BRANDON — Air Force Col. Vincent Savino and his wife bought a four-bedroom house in Brandon in the summer of 2005. It was new construction, 2,800 square feet, with a pool and no backyard neighbors.
They paid $333,000.
"It didn't seem unreasonable at the time," Savino said.
Three years later, his tour at MacDill Air Force Base is coming to an end and he's under military orders to move to Tacoma, Wash.
Problem is, he can't find a buyer for his house.
Savino is one of an estimated 1,000 military members leaving MacDill as part of normal rotations this summer.
"Being in the military you're not as flexible as everybody else," he said.
Traditionally, most military moves happen during the summer, according to Lt. Rebecca Heyse, a MacDill spokeswoman. She didn't know how many troops are due to leave the base this year, but she said 1,000 moved out in each of the past two years.
Typical tours of duty are two or three years, which means many of those leaving this summer bought houses during the frenzied real estate market of 2005 and 2006.
Tina Maley, an agent with Prudential Tropical Realty in Valrico, has several military clients. She said some of them are deciding to rent their homes rather than sell, but because they bought when the market was high, the rent won't cover their mortgage payments.
Automated Housing Referral Network is a Web site that offers homes for rent to members of the military. Last week 668 rentals within a 60-mile radius of MacDill were listed on ahrn.com.
One couple Maley knows had a $2,900 mortgage. The most they could get anyone to pay in rent was $1,500 a month.
They took it.
"That's a big old alligator," said Phil Dyer, a financial planner with the nonprofit Military Officers Association of America in Alexandria, Va. "It's going to eat you one bite at a time."
About 8,600 of the 12,000 people stationed at MacDill live off-base, primarily in east and south Hillsborough County.
David Schiding, a senior chief petty officer in the Navy, said he felt pressured to buy a house quickly when he transferred to MacDill in April 2005.
"If you see what you like, jump on it," he said his real estate agent told him.
He bought a 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Whispering Leaf Trail in Valrico for $337,000, then spent $10,000 improving the pool cage and fence. His monthly mortgage is $2,100, plus homeowner association fees.
Schiding thought he would sell the house for a nice profit, but instead it has been on the market for a year now. He gradually dropped the asking price from $400,000 to $345,000.
He is scheduled to move in June. "I have to leave whether my house is sold or not," he said.
Military members receive a monthly housing allowance in addition to their base pay. The allowance varies from base to base. At MacDill it ranges from $1,361 for a private first class to $2,508 for a colonel like Savino.
A private first class makes about $1,500 a month in base pay, while the typical colonel brings in around $7,000.
It generally takes four to five years for a homeowner to break even on a purchase, Dyer said.
But that rule, like so many other norms of home buying, was largely ignored by folks eager to make what they thought was a good investment in Florida's heady market.
"Hindsight makes everything crystal clear," Dyer said. "I think it's difficult to say, yes, they made a poor decision. Back in '04, '05 if you weren't buying a house and getting in (the market) you were looking like an idiot."
Dyer said military personnel have to be especially careful not to go into foreclosure. It can affect their security clearances, which in turn can affect their jobs.
Jessica Perdue, a spokeswoman with the National Military Family Association in Alexandria, said she didn't know of any plan in Congress to specifically address mortgage relief for military families.
The Pentagon also has no immediate plan to assist families who are forced to move on military orders but can't sell their homes, a spokesman said.
Savino's home on Cedar Waxwing Drive has been on the market about three months, and his agent says he won't be able to sell it for what he owes.
He spent much of the first three years after the Sept. 11 attacks away from his family, deployed overseas. Now, Savino is considering moving to his next duty station in Tacoma while his family stays here, with the house.
"It is what it is," he said.
Jan Wesner can be reached at email@example.com or 813-661-2439.