A low cost of living and dynamic cultural and recreational opportunities contribute to a high quality of life in Central Texas not often found in larger metropolitan areas of the country. In 2018, an estimated 430,450 people called the area around Fort Hood home, including more than 60,000 veterans, the U.S. Census Bureau says.
Fort Hood rests in the beautiful hill and lake country of Central Texas between Killeen and Copperas Cove, about 60 miles north of the capitol in Austin and 50 miles south of Waco. Fort Hood is fortunate to have the cities of Killeen, Gatesville, Harker Heights, Belton, Temple and Copperas Cove as neighbors. These cities include new and affordable housing areas, shopping centers, recreational facilities and good restaurants.
At a convenient distance from the post are two manmade reservoirs. Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes provide an enjoyable recreational outlet for Fort Hood Soldiers and their Families. There are 127 ponds on the reservation, all suitable for fishing.
The counties’ communities give newcomers plenty of choices when selecting a home. Enlist the help of a reputable real estate agent to help you sort through the area’s home options. The Texas Realtors is a central source of local real estate information and assistance. Those interested in purchasing a new home can find the expertise and professional services they need at www.texasrealestate.com.
The city of Belton, 22 miles east of Fort Hood, is bracketed by Killeen on the west and Temple on the east. The city’s 18.93 square miles are home to more than 22,200 residents.
In August 1850, the new pioneer town of Belton (named Nolandville until 1851) was designated the county seat for the newly organized Bell County. Incorporated in 1852, it was the only town in Bell County and was the last place of civilization seen by the pioneers heading West by horseback or wagon train. The 1870s saw a boom with building, new businesses and new enterprises but Belton met its first setback in 1881 when the City, after meeting the demands of Santa Fe railroad representatives and putting up $75,000, found themselves duped out of a railroad. They sued, but the company built their own town that they named Temple.
Along with other communities in the area, Belton got into severe financial difficulties before the Great Depression but managed to work its way out by the 1970s. World War II and the arrival of Fort Hood to the area brought economic relief and a surge of growth.
Two large lakes provide tourist attractions and make Belton attractive to industries and businesses. Belton is home to a number of parks, museums, the Bell County Expo Center and the Patriot Way Brick Walk, which honors service members. Annual events include a summer music series, the Bell County PRCA Rodeo, state fair, Christmas on the Chisholm Trail and more.
Homes in the area range from Victorian-era homes in historic neighborhoods to new housing developments. Median rent is $785, and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,293. Mean travel time to work for those living in Belton is 19 minutes.
Founded in the 1870s as a small rural ranching and farming community, Copperas Cove has grown to be the largest city in Coryell County with nearly 33,000 residents. The name Copperas Cove was inspired by water from a nearby spring that had a mineral taste. Neighbor to Fort Hood on the West, and centrally located in the heart of Texas on Highway 190 between IH-35 and scenic US-281, Copperas Cove is a great place to start a new business or relocate an existing one.
Pleasant neighborhoods are located throughout the city with many options in sizes, prices and architectural designs of homes. There are many choices for buyers with prime locations, such as areas with views of the hill country or overlooking a golf course, have been developed into prestigious neighborhoods with executive homes. Rural living is also available. Many developments surrounding the city provide homes with acreage.
Recreation is bountiful in Copperas Cove. The city park, with meandering creeks running through shaded grounds, has a picnic area, swimming pool, tennis court and plenty of room for recreation or leisure. Copperas Cove boasts an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse, seven parks and a modern public library. Copperas Cove has long been recognized and promoted as the bike/run capital of Central Texas. The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau hosts several bike runs and festivals each year, drawing locals and visitors from across the state.
The median monthly gross rent was $868, and median selected monthly costs for homeowners with a mortgage were $1,168, the U.S. Census says. Workers’ average commute time was 24.9 minutes.
Gatesville was established in 1854 with donated land, shortly after the organization of Coryell County. The name was taken from the recently abandoned Fort Gates, an Army post created to protect the settlers of West Texas.
The city is the midway point between Waco and Austin, and sits on the east side of the Leon River, part of the Brazos River watershed. The area is known for having one of the 17 remaining drive-in theaters in Texas and the largest spur collection in the world held at the Coryell Museum and Historical Center. In 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature designated Gatesville the Spur Capital of Texas.
