the MD natives on how good the systems are, but they're good enough without major issues. Certainly better than DC's schools.

However, to give you an idea of how we really feel, now that we're retired we're moving out of here in the Spring to a lower cost area. One of the advantages of not needing a bridge/second career and not being tied to the post-military contractor job market.

NewStachian

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2014, 02:58:56 PM »
So, I'm going to try and be as positive and constructive as possible, but my first thought with the DC area analysis was to call complete and utter bullshit...

My background: I have commuted to Andrews, the Pentagon, ONI, and Ft Belvoir. I have lived in Mclean, Alexandria, and now own a house in Arlington. I have been active duty (O3) and a civilian in the area.

My take: If you're talking about Ft. Belvoir and Quantico there are many reasonable options that won't give you a miserable commute. However, the Pentagon is a different story. Getting inside the beltway during rush hour can be awful from those locations. I'm about 5 minutes from the Pentagon (I drill there for reserves one weekend a month) and paid over 2x what's listed on that site for the other areas for the cheapest 3bed/2bath in my neighborhood. My wife commutes from Arlington to Quantico and sees first-hand every morning how terrible the northbound traffic is while she's breezing down the southbound side.

I'd be happy to provide some more detailed info later if you're curious, but unfortunately I have to jet right now.

Milspecstache

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2014, 04:34:46 PM »
PM sent.

escolegrove

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #4 on: June 02, 2014, 07:08:00 PM »
Honestly those numbers work for Norfolk. The hardest issue with Hampton Roads is the fact that the Norfolk school systems aren't great and the traffic is crazy. Many people commute from NAS Norfolk to Chesapeake and Virginia Beach for the quality of life for the kids. The "pocket" areas that are okay in Norfolk are predominately for young kids.

That being said NAS Oceana which is a fighter base has the same BAH rates as norfolk. The bah rates match up pretty well to what you can find for your ranking. The two best school systems are within 20 minutes. One system is north the other is south of the base. We lives 5 miles 15 minutes from base. I think the biggest thing is not only the price but the infrastructure that is located close. We have been to different bases. The biggest problem with some of them isn't money but the schools. If you have any questions about norfolk. I know that area intimately.

TrulyStashin

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #5 on: June 02, 2014, 07:15:02 PM »
I would not invest any money in Tidewater Virginia at all.  In fact, I wouldn't take it as a gift.  Norfolk is second only to New Orleans in vulnerability to sea level rise -- in part because the land is simultaneously sinking while sea level is rising.  Most of the city has a 50% chance of being flooded up to 4' deep by 2020.   

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/in-norfolk-evidence-of-climate-change-is-in-the-streets-at-high-tide/2014/05/31/fe3ae860-e71f-11e3-8f90-73e071f3d637_story.html

Edited to add: I'm 15 minutes away from Ft. Lee, the Army's quartermaster and logistics university, in a suburb of Richmond.  I've been here since 1998 and the quality of life is high with a low COL and minimal traffic.  I grew up in NoVA (Woodbridge/ Montclair) and "refugeed south" to escape the insane traffic and high COL.  What a difference 100 miles makes!
« Last Edit: June 02, 2014, 07:20:02 PM by TrulyStashin »

Nords

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2014, 07:35:07 AM »
Thanks, everyone, (Milspecstache, I got your PM), and I appreciate the feedback on the areas in the USAA ranking.

It looks like there are other options in the vicinity of the places that made the USAA cut.  And of course the Pentagon commute seems like a challenge-- although that train is making it work, if there's an accident or a track delay then it's a single point of failure. 

Anyone from the Fort Hood or Fort Bragg areas with opinions on Killeen or Fayetteville?

CheapskateWife

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2014, 08:28:13 AM »
We are near Killeen, and frankly I cant understand this designation.  Not for Killeen at least.  The crime rate is horrible and the schools, just atrocious.  However, the two adjacent communities of Copperas Cove and Harker Heights (10 miles on either side of the base) might be what USAA is looking at.  Both of those communities tend to have more retirees, senior enlisted, and officers, thus higher tax base for the community.  There is no public transportation to speak of, and biking to work is almost unheard of (which doesn't stop DH from doing it). 

It is a smidge warm here, also, but we seem to be fairly well acclimated.

I will give them this, Real Estate is dirt cheap compared to other bases we have lived near (Virginia was painful).  As we build our slum lord empire, that has been a good thing for us.  However, selling with expectation of profit is rediculous.  House values are stagnant and have been for the last decade.  So renting is really the way to build good residual income.

paleogirl

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2014, 09:58:38 PM »
USAA ranked Harker Heights, South Central Killeen, and Kempner as the top three for the Fort Hood area. It makes sense, as the parts of Killeen closer to Fort Hood are the shady areas, but the parts of Killeen closer to Harker Heights are actually nice. The traffic to/from post is ATROCIOUS, though. I know people who live as far as Belton, Georgetown, and even Austin!

