Thursday, July 29, 2010

Moving -- Showing up and Setting Up!

One of the most exciting parts about being in the military is getting to a new duty station. I love getting to a new place, especially the first morning if we've arrived late at night -- which is usually the case. It feels like Christmas! That's not to say that there aren't a lot things to do to get set up in a new place.

Just like in any civilian move, we have to find a place to live. You can sometimes get into housing. But, generally the waiting lists are ridiculous. Some places it can take years to get into a house on base housing. It used to be that housing kept a ton of houses available for incoming members, but it isn't the case anymore. Housing pretty much everywhere (at least in the US) has been privatized to try to save money. I'm not exactly sure how much money the military is actually saving by leasing the land to a third party, and then paying all military members the housing allowance, but it has made life a bit more difficult when you're trying to get into base housing in some places.

Housing Allowance? What? We get a certain amount of money for housing costs based on where we live. Everyone in the military gets paid the same based on their rank and time in service. BUT if they didn't give a housing allowance, people in some areas would effectively get paid more than others. Someone living in Omaha, Nebraska would be making a ton more than someone stationed in San Diego CA, if they didn't change the rate for housing based on where we live.

One of the first places you visit when you get to your new station is the housing office. Now that it has been privatized, it's kind of a mixed bag. It used to be that you visited a place on base, and you got a house if one was available, based on the active duty member's rank and the number and age of their dependents. Now that it has been privatized, though, some places are wonderful to work with, and others are a nightmare. When we visited the housing office in California we were offered an old, dilapidated looking home with two bedrooms, one bathroom, no washer dryer hookups, and a driveway that was to be shared with five other families and a broken fence. All for the low cost of our entire housing allowance. Seven miles away we were offered a very new three bedroom house with a two-stall garage, a driveway we shared with one family. And the fence wasn't falling down. How much was the newer house? The same amount as the first place. Which house would you choose? I wasn't exactly hip on paying to live in a shack where I'd have to visit the laundry-mat with a toddler every week. The problem wasn't even the lack of available decent houses. The issue we had was more in the way we were treated. When we arrived, we waited around to talk to someone about what we would be offered. The two housing offices played against each other, and if we hadn't been smart about the way we were accepted and offered our lists, we would have had to wait an additional 30 days to even see what was available. We felt like we were looked upon second-class people getting a free handout from the government, rather than a renter who was paying $3000 per month for rent. It was completely obvious that the civilians that were running the housing office despised the military and the people who showed up to rent from them. It seemed odd. That isn't always the case, though. When we applied for housing in New England, we expected to show up and have the same situation. We called to find out where the office was to meet our agent, and she instead had us meet her at our house. She was incredibly friendly, and as has been the case here, that everyone is happy to help with most everything. (Except for the speeders the race through the neighborhood, but that has nothing to do with the military). I've already talked about the differences between the two houses, so I won't go there, but I'm much happier here where I don't feel as if the people at the office despise us because we are getting "free" housing that we are actually paying for.

If you look for a house out in town, it's the same as civilian life, with one exception -- you HAVE to have a military clause in your lease. Orders change. Orders can, and do change mid-tour. So, you have to have a clause exempting you from the lease termination fee should you need to move out early because of a change in orders. In some places, you'll be treated like crap whether you're leasing in town or from the housing office because of that termination exemption. The housing office usually has a list of "black-listed" agencies and complexes that you shouldn't rent from, because they are notorious for being unfair and mistreating the military members when they need to use the military clause in their leases, sometimes even refusing to honor it.

