Kate Viggers considers the options for Army families wanting to find – and fund – their forever home…

FROM laying down roots to putting a personal stamp on a property, many Forces families aspire to buy their own home.

Getting on the property ladder brings many benefits – stability, future financial security, being nearer family. But Service personnel are less likely to buy than the rest of the population.

“If settling elsewhere than your current posting, buying from a distance can be difficult, while lack of spousal employment can hamper saving,” explained AFF’s Housing Specialist Cat Calder. “Those married accompanied have to buy in more expensive areas for the camp commute, or incur travel costs.”

The issues are not just financial. Moving can be more stressful than redundancy or divorce. While military families can handle relocation, the emotional impact can be tougher moving to civvy street. “Fear of lack of peer support from those who understand Army life can be off-putting and if families opt to go stable, frequent postings can impact relationships,” added Cat.

Avenues of support

Whatever your reasons for wanting to leave Service Families Accommodation (SFA), there are avenues of support to ease the process.

Social housing is in short supply but some affordable schemes give priority status to Forces personnel during Service and beyond (12 months in England and Wales, 24 months in Scotland).

Some, like welfare officer Paul Hands, believe ex-Defence properties could offer an ideal solution for Forces families. “Ex-quarters should be offered to [us] with a ‘right to buy’ discount, similar to those who live in social housing,” he said.

The Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) helps personnel take early control of their long-term accommodation options.

JSHAO runs civilian housing briefings in-career and during resettlement across the UK, Germany and Cyprus, including one-to-one financial consultations. Families are welcome to attend these.

With the price of an average home in Britain predicted to exceed £1 million by 2032, JSHAO’s Alison Shimmens said there is a “desperate need” for families to save.

“Plan, talk to an independent financial adviser, avoid debt and check your credit rating,” she said.

For those struggling to put enough aside, financial support can be accessed via Help to Buy ISAs – giving first-time buyers a 25 per cent boost to savings (to a maximum £3,000) – or Forces Help to Buy (FHTB).

FHTB enables eligible personnel to borrow up to 50 per cent of their salary (capped at £25,000), interest free. The loan can be used towards moving fees and a deposit (five per cent of the property’s value is required).

Since 2014, FHTB has helped 6,100 personnel, including Claire Hodges and her husband (1 Regt AAC).

“About five years ago we started thinking about our future after the Army and getting a property before we turn 40 – after which it gets harder because most mortgages are for a 25-year term so would run into retirement,” said Claire.

“The FHTB scheme came into effect and through careful saving and planning, we bought a three-bed semi in Somerset.”

Do your research

If you’re new to house purchasing, it’s crucial to research, understand the process and access appropriate support, such as free mortgage advice tailored for Forces buyers.

The housing market moves quickly and finding and viewing properties takes time, so working out what you can realistically afford will enable you to respond promptly and negotiate confidently.

Online property searches are a fast, easy way to get an overview of your options; useful if you are house hunting from a distance.

Value is affected by geography, so if no properties crop up in your ideal location, widen the search. You may spot something equally suitable – and possibly get more for your money.

“Our users can set up instant alerts for new properties as soon as they come on the market,” said Amy Funston from property website Rightmove.

“Estate agents and developers can be contacted through the site, so buyers can make a decision more quickly when they are able to visit properties.”

Finding the right house

When it comes to viewing, it’s important not to get carried away picturing yourself in your “forever home”.

“We were very objective, prepared to compromise and weren’t led by our emotions,” said Claire. “Don’t feel you have to rush it, and don’t let agents pressure you into making a hasty decision.”

Jo Brown, director of Forces Homes, agreed: “Some military buyers are hindered by lack of knowledge of the civilian housing market.

“Remember, estate agents represent the vendor and want to sell at the highest price.”

In future, more Forces personnel may be persuaded to buy thanks to recent changes to mortgage rules introduced by the UK’s high street banks.

Those deployed overseas will now be able to rent out their homes without additional mortgage costs or changes, saving home owners time and money.

“Military families go overseas because the country needs them to,” said Sara Baade, AFF Chief Executive. “It will mean a lot to know that the challenges of Service life are beginning to be understood by our banks.”

AFF continues to advocate for families to ensure they are not disadvantaged, while the MOD is investigating how to create more choice about where, how and with whom personnel live by supporting greater use of private accommodation.

Should you decide to buy, taking that first step on the property ladder can be daunting. But with careful planning and the right support it’s also an exciting and rewarding experience, as Claire testified.

“It’s stressful, involves a lot of communicating between different parties, mountains of paperwork and huge amounts of money,” she said. “But it’s completely worth it to have a place of your own and the security of knowing we’ve somewhere to live when hubby leaves the Army in September.”

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