I have been contemplating taking a stab at investing in real estate, but most of the homes don't seem to meet the 2%, or even 1% rule. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong neighborhoods?

We are near Killeen, and frankly I cant understand this designation.  Not for Killeen at least.  The crime rate is horrible and the schools, just atrocious.  However, the two adjacent communities of Copperas Cove and Harker Heights (10 miles on either side of the base) might be what USAA is looking at.  Both of those communities tend to have more retirees, senior enlisted, and officers, thus higher tax base for the community.  There is no public transportation to speak of, and biking to work is almost unheard of (which doesn't stop DH from doing it). 

It is a smidge warm here, also, but we seem to be fairly well acclimated.

I will give them this, Real Estate is dirt cheap compared to other bases we have lived near (Virginia was painful).  As we build our slum lord empire, that has been a good thing for us.  However, selling with expectation of profit is rediculous.  House values are stagnant and have been for the last decade.  So renting is really the way to build good residual income.

Nords

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2014, 10:16:41 PM »
Thanks, everyone, I've added words to the post to cover the issues over the length of the commute and the base access. 

It'll go live in about 11 hours (5 AM HST) at The-Military-Guide.com.

T-Rex

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2014, 02:06:58 AM »
It seems like a lot of military choose long commute! For me that disqualifies most of the towns on their Camp Pendleton list. One of my friends (not an E-6+) lived RENT FREE in Temecula and spent nearly all her money on gas. You can't even run errand around Temecula itself without a car because of the spread out luxury stripmall layout, not to mention it is nowhere near base in my book.

My choices: Fallbrook, CA. Oceanside, CA... where rent is cheap and the commute is short (have seen people come to work on bicycles from these cities)

T-Rex

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2014, 02:10:43 AM »
Camp Pendleton base access is by far the best from Oceanside, the majority of gates connect to Oceanside and spit you out on the main drag. Definitely cannot be said for other gates or cities.

Nords

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2014, 09:14:39 AM »
It seems like a lot of military choose long commute! For me that disqualifies most of the towns on their Camp Pendleton list. One of my friends (not an E-6+) lived RENT FREE in Temecula and spent nearly all her money on gas. You can't even run errand around Temecula itself without a car because of the spread out luxury stripmall layout, not to mention it is nowhere near base in my book.

My choices: Fallbrook, CA. Oceanside, CA... where rent is cheap and the commute is short (have seen people come to work on bicycles from these cities)

Camp Pendleton base access is by far the best from Oceanside, the majority of gates connect to Oceanside and spit you out on the main drag. Definitely cannot be said for other gates or cities.
Thanks, T-Rex, Camp Pendleton's communities seem to be a lot more spread out than Norfolk or the DC area.

The post is live:
http://the-military-guide.com/2014/06/05/are-you-moving-to-a-usaa-top-military-community/

j-lu

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #13 on: June 16, 2014, 05:23:17 PM »
I realize that I'm chiming in a bit late here and that your article is already up, Nords.  I live in West Stafford.  It is a nice town with a good mix of rural/suburban areas.  The neighborhoods are nice, the schools are good and home prices are some of the cheapest in the DC area.  Thankfully, DH commutes to Quantico and it is not a bad commute at all.  But given the traffic on I95 I would never, ever, ever advise anyone who has to commute into DC to live this far away.  Personally, the Fredericksburg/Quantico commute would even  be too much for me to stomach.  My neighbor commutes from here to Ft Belvoir and is constantly complaining.  Yet it never ceases to astound me how many people commute from here all the way into DC.  They are currently extending the HOV lane on I95 down to the main exit in Stafford - I'm very curious to see if this will relieve the congestion at all.  Unfortunately we are moving and won't be around to see its completion. 

Also, the median rent price listed ($1098) seems a bit low.  The area is 90% single family homes, most are 2000+ square feet.  We will be renting our home for $2350/month and that seems to be about the norm.  We also own a 2 bed 2 bath condo which rents for $1200/month.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2014, 05:25:41 PM by j-lu »

Nords

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #14 on: June 16, 2014, 05:49:36 PM »
I realize that I'm chiming in a bit late here and that your article is already up, Nords.  I live in West Stafford. 
Thanks!  I'm taking notes for a followup and passing (anonymous) feedback to Maggie Hahn at USAA.  They want to roll it out nationwide, and this is how they'll learn what to tweak.