Once you've found your house, vacation is over. You get in and you call the moving company to tell them your new address. You can update your address with the post office, hopefully get caught up on any bills and obligations you've had to put off while you were "homeless" between addresses. In housing, generally your basic utilities are automatically put in your name, while out in town you have to arrange all of that yourself, just like everyone else. If you're in housing you have to figure out cable and Internet. Cable and Internet is one major bonus to privatized housing. When housing wasn't privatized, the civilian cable companies didn't have cable run to the houses, so you couldn't get 'normal' cable, and getting any kind of high speed Internet was next to impossible. Some places, (ahem, where we used to live) the privatized companies didn't deem cable and Internet as "necessary" utilities. So, they simply didn't pay the companies to come in and install any hubs or lines to the neighborhoods because they were too cheap. At our last house, we didn't have any option other than satellite for TV. After the digital conversion, we couldn't even get over the air channels because the TV stations were too far away and there were too many hills around to get a signal except for in one bedroom upstairs -- and even then you had to be standing on your head, touching your nose and sticking your tongue out just so to get the one channel that would come in. As for Internet, we were lucky that they did have "high speed" (IE, barely faster than dial up) Internet set up, but it was still incredibly slow, worked about 1/2 of the time and cost twice as much as anything else we could have gotten anywhere else.

If you're lucky, and moving somewhere in the US, you can usually have your stuff within a couple of weeks of getting into your house. We have had it take a full month before, though. Your stuff has been shipped across the country, and has probably been put into storage if you didn't fly from one place to the other, or drive like a crazy maniac trucker or stop and visit family on the way. In our experience, when your stuff goes into storage it gets broken. The movers treat your stuff a bit differently when you're watching them. Have you ever watched how the luggage handlers at the airport treat your bags? Yeah. I'm pretty sure it's the same deal at the storage facility.

In my experience the movers who offload our stuff whine a lot less than the ones that pack it and load it. I think that's because most of the time they aren't doing quite as much work since they're not unpacking. Yes, you have the option of having them unpack for you. However, while they will take the stuff off of the shelves and put it into a box, they won't take it out of the box and put it onto a shelf. You have to put your dishes into the cabinets, your clothes into your dressers, and your books on your shelves. So, unless you have eight arms, no children and can be in three places at once, it's much easier to unpack at your own pace.

A military family learns to unpack quickly too. Since we move so often, we don't have much time to waste unpacking. If we spent months unpacking our boxes, we'd be living out of boxes our whole lives. Our last move, it took us one week to have our house completely set up and unpacked. However, there always seem to be a few boxes of miscellaneous stuff that don't get completely unpacked. Those are the boxes that never seem to get unpacked and they seem to multiply with every move.

As you're unpacking you will most likely, find broken things. Because, like I mentioned earlier, your stuff has been moved without you around. The moving company (if you've paid for the replacement insurance -- we always do--out of pocket) will pay to repair and replace any broken items, but it's often a pain to get all of that sorted out. And how do you really replace stuff that is irreplaceable -- you can't find some things again.

Remember the lamps we got rid of at the last place because the entire house had lighting in the ceiling and you didn't have an affordable option for storage? Too bad. So you're out buying lamps. And new curtains because the windows that were 84" above the floor in California are only 65" off the ground in New England. This is something that happens no matter who you are and you move, but it all adds up when you move every year. The last house you lived in was built in 2004, so it had network cable in the walls and electrical outlets (or several) on every wall. This house, however was built in 1950. When you plugged in a lamp and a TV. So there is about 3 plugs in every room. So you have to buy extension cords.

Most of that stuff I had to give away at the last place, because the movers couldn't move it will have to be replaced. Every year or so I've had to replace my entire kitchen cabinets with new spices and cleaners. Not a big deal, really, except that it can get expensive. And it's really annoying when you get to the new place and go to cook something, and What do you MEAN we don't have any garlic powder, vinegar or baking powder? Didn't I JUST buy that the other day? Yes, but the other day was in our last house.

Luckily, some things have gotten easier recently. It used to be that if you were a military spouse, even though you moved on military orders, you became a resident of the state you moved to. So you had to change your driver's license right away too. If you were smart, you'd leave your car titled only in the military member's name because otherwise you were required to change the plates on it to a new state every time as well. Sometimes, it's better to change the plates. We do if we are going to be in one place for a long period of time and the cost is reasonable in the new state. For the past few decades, they have been trying to pass a bill so that military dependents can keep the same state of residence even while moving around. It passed this year, which is wonderful. It makes the whole "arriving" in a new place a bit easier. It basically means that we don't have quite as much paperwork to do.

Now that we're here and set up we can begin exploring!

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