Housing: Buy vs. Rent?

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by buffalo, Apr 6, 2015.

  1. buffalo

    buffalo USAFA 2013

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    BL: I'm hoping to get some input from some of the wiser folks on this forum about buying vs renting a home.

    Later this month, my time at Vance AFB will finally be coming to an end (for now...). I'll make a stop in Altus, and then sometime in August I'll be moving to Dover AFB. In my free time, I've recently started looking at potential housing in Delaware. In terms of what I need, I'm not married, so I've been looking at apartments, townhouses, and small homes. I'm also looking at rentals versus for sale properties. As I look over the course of a career, I know I'd prefer to not rent for 10-20 years and lose out on the opportunity to build my own equity. But at the same time, I must admit the process of buying and selling, and associated risk of losing home value or having the home on the market for a long time is intimidating. Though I know the ultimate answer is, "it depends," I'm curious what my fellow forum member's experiences have been about choosing housing, especially as a young CGO. If I look more towards the rental option, does anyone want to make a case for base housing?

    Thank you!
     
  2. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I'm not sure this is the best time to buy, but I understand hating paying for rent when you could just be paying off a mortgage. The good thing about being a service member stationed somewhere, is if you wanted to buy, you could also try to rent it out to other Air Force folks when you move. So many service members rent to others, especially in areas where there's a regular rotation.

    In D.C. I've rented from a Coast Guardsmen (who I at one time worked for) and a NOAA officer. MilitaryByOwner makes it easier too.

    But having said this… I've only rented. It hasn't made sense for me to buy yet, but it's always something to think about.
     
  3. osdad

    osdad Member

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    How long will you be at Dover? If it's just for a 3 year assignment - rent. I say this for four reasons: your costs associated with buying and moving into a house (financing and closing costs) not be recovered, for the first years you'll be paying mostly interest charges on your mortgage - you'll not be building (much) equity, you'll be responsible for any needed repairs, and you'll have to sell it or rent it ( a whole new set of potential headaches) when you rotate to a new duty station.

    Short term buying made sense when house prices were escalating rapidly - they're not doing that now.

    Regarding on base vs off base: check out the quality of the on-base before you commit. I was recently in Navy housing in Norfolk and it was horrendous. This being AF I expect it's better but make an informed decision. What will your BAH get off base? Does the on-base housing compare?
     
  4. NavyHoops

    NavyHoops Moderator

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    I didn't buy when I was active duty. My recommendation as a brand new member to the operating forces is to rent at least the first year. You will be buying stuff for a house the first year and really getting your finances down. I lived comfortably both duty stations and pocketed some money, but it did take some time to buy furniture and household stuff. I bought a few items with 2 years no interest and paid it off in about 6 months. Helped build some credit for me pretty easily and not cost anything additional. Personally I wouldn't do base housing. Why? I think financially I did better off base. I was able to have a 2 bedroom/2 bath townhouse, nothing fancy, but was nice. My BAH covered the rent, cable, electric and Internet. I was lucky, I paid all my rent and household bills with my BAH. If you live on base, you won't get BAH and there won't be utility bills, but cable and Internet are costs. Not huge costs, but I was able to pay for all that with my BAH. If you share a house you will even cut your costs more. Take a look around at costs of apts and houses and set a budget to see how far BAH will take you.

    As far as buying I have seen this work well for some and be a nightmare for others. I currently own a home 600 miles from where I live. It sucks dealing with everything. The worse your renters, the harder it is. And yes renting to military members can be good or bad. Like everything, depends on who you get. Also, closing costs and all the other things that go with buying are expensive. Its something to think about, especially a duty station you think you will return to and that house can support a growing a family possibly. Also, you need a solid bank account in case you have gap months in rental, repairs, etc. If you haven't built this up yet, its key to home ownership and being a landlord with renters.
     
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  5. Capt MJ

    Capt MJ Member

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    Books have been written about this! I commend you for thinking about your financial situation. Here are some thoughts to get you started. There are many others who will share valuable insights.

