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The American Dream for our American Heroes

Credit: Staff Sgt. Cory Payne

“I feel the need – the need for speed.”

The Arches, a salty lake, and the highest concentration of Latter Day Saints are synonymous with Utah. But did you know in 2022, Utah received over six billion dollars to allocate to defense spending? What isn’t as highly known is the history, presence, and overall economic impact the Department of Defense (DOD) has on the Beehive State. Utah is home to six military installations. As a military spouse and Realtor, it is my duty to address an issue of utmost importance, housing affordability for our troops stationed in Utah. This article will provide a brief overview of Utah’s Top Employer, explain housing options for Airmen stationed at Hill Air Force Base and what we can do to support their success.

Utah’s Number One Employer

The state’s largest employer is located in Northern Utah, Layton to be exact. Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) is the second largest Air Force Base in the United States with a $960 million payroll. The total value of the 7,000 acres, infrastructure, and equipment exceeds 4.5 billion dollars. What began during World War II as a maintenance and supply base has transcended into a real life Top Gun arena. Hill was the first operational base for the F-16 Viper. In 2015, Hill welcomed the fifth gen fighter, the F-35 Panther. As the first combat capable F-35A unit in America, these individuals have served in partnerships across the globe to promote, posture, and protect as the Commander in Chief sees fit.

Credit: 1st Lt. Michelle Chang and Staff Sgt. Hannah Strobel

The federal government orders active duty military members to relocate, or what the military world refers to as PCS (Permanent Change of Station), every two to four years. If an Airman was on active duty status until retirement they could expect to move an average of six times over the course of their career, perhaps more or less. “The needs of the Air Force” dictates these moves.

For example, during the course of my husband’s pilot training between 2018 to 2019, we moved three times as he graduated from his initial pilot training in Mississippi, next completing his F-16 training in Arizona and then to his flying assignment in Japan. As of 2022, there were approximately 4,500 active duty personnel in Utah. Reservist and Guard members are considered part-time and have more control over when they move, as well as the cadence for deployments. The exception to this would be if they were on full time orders, which falls in line with active duty military requirements under Title 10.

The Basic Need for Housing

Not only has the DOD found housing to be a key contributor to someone’s sense of well being, but the military had a 15% higher retention rate with better housing. A BAH (basic housing allowance) is given to active duty military members. The monthly allowance is based on rank and whether they have dependents. The BAH is supposed to reflect 95% of the cost of a rental off base.

Housing options when military individuals and their families PCS to Hill are as follows:

    1. On Base

Boyer Hill Military Housing is the privatized company on HAFB offering various floorplans, based on rank and the number of dependents. While some may assume the easy button is to live on base, the estimated wait time for a Captain with two dependents is five to six months. If you choose to live on base it is considered “rent free” with 100% of your BAH going to Boyer Hill Military Housing. Approximately one-third of Airmen live on base.

    2. Rent

Davis County and Weber County have seen the cost of rent rise 42% between 2016 to 2021. Currently, a 2,000 square foot home in Layton is almost $2,700 per month. The majority of military members cannot afford this price point. If you reference the pay rates in the BAH chart above, the rank of Major approached 90% of the required cost to house a family of four.

    3. Purchase

  • Based on a recent survey of military families stationed in Utah between 2019 to present day:
  • 70% purchased a home (condo, townhome, or single family residence).
  • Over 72.5% had to submit more than one offer before receiving acceptance.
  • 42.5% purchased above the list price and took 45 days or more.
  • 57.5% expressed Buyer’s Remorse for the home they purchased, the price they paid or the concessions not asked for.
  • 98% believe the BAH Rate isn’t sufficient.
  • 98% indicated they could not have represented themselves without a Buyer’s Agent.
  • 85% of military members used VA financing when purchasing their home

Housing Affordability for Military Families

It could be argued that our military families stationed in Utah are some of the hardest hit by Utah’s lack of affordable housing. On base housing is not sufficient, nor was it designed to house 100% of our military members. When assessing BAH rates compared to other states across the country, Salt Lake City’s housing allowance tier is in the BOTTOM third. Yet, Utah has made headlines topping the list for the nation’s MOST EXPENSIVE state to buy a home based on priced per square foot behind Colorado. When surveyed, an overwhelming majority of military respondents felt the current BAH rate in Utah was more than 25% off, and the numbers support this feeling. Utah’s booming housing market has far outpaced the BAH. Adjustments should be made.

Call to Action

When our family moved to Salt Lake in 2019 I was absolutely thrilled until we were a month into the process of purchasing a home. PCSing to Hill was the most stressful, most expensive, and most difficult location we had ever experienced in our 16 years in the Air Force. First, the cost per square foot seemed astronomical, even coming from a beach town in Florida. Secondly, each day when we optimistically sat down to sift through the new listings, the inventory according to our “wishlist” was slim to none.

The “contenders” were under contract before we were able to draft up an offer. We toured the cheap, unpermitted flips. We submitted an offer the Sellers didn’t respond to even though the numbers were supported by a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis). We finally bought a beautiful,Tudor home but were in a multiple offer situation and felt pressure to not ask for too many concessions or we risk losing the house. In highsight, we should have asked for so much more! Five years later, as a professional in the real estate industry, I can attest it has progressively become more difficult to assist military clients in their pursuit of the American Dream.

To Buyers…

If you are a potential buyer PCSing to Hill, be proactive when you receive orders to Hill to assess the following: does living on base, renting, or purchasing make sense for your situation. Next, interview more than one Realtor! It is not a one size fits all. A Buyer’s Agent for PCSing is a specific niche. A few questions to ask are as follows:

  1. How many homes have they sold in your area of interest near Hill AFB? The majority of military families reside in Davis and Weber counties. Utah Realtors are licensed across the state, but different dynamics are at play within each enclave.
  2. What was their most recent transaction like? Were there multiple offers, escalation clauses, time frame from start to finish?
  3. Are they a certified Military Relocation Professional or do they have other certifications?
  4. Is the agent familiar with VA Financing? Have they ever had a NOV (Notice of Value) come back in Tidewater, and how did it work out?
  5. Do they run a CMA before writing an offer to ensure your offer is both competitive but also that you aren’t overpaying?

To Sellers…

My hope for Sellers and their listing agents is you won’t let the stigma of a VA financed offer be the reason for a rejection. VA loans can close quickly. Tidewater can be reversed. Carefully consider this benefit our military members have earned through their sacrifice to you, to Utah, and our country. Purchasing a home is the American Dream, and with it comes a higher quality of life and long term wealth compared to renters.

Personally, I will be contacting our elected officials regarding housing affordability for our military. Our family has lived on base, rented off base, and purchased several homes during our nine moves. I can fully attest that if you can make it fly, buying a home is the most favorable option. Therefore, BAH rates need to be raised for our active duty members. In addition, the Utah First Time Home Buyer Grant for Veterans is in need of more funding. Less than 20% of service members surveyed were able to take advantage of the program because money ran out. If you feel moved to join me or have additional questions, reach out. God Bless America and a heartfelt thank you to all who serve!

Author and Realtor Kerry Harding is the proud military wife of Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey “Banger” Harding. As a Realtor with Military Relocation Professional (MRP) certification, she is also trained to mitigate the stresses of service members’ permanent change of station. Kerry would love to talk with you about moving to Utah or PCSING to Hill AFB.

Kerry Harding is a Realtor with Niche Homes, specializing in Military Relocation and the Avenues neighborhood

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