Limited rental options lead military personnel to buy homes

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

Senior Airman P.J. Canabal had a pretty clear notion of what he wanted when he got transferred to Cannon Air Force Base.

The notion was to rent a house with another military member. But Canabal discovered rentals were a pretty difficult commodity at the very end of May.

So, Canabal and a buddy decided to buy a home instead.

It might be an unusual step for a couple of single men to purchase a house together. But new transfers to Cannon are exploring all the options this summer.

Nearly 500 active duty members and their families are expecting to transfer to Cannon from now until the end of August.

Captain Mae-Li Allison, chief of public affairs at CAFB, said most are operational and maintenance personnel coming from Hurlburt Field in Florida. It’s all part of the transfer of 16th Special Operations Squadron.

“It was real hard. Nothing to rent, so we’re planning on buying a house now,” said Canabal, 23, who is one of the Florida newcomers. “This isn’t a renters market – just nothing to rent, at least as far as we wanted. Having a pet, most places don’t let you have one.

“I guess the first wave of people just took everything up,” he added.

Canabal, who arrived on May 30, said the asking price for the house in Clovis he settled on was originally $116,000.

The process can often take much longer.

Bobbie Tenney, 29, and a staff sergeant, recently found a house between $120,000 and $130,000 in Clovis. She’ll move into it in August.

“Renting was kind of expensive, especially for what you’re getting,” said Tenney, an Iowa native who has been at Cannon for almost two years.

“I wasn’t looking the whole time, because I was kind of waiting to see if I was going to stay here or not,” Tenney said. “When the military said I was going to stay, I started looking for a house about six months ago.

“A lot of the houses are pretty overpriced, especially with the way the economy’s going right now. The house I found was really the only one I found in a reasonable price-range,” she said. “I think everybody’s trying to make a buck and, because of the influx of military people, they see an advantage there.”

According to a recent Regional Growth Management Plan, 30 percent of military members surveyed at Hurlburt said they would try to buy a house if moved to Cannon. Another 25 percent said they would go the rental route.

Wes Graham, a realtor with Re/Max in Clovis, estimated 60 to 70 percent of all the transactions at his office in the last 90 days involved military personnel. Graham said more houses are available in the price range between $150,000 and $200,000, but that he also feels the market is still balanced.

“Most seem to be pretty happy with the available stock of housing. Purchasers are looking for traditional housing, but it’s all over the board, depending on their rank and marital status,” Graham said.

“The rental market is tight,” Graham said. “There’s not a large selection of houses for them to look for. We’re just suggesting that they continue to check. The rentals change almost every week.”

Though the distance from Cannon to Portales is further than Clovis, many are taking that route.

Nicole Thompson, 35, whose husband was transferred to Cannon in February, recently purchased and moved into a Portales house in the $125,000 to $150,000 range.

“It really wasn’t a factor, because if you live in a larger city you’re used to a 45-minute commute anyway,” said Thompson.

Thompson said she felt she had several viable alternatives when her family was looking to buy.

“It wasn’t that difficult. There’s quite a few homes on the market, but we had very specific needs and standards.”

Thompson likes the house, and the community of Portales in general. She thinks chances are good she’ll stay when her husband retires from the military.

“More than likely we’ll keep the house because Special Ops doesn’t tend to move their men as much as others do,” Thompson said.

“I am in love with the home I purchased,” she said. “I like the smaller pace in Portales. We really like the community here and it’s a nice neighborhood.”