    First, how much can you set aside from your monthly budget for housing costs? If you have a written or online budget, know what's coming in and what's going out, that's the foundation. As a JO, I used to keep a written budget on a paper ledger. Now I use Quicken and the Mint.com app. My spouse and I know EXACTLY where all our money goes - whether for monthly expenses, periodic expenses, unexpected expenses, investments (short, mid, long-term), emergency fund replenishment, contributions toward short, mid and long-term goals, and after all NEEDS are taken care of, we fund the WANTS (travel, etc.). My spouse and I each have a Quicken budget category that is for our own monthly "play money," and the rule is, no raised eyebrows or snarky comments about what it's used for, as long as it doesn't exceed the budgeted amount. You should budget in some play money, but abide by your budget.

    Second, are you financially fit? Paying bills on time? Not carrying a credit card balance? Have a history of paying any loans off regularly? Funding your long-term retirement accounts regularly? Have a savings plan? Emergency fund healthy? Know your debt:income ratio? Are clear-headed about wants vs. needs? As I was lightly pilloried in another thread for saying, "water is a need, beer is a want."

    Third, there are many rent vs. buy scenarios. There are some who buy properties along the way, and keep a stable of rental properties. This takes skill and discipline to handle multiple mortgages, home expenses and property management, whether done by you or someone you pay. Especially during gaps between renters! Much depends on how long you are going to live in that house/condo, what the market is when you buy, and when you sell. And location! There are some who rent or opt for govt housing as the best solution for a particular period of life, and buy at the next duty station. Once you have determined what you can afford on a monthly basis without impacting other critical needs, compare costs of rent vs. buy: renter's insurance vs. homeowner's insurance, home maintenance expenses, property tax, utilities, homeowner's/condo association fees, etc. We lived off and on in government housing when we knew we didn't want to buy in that area, or the job was such that proximity was desirable. Please don't ever say: "I can afford this place if I reduce my monthly IRA/TSP/whatever long-term retirement savings."

    Fourth, explore www.usaaef.org. The USAA Educational Foundation is an independent non-profit which provides free educational material on personal finance, with no mention of usaa.com products or services. Their publications offer excellent basic info on buying a home, saving for retirement in your 20's and 30's, basic investing, stocks and bonds, advanced investing, managing important papers, budgeting, managing credit, college savings plans, deployment, and many others. You can read the .pdf of the pub, print or order a free copy. As a JO, I educated myself through their publications, and that was in the last century - they are an excellent resource.

    Fifth, read up on VA Loans, one of your benefits. Go to va.gov

    Ask a lot of questions, do the homework, plan for Murphy's Law.

    I had a grandmother who lived through the Depression, and I never forgot how she would not eat French toast or pancakes, because she had eaten them at times for every meal of the day, with ingredients that were cheap or barterable. That made a real impression on me. In college, I worked 3 part-time jobs and started a business typing people's papers (mainframes had just come on campus, personal computing just starting) so I could pay for all expenses not funded by scholarships, and didn't have a car until I was an Ensign. I also learned to cook, which saves a lot of money and brings friends into your life. That disciplined approach, learned through trial and many errors, has given us a very comfortable life and well-planned for elder years in the future. My spouse was of the same mindset, so we had similar values in the area of personal financial management, a key to success.

    This is the same basic stuff I have counseled other JOs on over the years, and as I recall being counseled by my senior officers.

    Best wishes for a good career in uniform and the best of financial health.
     
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  6. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    I am a Realtor in VA.

    My take is going to be all Real Estate.

