Spring and summer are generally the busiest times of the year for PCS (Permanent Change of Duty Station) moves. But not this year.
Between May 15 and June 12, military movers picked up 15,302 household goods shipments, compared to 86,843 household goods shipments during the same period in 2019 — an 82% drop, according to John Becker, interim president of the American Moving and Storage Association.
Why So Slow?
In March 2020, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a stop movement order — freezing travel for Active Duty, Reservist and Civilian DOD employees — to help contain the spread of COVID-19 throughout the military. Nearly 12,000 U.S. troops have tested positive for COVID-19.
In June, DOD replaced that order with a regional conditions-based set of guidelines governing when and where servicemembers, civilian employees and dependents can travel, subject to the assessment of conditions at individual military installations. Locations must meet a series of criteria to see earlier travel bans lifted.
Servicemember travel is now possible in most states but remains limited in Florida and California. However, waivers are being considered for mission-essential travel, emergencies and some PCS moves, says the DOD.
A Different Kind of Move
In April, Gunnery Sergeant John Friedman at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, received PCS orders to San Diego, California.
With the stop movement order still in place, the family, including wife Gisella Mancilla and two children, ages six years and six months, had to drive across the country rather than fly. “We thought that would be very challenging with COVID-19 shutdowns,” says Gisella, who is one of AAFMAA’s SpouseLink Ambassadors. “But because we worked closely with our move-in counselor we knew what to expect at each end.”
Hotels along the route were still open with procedures in place for ensuring rooms were clean and well stocked with hand sanitizers and wipes. “But there were reminders throughout the drive that we were in the midst of a pandemic and we wore masks any time we stopped along the road,” she says.
“And, of course, once we got here, the training was still not functioning at 100% capacity.”
Changes in Selling
It can be worrisome having strangers come into your home in normal times, let alone during a pandemic.
Gisella and John spent April and May packing their home in North Carolina and getting it ready to sell. A “coming soon” sign was posted out front, and the family vacated the home for its first showing. Everyone coming into their home wore facemasks, gloves, and shoe covers.
Not much foot traffic was necessary. The home sold in just six hours.
Buying a Home
If you’re buying, and especially in an area you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll want to speak with a real estate professional experienced in working with military clients.
You will probably view homes virtually with your agent before shortlisting those to see in person. Depending on the state, your real estate agent will probably have you sign a COVID-19 waiver and you’ll need to wear protective gear when you go into homes.
Or, if it’s all getting too complicated, you could opt to rent or live in base housing, which is what John and Gisella did.
Getting Your Loan
If you want to improve your chances of buying quickly, get pre-approved by a mortgage lender. A pre-approval letter carries a lot of weight with sellers, letting them know you’re serious about buying and your lender believes your credit is sufficient for a loan up to a certain amount.
During COVID-19, many lenders have tightened their credit standards. Some will require a credit score of at least 640 and a low debt-to-income ratio for VA Home Loans.
Also, ask if they’ll be able to do a quick closing — within seven to 10 days. Stipulating a fast close can be attractive to some sellers and make your offer stand out.
Servicemembers who have conducted business from overseas may be familiar with some of the technology now being used for remote real estate transactions. For example, some title offices are using eClosings, which allow parties to sign settlement documents without ever meeting. Because of online notarization laws, however, virtual closings aren’t legal in every state. Learn more about online notarization and other ways COVID-19 is changing the Mortgage Process.
In addition, instead of tagging along with a home inspector in person, they might use video conference technology like FaceTime or Zoom to fill you in on the highlights that will be in their report.