Gatesville is on the northern edge of Fort Hood, and is dependent on the military for a large part of its economy (besides Fort Hood, a large military vehicle repair facility is located on the east side of town).
This residential community is 8.9 square miles with a population of 12,327. Mean travel time to work is 23 minutes. Median rent in the city is $704, and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $913.
Harker Heights is on U.S. Highway 190, less than 10 miles southeast of Fort Hood and 10 miles west of Interstate 35, which connects Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. The city provides an excellent quality of life to its nearly 32,000 residents and its businesses.
As Fort Hood expanded, the surrounding civilian population increased. Harker Heights was established in 1960 as a result of the need for new residential areas for the influx of military families. The land was owned by two pig farmers, Pinckney R. Cox and Harley Kern. Cox was named its first mayor. Kern had died before the incorporation, and the Harker in Harker Heights was a concatenation of Harley Kern’s name as a tribute to one of the original landowners. The town’s boundaries expanded and now encompass 15.18 square miles.
The city is home to parks, a community garden and Stillhouse Hollow Lake, which offers fishing, hiking, camping and swimming opportunities. Annual events include Paws in the Park in April, which features pet contests, an agility course and pet adoptions; the Food, Wine & Brew Festival in September; and Frost Fest in December.
Mean travel time to work for residents of Harker Heights is 21.5 minutes. Median rent is $893, and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,561.
In 1881, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway extended its tracks through central Texas, buying 360 acres a few miles southwest of a small farming community known as Palo Alto. The railroad platted a 70-block town on its land and named it after Frank P. Killeen, the assistant general manager of the railroad. By the following year, the town included a railroad depot, saloon, several stores and a school. Many of the residents of the surrounding communities in the area moved to Killeen. By 1884, the town had grown to include about 350 people, served by five general stores, two gristmills, two cotton gins, two saloons, a lumberyard, a blacksmith shop and a hotel.
Killeen expanded as it became an important shipping point for cotton, wool, and grain in Bell and Coryell Counties. Around 1905, local politicians and businessmen convinced the Texas legislature to build bridges over Cowhouse Creek and other streams, doubling Killeen’s trade area.
Until the 1940s, Killeen remained a relatively small and isolated farm trade center. The buildup associated with World War II changed that dramatically. In 1942, Camp Hood (recommissioned in 1950 as Fort Hood) was created as a military training post to meet war demands. Laborers, construction workers, contractors, soldiers and their families moved into the area by the thousands, and Killeen became a military boomtown. The opening of Camp Hood radically altered the nature of the local economy, since the sprawling new military post covered almost half of Killeen's farming trade area. The loss of more than 300 farms and ranches led to the demise of Killeen's cotton gins and other farm-related businesses. New businesses were started to provide services for the military camp.
Killeen suffered a recession when Camp Hood was all but abandoned after the end of World War II, but when Fort Hood was established as a permanent Army post, the city boomed again. By 1955, Killeen had an estimated 21,076 residents and 224 businesses. The town continued to grow through the 1960s, especially after US involvement deepened in the Vietnam War and demand for troops kept rising.
In 2018, the U.S. Census listed the city’s population as just over 149,000, making it one of the fastest growing areas in the nation. Housing is plentiful and affordable in the area with a variety of historic and newer homes for sale. Median rent is $893, and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,205. Mean travel time to work is 21.3 minutes.
Trains brought prospective buyers from five different cities to a land auction on June 29, 1881. In true Texas style, a party and a barbecue highlighted the event. Named after chief engineer Bernard M. Temple, the man responsible for building the tracks through Bell County, a town was born that day.
In its early years, Temple was a town of shacks and tents with a large number of saloons and tough characters found in the early West. Locally, it was nicknamed Tanglefoot because some residents found the combination of muddy streets and liquor made walking through the town challenging.
The Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway became a major employer for Temple and in 1891 built the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Hospital. In 1904, the Temple Sanitarium was opened, forming one of the fastest-growing healthcare systems in the 20th century, Baylor Scott & White Health. As a small city with such extensive medical facilities, Temple has the highest number of physicians per capita in the country with 230 physicians per 100,000 residents. Baylor Scott & White Health is also the largest employer in the area, with about 12,000 employees.