    1. Condos are hard to unload and in Dover probably really hard. BETTER TO RENT in that situation because very few married couples want condos.
    2. Can you afford a Townhouse(TH)? Think about those that will buy when you leave, or at least rent. Anyone with a pet, will prefer a TH with a small yard to let their dog or child out over being on the 2nd floor Condo
    ~~ Caveat a Condo on waterfront or a walking town will be just as competitive as a TH, maybe even more due to location. That TH in a crappy location could take longer to unload
    3. You are going to be gone a lot! Are you ready to take care of a home?
    ~~ Landscaping....mowing is not cheap if you have to pay for the service.
    ~~ Hot water heaters can cost a lot of money, G forbid it breaks down, the Landlord will pay for it.
    4. Tax purposes
    ~ Too many 1st time buyers ask the wrong question and get in trouble. They are told that they are approved for X amount mortgage. The problem is they should have said to the loan officer I want to spend X amount on the MTG and have them say how much they should spend. They may say you are approved for 300k at 4% interest rate, with taxes and insurance that might max out your BAH. However, you still now have utilities (water, sewer, trash and HOAs) landlords pay. RENTAL is BETTER.

    Now why to buy.

    Our DS purchased because he followed the Golden rules for Real Estate.
    1. Location
    ~ He purchased in the best school district.
    2. Smallest home in the Best LOCATION
    ~ Biggest home in a worst location just means harder resale
    3. Think of the next buyer.
    ~ Make sure another O2 can afford the home.
    ~ Age matters.
    4 Have the sellers pay for a home warranty
    ~ If HVAC dies than all he has to pay is 75-90 bucks and he gets a new unit.
    5. Taxes
    ~ He will be able to do 1040A, not EZ. Closing costs and interest will be deducted off of their taxes
    ~ BAH is an allowance. In essence if the AF pays him 15k a year the IRS won't use it in the calculation, but if your base pay is 45K and 15 is your MTG than to the IRS you will be taxed at the 30k rate.
    ~~ Markets fall, but if the market is flat 2-3% growth each year, and the cost for selling is 6%, you are better off because for 3 years you got a tax return every April because of the 1040 A.
    ~~~ Do the math. 200k in 2015. In 2018 with only 2% means the house will be worth 212. You pway 6% in RE costs. You are back at 200k, BUT for the years 2012-15 you were able to get a tax return 1500 more because you own. That means you made 4500...not at closing, bet every year from taxes.

    MYPO, RENT.

    You are single, young with no kids.
     
  7. usna1985

    usna1985 USNA Alumnus

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    First, ask yourself why you want to purchase a home. My guess, based on your post, is to make money. As a general rule, if you plan to stay in any area less than five years, you're better off doing something else with your money. Why? As others have noted, it's really hard just to break even in that amount of time. As a young JO, I bought in a big "up market" (meaning prices were rising) and, four years later, broke even on my deal -- and that was after tax breaks were included -- due to closing costs both buying and selling, real estate agent fees, etc. Make no mistake that I loved owning my own home, but it wasn't any sort of financial windfall and I realize now that I was really, really lucky to sell it at a decent price in the perfect timeframe for my move. And trying to rent a home as an absentee landlord has many challenges, financial and otherwise.

    My suggestion is that you consult a reputable financial advisor. Discuss your short- and long-term plans and goals. He/she can advise you the best way to invest your money -- whether it be in real estate or some other investment.
     
  8. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    Also consider that the old "keep it as a rental property" plan significantly impacts your ability to buy another home. Much larger downpayment on a second mortgage, typically. Pima can tell you more.
     
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  9. fencersmother

    fencersmother Founding Member

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    My son is at Dover and looked to buy in that area last summer. Have you seen what's around DAFB? It's pretty awful, even in the $200+K range. Better to rent, really close to the base, because you are going to have many 3 a.m. start times.
     
  10. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    And as has been said, as a landlord you have certain legal responsibilities and sometimes that can be an extra, unplanned, liability.
     
  11. Jcleppe

    Jcleppe Member

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    A lot of great advice so far, just wanted to add one thing.

    Remember that BAH is dependent on where your stationed, here is an example:

    Say your first assignment is Joint Base Lewis/McChord. You decide to purchase a home, you find one that would meet your needs and your BAH will just be enough to cover you payment and most utilities. As an 02 your BAH would be 1419.00 per month, all is good.