Our rental property is in what would be perceived as a "top military community", but E-6 BAH would only cover the rent and not the utilities.

MayDay

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #15 on: June 16, 2014, 06:57:40 PM »
Can I ask a Quantico housing question?  H is considering applying for a civilian G 13 job there, so the pay range is 90-110k-ish (I don't remember the exact numbers). 

My question is basically, where should we hypothetically live, and how much will it cost?  Renting is fine, two kids so ideally need three bedrooms, although we can make two work (different gendered children) prefer access to yard (sfh or duplex), good schools important.  Prefer short commute, bike/walking friendly area, and scared of loving in a densely military town as we are gay and abortion loving, vegetarian hippies ;)

Basically, I am worried such a housing location will either not exist at all, or will be exorbitantly expensive.  I assume we are looking at a DC suburb like Woodbridge, but how expensive is that?  Since it is a civilian job, there is no BAH, right?

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #16 on: June 16, 2014, 07:37:24 PM »
Nords--Were you the person to recommend reading The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter? They point out that the key indicator for a property increasing in price is the school system. I realize this is not directly related to your original question. However, I think it figures into the elements people seek in a neighborhood listed in your post (good schools). They also point out how people are willing to take on more debt than they really should in a mortgage in order to get into a good school district.

Nords

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #17 on: June 16, 2014, 11:00:52 PM »
Nords--Were you the person to recommend reading The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter? They point out that the key indicator for a property increasing in price is the school system. I realize this is not directly related to your original question. However, I think it figures into the elements people seek in a neighborhood listed in your post (good schools). They also point out how people are willing to take on more debt than they really should in a mortgage in order to get into a good school district.
Yep, that's me.

Another point of her book is that the two-income families (in pursuit of the good schools) have driven up real estate prices to a ridiculous seller's market.  The "trap" is when the buyers take out a mortgage that needs two incomes to make the payments, and then one of the income-earners gets laid off.  The 1950s stay-at-home Mom was a historical aberration, but today's families are leveraging debt without taking layoffs into account.  When Warren wrote the book she advised staying within "traditional" debt limits (28% of income for mortgage debt, 36% for total debt) but of course the 2008 Great Recession effectively locked in those rules.

USAA is recommending rental properties, and in most military neighborhoods the local rents coincidentally happen to miraculously converge on the average military housing allowance.  The E-6 BAH is a little low for the neighborhoods which USAA is scouting, but that rank covers a huge percentage of the military demographic.  Going up to E-7 or O-3 would be seen as too upscale to be useful.   

oldtoyota

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #18 on: June 17, 2014, 06:13:59 AM »
Thanks for the reply. It's a good book, and I am about 25% of the way through it. Lots to think about.


Boz86

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #19 on: June 17, 2014, 08:06:31 AM »
Basically, I am worried such a housing location will either not exist at all, or will be exorbitantly expensive.  I assume we are looking at a DC suburb like Woodbridge, but how expensive is that?  Since it is a civilian job, there is no BAH, right?

I haven't lived over on the VA side, but worked with many who commuted in from the Quantico area. If you wanted to live in a more cosmopolitan area and lived in a closer DC suburb the good news is you'd be counter-flow to the normal commuters. OTOH, you never know when I-95 is going to come to a halt in either direction for no apparent reason.

j-lu

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Re: Are you near a USAA "Top Military Community"?
« Reply #20 on: June 17, 2014, 09:53:54 AM »
Can I ask a Quantico housing question?  H is considering applying for a civilian G 13 job there, so the pay range is 90-110k-ish (I don't remember the exact numbers). 

My question is basically, where should we hypothetically live, and how much will it cost?  Renting is fine, two kids so ideally need three bedrooms, although we can make two work (different gendered children) prefer access to yard (sfh or duplex), good schools important.  Prefer short commute, bike/walking friendly area, and scared of loving in a densely military town as we are gay and abortion loving, vegetarian hippies ;)

Basically, I am worried such a housing location will either not exist at all, or will be exorbitantly expensive.  I assume we are looking at a DC suburb like Woodbridge, but how expensive is that?  Since it is a civilian job, there is no BAH, right?

Have you tried posing your question over at the  city-data.com forums?  There are a lot of people over there with good advice.  In my opinion Virginia begins to turn from "Blue" to "Red" once you pass Quantico going South on I-95.  You get more bang for your buck if you stay south of Quantico, but if you are looking to be in a more liberal area, I would stay in Prince William County.  Also, DH will get the benefit of the reverse commute.