Temple enjoys the distinction of being the demographic center of Texas. With Dallas, Houston and San Antonio less than three hours away, it is the transportation center as well. In fact, more than 80 percent of the state’s population is within three hours of the Temple city limits. The city of 76,300 residents offers the best aspects of two worlds: the conveniences of big-city dwelling with the atmosphere of a small town.
Median rent in Temple is $843 and selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage are $1,229. Mean travel time to work 18.2 minutes.
PLANNING YOUR MOVE
Relocating to a new home can be one of the most stressful situations in life. Whether moving across town or the nation, preparation and organization make all the difference.
For military moves, visit www.move.mil for information about moving resources and to learn about the allowances and responsibilities of a military-sponsored move.
Decide whether to make your move a do-it-yourself operation.
For a DIY move, consider distance, labor help and the costs of renting the moving van, gas, lodging during the move and insurance. A transportable storage unit can bridge a professional and DIY move. When the unit is delivered to your residence, you load and secure it for transport and then unload it at your new residence.
Whatever the method, be sure to obtain as many quotes as possible from professional movers, as well as cost estimates for a DIY move. Next, compare the costs for each type of move, factoring in the stress and physical exertion involved. Ask any company you are interested in for references and use them to inquire about reliability and customer service.
Regardless of which method you choose, the first step should be to inventory your personal belongings. The list, with photographs of any valuables, will be important for both insurance purposes and to help keep you organized during transit.
Plan for one full day to pack each room — though the kitchen and garage may take longer. Make a rough estimate of your packing schedule and then add 50 percent more time. It always takes longer than predicted to pack. Toss or donate unused items to lighten your load. Visit www.goodwill.org, www.salvationarmyusa.org or www.clothingdonations.org for locations near you or to arrange a pickup.
Pack for success:
- Consider what you are packing and control box weight. Books should go in small boxes while bedding can easily fill a larger box.
- Wrap fragile items with cardboard dividers, tissue paper or air bubble wrapping.
- Use bright colors when wrapping small items so they don’t get thrown out accidentally.
- Use crumpled paper or newspaper to line the top and bottom of boxes.
- Tape a copy of your inventory list to boxes to identify what’s inside and where it should go.
BUYING VERSUS RENTING
The decision to buy or rent is the most important step in your relocation process. Purchasing a home entails a long-term financial and emotional commitment with various pluses and minuses. Advantages include the possibility of building equity and the freedom to design and decorate your property or landscape. And don’t forget the tax benefits. Disadvantages include upkeep, property taxes and fluctuating property values.
Renting, on the other hand, makes moving easier and someone else maintains the property. Amenities such as laundry rooms, exercise rooms, swimming pools and tennis courts vary from one rental complex to another. The main disadvantage is a loss of control over the residence. Some complexes, for example, restrict or prohibit pets and personal touches such as painting. And the landlord or property managers can also raise the rent with proper notice.
To determine your best choice, account for all of your needs, review your financial situation and research your options thoroughly.
FINDING AN APARTMENT
Be prepared when you meet with the leasing agent, property manager or owner. Bring a list of what you are looking for in a rental; it is important to be clear about your needs and to get all of your questions answered. You will also need to provide information and verification about your job, your income and your past rental history. Dress to make a good impression and treat the meeting like a job interview — be polite and arrive on time.
Before you sign a lease, inspect the apartment with the landlord. Look for the following problems:
- Cracks, holes or damage in the floor, walls or ceiling.
- Signs of leaking water, leaky fixtures or water damage.
- Any signs of mold or pests.
- Lack of hot water.
- Inadequate heating or air conditioning.
Use a written checklist with the landlord to document the condition of the rental before you move in, and keep a copy of the completed checklist to use when you move out.
Find information on tenant’s rights, renter’s insurance, disaster preparedness, fair housing laws and more by visiting the Texas Apartment Association’s website at www.taa.org/renters.
BUYING A HOME
Buying a home is a complex process and, as the recent housing crisis demonstrated, requires a thorough education on the part of the buyer. First, fully understand your financial position — credit score, available savings, monthly income and expenditures. Subtracting your expenditures from your income, for instance, will yield the amount you can afford for housing.