    Now you decide to sell because you are being transferred, put the home on the market but it doesn't sell before you leave.

    You are transferred to Ft Campbell and your BAH is now 1200.00 per month. Now not only are you being paid less BAH, you still have a house payment back in Tacoma plus you need to pay for a new place. Your not going to be able to purchase because you still own the previous home and your now having to pay rent on top of a house payment. The only option now is to try and rent out your house, that can take some time and your going to need a management company since you're now across country.

    All of this is doable, but you need a bit of a nest egg before you start going this route if your single. Being married can help a bit with the logistics, having someone that can stay back and get things done.

    I think the best advice I could give is to rent for now, figure out your finances, get used to living on your own and paying your own bills, get a handle on what it's like to make a budget and stick to it. Figure out what you can save, for both retirement and savings and start putting money away from the start. After your first duty station you should have been able to save a fair some, a nest egg so to speak. If you really want to try ownership then look at the prospects once you have your finances in order.
     
  12. buffalo

    buffalo USAFA 2013

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    Thank you all for the replies. I appreciate all your input and information.

    Seems like the consensus right now is that it's better off to rent, at least for this first real assignment. I don't disagree with this input. While I feel I have a pretty good handle of my expenses right now as an O-1, I haven't yet had to manage rent and utilities in my budget. Since I've also been in the dorms, I'll also have to furnish wherever I end up. I have savings, so this shouldn't be an issue, but it is a consideration.

    When I ask myself why I am interested in buying, it probably is to make money. But I'd say more so in the longer term, by which I mean I'm concerned about coming to the end of a 10 year service commitment or 20 year career where I've rented each assignment, and having to enter the real world with no progress towards actually owning a home. Am I misguided? I'm less concerned about making money on each individual home sale, or renting a cheap place so I can make a few hundred dollars each month from the BAH. Probably my biggest apprehension about buying is what Jcleepe just described about purchasing a home in duty station 1, then PCSing and not being able to unload the property in a timely fashion.

    For Dover-specific info, BAH for an O-2 with no dependents is $1458. Overall, I haven't been super inspired by what I've seen online (just basic searches through Zillow and AHRN). There do seem to be a few newer developments of townhouses and small ranch homes being built, but those are probably at the high end of what I could afford, and I suspect I'd be paying a nice premium for buying new. On-base housing appears to be a newer development managed privately by Hunt. Here at Vance, living in the dorms has not been a great experience. However, I have really appreciated the convenience, so that is my main reason to consider renting on-base.

    Once again, thank you for your help!
     
  13. osdad

    osdad Member

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    One other possibility: buy a small parcel of land. Do some research. Pick a piece of land in an area you think you'd want to retire to or in an area where land prices are rising. This way you're building a bit of equity without the down-side potential of owning a home. And. it would be a much smaller bite out of your paycheck. Plus you can't be tempted to dip into it as you would just saving the money. An O2 I know has done this and is now the owner of 2 acre building site in WY. Whether she ever builds on it doesn't really matter - as they say: "Buy land, they're not making it anymore."
     
  14. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    As far as renting is concerned, know your rights and get everything in writing. Out of CGA I moved into a house with two classmates, one from my unit and one from our sister ship. We were able to pocket a good chunk of our BAH because we split the costs.

    When I moved to D.C. I rented from my old Ops boss. "LITS, you can rent my place. Sign a two year lease with an optional third year if you like it." he SAID. Well, just before my transfer it became "Hey LITS, how about you rent for a year, and if you like it, you can renew for two." At that point I had to take it because I hadn't looked anywhere else. Eventually he and his fiancee (they never married) showed up and talked about moving in after a year (didn't happen) but I moved out anyway. Don't let pretty smiles and smooth words replace written agreements.

