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Jan. 28, 2021, 2:16 p.m. EST

We’re in our 40s and can afford a $700K house. My husband is retiring from the U.S. Navy. Where should we go?

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Jacob Passy

‘The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Jacob Passy at TheBigMove@marketwatch.com.

Dear MarketWatch,

My husband is retiring from the Navy, and we’re looking forward to moving closer to family and putting down roots. It’s been a long time since we’ve lived near family, and we don’t know the area, and wondering if you might have some ideas on places to consider?

Our son will be getting ready to start preschool, and the most important criteria for where we’ll live is having great public schools. It’d be nice to have a home with some space and backyard for kids. It would be perfectly fine to see other homes, we’d just prefer not to be very cramped next to each other with no outdoor space.

We’ve gotten used to living near cities with great restaurants, gyms, and other things to do, and I think that can be a contributor to quality of life. It’ll be the first time in many years we’ve had winters, and I feel like being close to things to do would feel really good to us. We’ve also been living near the ocean for most of his career. It’s hard to find a beach town with good schools, but maybe another town that isn’t too far of a drive to the beach in the summers? That’s not a must-have though.

We’re in our 40s and will both be working. As for budget, towns with good schools seem to be more expensive. We could spend $700k on a home. That’s what our current home is worth, and we’d be able to pay it off in 15 years. We’d rather pay more for a home and be in a location we enjoy, than less and not have access to great schools or things to do.

Our family is in southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. New Hampshire seems to be better for taxes, and Massachusetts seems to have a better job market, and maybe more to do. We’re ultimately looking for the place near family to raise our kids and have a nice time. Appreciate your thoughts!

Sincerely,

Family looking to put down roots

Dear Family,

Thank you to your husband for his years of military service. What an exciting time for you and your loved ones. It’s clear that you all are being very careful and deliberate about this transition, which is very commendable.

I’m happy to report that you’re already following one of the primary recommendations that I gleaned from conversations with experts on financial planning for military transitions.

“I always recommend living close to family post-military service,” said Daniel Dailey, retired Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army and military advisor to Veterans United Home Loans. “Every service member’s family situation is inherently unique and different, but in-large families are very dependable for assistance and care.”

As you know, being near family is just one part of the equation. You’ve got a well-developed wish-list: Good schools for your son, proximity to winter activities and the water, etc. But I would add a couple additional items to that list if I were in your shoes: Either being near a military base or in close proximity to a VA hospital. The latter will become especially important if your husband has any illnesses or injuries associated with his service in the Navy, because he’ll be able to receive free care for those conditions. But also, he can avail himself of other services from a VA medical center or outpatient clinic.

And living near a military installation has its own range of benefits. You haven’t mentioned whether your husband is planning to continue working after his retirement from the Navy, and if so, what his career plans are. Military bases offer certain services to veterans. Not to mention, there’s usually many jobs on- and off-base for civilians to support the base’s activities, and your husband could have a leg up as a veteran of the Navy.

There are also the cultural considerations of living near a base. When Clay Stackhouse, regional outreach manager at Navy Federal Credit Union, retired as a Marine Corps colonel, he and his family chose to settle in Pensacola, Fla., where he had attended flight school.

“It reflects the values the family and I have,” Stackhouse said. “It’s very, very military friendly — I mean, Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels.”

So where should you look to live? Navy Federal Credit Union this week released its 2020 list of the 10 best cities to live in after military service . Most of the cities on the list were located in the South, one city was located in New England: Norwich, Conn. This waterfront locale has much of what you’re looking for: It has a Main Street with galleries and restaurants and is just an hour’s drive from a ski areas to enjoy winter activities. The median home value in the area, according to Zillow /zigman2/quotes/205077794/composite ZG -1.98% , is nearly $173,000, which is well within your budget. There are naval bases, army contractors and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy within a stone’s throw. The school district, however, was not among the most highly ranked, according to review site Niche.com .

To find other locations for your family to consider, I also ran a search using MarketWatch’s retirement tool . Yes, this tool is primarily intended for people looking to move for their retirement later in life. That said, the parameters the tool uses to come up with its recommendations — such as home prices, hobbies and proximity to services — are relevant for anyone looking to relocate.

Among the places it suggests are: Springfield, Mass., Concord, N.H., Hartford, Conn. and Portland, Maine. Indeed, there are a number of picturesque towns and small cities located along the corridor between Boston and Portland that would be very well-suited to your family’s needs, including Portsmouth, N.H., Brookline, Mass., and Quincy, Mass. These areas have very strong schools and are located close to both the water and ski resorts. Plus, the region is well-served by bus lines and a commuter rail system, which opens up potential locations for jobs.

Some of the real-estate markets in this area are on the pricier side, though: the median listing price in Essex County, Mass., north of Boston, is nearly $510,000, according to Realtor.com.

As you weigh your options, I recommend that you take this time to ensure that you’re well-situated financially for the move. Military families have access to VA loans, which are extremely affordable compared to other mortgage products on the market. “You don’t need to be debt-free to secure a VA loan, but lenders will look at the relationship between your gross monthly income and your major monthly debts,” said Chris Birk, vice president of mortgage insight and director of education at Veterans United Home Loans. Also make sure your credit scores meet the VA minimum.

Take the median home value of where you’re considering moving to and pop it in a mortgage calculator to figure out your monthly payments. If those payments will be larger than what you’re already paying for housing, Birk suggests starting to set aside that additional amount each month now to get used to how you’ll need to budget in the future.

Good luck in your search, and with this exciting new chapter in your family’s life.

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April 12, 2021 4:00p
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