Be sure to account for all insurance costs associated with owning a home, possible homeowner association fees and property taxes in your monthly expenditures. Overall, loan rules changed in 2015, but according to www.ginniemae.gov (Government National Mortgage Association) and www.homebuyinginstitute.com (the Home Buying Institute) loan programs continue to vary on the percentage of your income that can be used for housing-related expenses. Lenders balance debt against income to decide if an applicant will be able to repay a loan. Most conventional loans require borrowers to have no more than 43 percent total monthly debt versus their total monthly income, though there are exceptions, such as for those with significant savings. The Federal Housing Administration has a two-tier qualifying system: FHA sets its top thresholds at 31 percent front-end debt (housing expenses as a percentage of income) and 43 percent back-end debt (all debt as a percentage of income) for a 31-43 qualifying ratio. Like commercial lenders, Veterans Affairs combines front-end and back-end debt for a 41 percent limit against income.
Next, research the different types of home loans to determine the right fit for your financial situation and discuss your options with a lending professional. Lenders are diverse today, and not all homebuyers obtain their mortgage loans through their banks and credit unions. For example, you may choose to work with an internet lender, a mortgage broker, a homebuilder or a real estate agency lender. To determine which lender is best for you, get recommendations from friends and family members and check credentials as well as Better Business Bureau ratings.
A preapproved loan before starting your search for a home can determine your spending limits and signal any potential issues in the way of receiving a loan. For any home loan application, the mortgage company will order a credit report, so it would be good to get a free report in advance to determine your credit status and make sure the report contains no erroneous information.
To order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies: Visit www.annualcreditreport.com and complete and submit the request form online.
Home Loan Application
To complete a home loan application you’ll need: photo IDs (such as a driver’s license); Social Security numbers; residence addresses for the past two years with landlord contact information if you rented; names and addresses of your employers for the past two years; your current gross monthly income; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers and balances on all checking, savings, CDs, money market, bonds and mutual funds accounts; recent financial institution statements with names, addresses, account numbers, balances and monthly payments on all open loans (including student loans) and credit cards; addresses and loan information of all other real estate owned; estimated value of furniture and personal property; W2s for the past two years and current paycheck stubs; copies of all divorce decrees, child support documents or any other court proceedings that affect your financial status; verification of any child support payments; and evidence of any retirement or pension benefits. VA or military forms include: DD 214 (veteran), Form 22 (National Guard), DD 1747, Off-base Housing Authority (active duty) and Certificate of Eligibility (active duty).
For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans.
Knowing your monthly budget and the amount of your loan is invaluable during the next phase, especially finding the answers to questions before the hunt for a home begins.
First, determine your home preferences. Does a single-family house, condo, town house or duplex best fit your needs and budget? Do you prefer a new home, an existing home or to build one? Though new homes generally cost more, existing homes may come with maintenance issues and renovation costs. How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want an attached garage? Will you live in the city, a suburb or the country? How close to work, school, shopping or public transportation do you want to be? Answers to these questions will greatly assist your search and the next stage — hiring a real estate agent.
The ideal agent will help find your ideal home and guide you through the purchase process. First, interview potential candidates to ensure they understand your needs, know your homebuying and neighborhood preferences, and are readily accessible.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Texas provides housing programs and incentives to help residents with home ownership. For more information, visit www.hud.gov/states and select “Texas” from the list.
The Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation provides mortgage loans and down payment assistance grants and second liens to eligible homebuyers through the following programs assists homebuyers with the down payment or closing costs of purchasing a home. Certain programs are designed solely for heroes (teachers, firefighters and EMS personnel, police and correctional officers and veterans) while others are for homebuyers with low or moderate incomes. Visit www.tsahc.org/homebuyers-renters to find out more.
Killeen Housing Authority provides quality affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families while promoting self-sufficiency and neighborhood revitalization. For more information, visit https://killeenha.org or 254-327-1164.
The Central Texas Housing Consortium’s Homeownership Program offers down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers, including people who have not owned a home within the last three years. For more information, visit www.centexhousing.org.