    And... the security deposit is your money. In 2013 I moved from VA to MD and rented from a guy in Gaithersburg (he and his wife lived in GA and used the property to pay down a mortgage he was underwater on). Well, after a year the lease was ending and we decided to move back to VA. He was going to sell the house. He dropped off the radar and didn't return the security deposit of $2,900. I filed a complaint with the city in which he agreed to repay us. And then we had silence again. I filed a lawsuit, and after a nearly year-long process, won nearly double what he originally owed. I then put a lien on the house he was trying to sell and froze his bank accounts with a bank levy. He paid out $5,169 (that was the maximum of $4,999 in small claims and post-judgment fees) to us at closing... all because he wanted to keep money that wasn't his. We benefitted from MD being a tenant-friendly state and by knowing how the landlords failed (and what that meant in small claims in the District Court of Maryland). It was a bit of a horror story, but we won in the end because we did what we had to do and followed through.

    And honestly, renters have MANY rights they're not aware of. Most of my rental experiences have been positive, but when they aren't, you have to advocate for yourself, and be willing to go all the way to Court. And once you win, you have to be relentless in collections.
     
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  15. goaliedad

    goaliedad Parent

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    Here is my take on the value of real estate as an investment:

    First there are 2 components to real estate - the land and the improvements. They have a few common and many differing properties (no pun intended). Most land does not deteriorate (with a few environmental issues in certain locales being an exception) over time. Most improvements deteriorate over time and require additional investment to maintain and/or update to current standards. If an improvement isn't maintained, it can actually become a negative value to the property (cost to demolish).

    The "value" of a property at a given point in time is determined by the money available in the economy to purchase it. Some properties have larger markets than others. For example, property in mid-town Manhattan has an international market bidding on it. Property in a decaying industrial town doesn't attract money from outside its locale until the collapse is complete and the bottom-feeders have sucked up all the excess supply to the point of creating a supply restricted market.

    Which brings me to the next most important factor in real estate value - the income available in the market to purchase property. There is an economic saying that goes "Prices of goods and services expand to soak up all available money in a market". When incomes are on the rise in a market (regardless of whether it is local or international), prices for a fixed commodity expand proportionally.

    This leads me to the question of the distribution of income within the market as compared to the specific piece of property in the market. There are parts of the long-term economic cycle where different parts of the income spectrum do better than others. During the period after WWII through the 70's, larger gains in income were actually going to the lower half of the income spectrum (the era of Labor Unions growing the pay of the common man) giving rise to a broad based inflation in the lower half of real estate. In the past 30 years or so, that tide has changed with greater income going to the top quartile of earners, particularly to those whose income is based off of capital gains. This has been evidenced in real estate with the quick recovery of the highest priced markets (NYC, SF, etc) from the 2008 downturn and continued lagging of real estate prices in areas where salaries have not returned.

    And then there is the local politics of real estate. There is a cycle of city development where initially, centrally located properties have high demand supporting high prices until the movers and shakers in the community decide that the downside of dense development (crowding and inadequate community resources to support the lifestyle desired) exceed the cost of building what they want elsewhere - the beginnings of suburban sprawl.

    But even suburban sprawl has its limits, when the commutes become unbearable for the movers and shakers, they return to the city core, if the prices have declined enough from the flight to suburban life.

    What this says is that any piece of property in any market is subject to a large variety of economic and social factors over a period of time that the value of a house you buy with a 30-year mortgage may or may not be a good investment by the time you pay it off. When you buy a home, you are making a decision every bit as complicated as a stock investment. There are trends you may see today that may not hold. The difference between real estate investments and securities investments is that securities can be far more dynamic because their markets are bigger (than most real estate markets) and the cost of entry/exit (the commission) is a lot less meaning that there is less commitment to stock assets than real estate (although our recent experience with excess leverage has made the downside of real estate just as bad as equity investments).

    Given all of this and the average military family having to pick up and move every 3 or so years, do you want to spend your time tracking something like where your home turned rental property is trending in a location that you no longer have ties to? Don't get me wrong, there is a time for a military family to put down roots, but that comes closer to the 20-year mark and you have a good idea of where you want to stay and keep up with a longer-term investment.

    For those reasons, I'd say the young officer should rent and invest his money in a broad basket of securities preferably through a Roth IRA type of vehicle. Roth IRAs give you the option of withdrawing ALL of your contribution (not earnings) without penalty (which your conventional IRA doesn't allow completely allow - there are limits there). When you do get to that point that you know where you want to settle down, you will be able to withdraw the contributions without paying 1 cent in taxes to make that down payment, leaving the earnings from those contributions to grow tax free as part of your continued retirement plan.

    Disclaimer - I am not financial planner, nor should any of the above be considered professional advice. In other words, this free advice comes with a full refund if it doesn't pan out.
     
  16. fencersmother

    fencersmother Founding Member

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    My son's base housing at DAFB is REALLY nice. He puts away each month what he would have spent renting an equivalent townhouse. Down payment $ for his beach house or mountain ranch house
     
  17. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    One thing to think about that I don't think you have yet to grasp impo is how often will you be deployed?

    It is difficult to be a home owner and do sweat equity to gain a profit, or at least give breathing room to sell at a lower price if you are out of country flying 200+ days a year. You might fly to Germany for a week, come home for 4 days, and fly to England for 3 days, come home for 5 days and fly to Italy for 5 days.

    Have you talked to other pilots to find out what life will be like, ie do you have a sponsor yet there?

    Secondly, if you are going to be deployed a lot, you can than bank that TDY pay. After four years you will have a nice chunk of change when you PCS.

    Finally, even though you can use a VA loan, it can still cost thousands of dollars to get to closing. DS just closed on his home, got a great rate, (3.3785), but he had to pay for the funding fee, home inspection, the appraisal, title insurance, titling, and the deposit. In certain states that is all on the buyers side and cannot be rolled into the MTG I think for him it was about 5 K. Than he had to buy things like a lawnmower, weed whacker, etc. For the house. In some states fridges and washer/dryers don't come with the home. He was lucky the fridge came with the house, but still had to buy a washer/dryer.

    As a single guy, I would DITY, bank the money and rent a condo in a great area. When you get married, than that is the time to buy.

    Bullet and I got caught in the downturn. Believe it or not the buyer fell out 4 days before closing and we were stuck with renting it for years. We always were able to rent it with no problem and at a profit too. We never had a day without a renter in 5 years. The 1st problem with becoming a landlord is every year the home ages and things happen...HVAC costs a lot to replace. The 2nd problem is taxes...you have to live in the home for 2 of the last 5 years, otherwise you are now filing it a different way for capital gains purposes. It will create insane headaches come April 15th.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  18. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    PIMA, one day I'm going to teach you why you should spell everything out. That's my dream.
     
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  19. Pima

    Pima Parent

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    Good luck on that one! My kids, talk in acronyms! It is just a way of life in this family...more so now woth DS flying the C130. Heck my 77 year old Mom asked me about our sons move using acronyms.

    ~~~ Her words did their DITY work out okay for his PCS to Texas? She didn't say how did it work out with them packing their cars with their stuff when they moved to Texas?
    ~ Yes Mom they got there fine
    ~~~ Did he get approved for his VA loan? She didn't ask if the Veterans Affairs approved their loan!
    ~ Yes Mom they did.
    ~~~ Is he still going to be TDY over the holidays next fall? She sees deployments as TDY. So in her mind TDY is a long term business trip.
    ~ Yes Mom he is still going to be deployed.

    My Mom was not military, she just heard it said so frequently she now speaks in AF terms.

    I am pretty sure buffalo knows all the acronyms I posted. I think the biggie would have been TDY for some posters because I believe some branches call it TDA.

    HVAC probably was something I should have written out! It stands for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning.

    Plus what would be the fun in that? Speaking in acronyms means posters learn how to research this site under community feedback :shake: :hammer::yay:
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  20. LineInTheSand

    LineInTheSand USCGA 2006

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    I think "TAD" or "Temporary Assigned Duty"
     

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