Not sure if you've received the information you were looking for, but...
I was stationed in Columbia from 09-12 as a detailed recruiter and my wife was stationed on Jackson. We bought a house in the Northeast side. Newer area, fairly new shopping area (The Sandhills), best school district in the city and I believe the state (not that it says much for SC schools, but its something to consider).
I want to say that we are about 10-12 miles from base, depending on the gate you take. It's a 15-20 minute drive in the morning to get to the gate. Just as with most Army instalations, what gets you is the traffic leading up to the gate. You could spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes waiting to get thru the gates once you make it to the Exit depending on how late in the morning you get there. PT is no problem because its relatively early. If you go home and shower/change and come back closer to 9 it'll be a wait. I think a good estimate would be 30-40 minute for the entire trip from home to base the closer that you get to 9 am. Its a long time for only 10 miles.
Having said all that, there are a couple other neighborhoods that are closer and not as shady as some of the people on here may lead you to believe. I guess that just comes from actually having lived there and getting to know the area. I felt the same way (Rap video, lol) when I initially got there.
You can check out Ravenwood and Arcadia Lakes and the area near AC Flora highschool. Nice neighborhoods with good schools and I think they are less than 5 miles away. They are just more established neighborhoods so you don't see a lot of gated communities or those commuities where they stand up houses in 3-4 months. However the houses and neighborhoods are clean and well maintained.
Most things in the 29229 zipcode (Northeast side) where I bought a home are about 10-12 miles, but the homes are newer. There are communities of the cookie cutter homes, but not all of them are that way.
Huge military presence (active, reserve, and retirees) in the Northeast side, so renting out the house when we left was easy. I had a tenant in it as soon as I PCSd. The Northeast side has a lot of military families because it is safer and has the better schools so renting out your house once you leave won't be an issue. And you have the Sandhills which is a pretty big shopping center/mall. It has a nice movie theater, grocery store/super market and shops and restaurants there. There is also a Sports complex so if you or your kids are into soccer, hockey, volleyball, etc., they have indoor sports fields and courts there. It's nice to be only 1 mile away. The middle school is less than a mile away. There are 2 (maybe 3) highschools and they are all within 3-4 miles. The elementary schools as well. It's pretty convenient to everything. The downside is the distance from the base. So, that's your tradeoff.
Home prices have dropped since I purchased, but luckily I'm still no where near being upside down. Prices have balanced out in the area though and if anything they may start to pick back up soon.
Hopefully that was detailed enough.
Originally posted by Corvette1140:
I'm really considering buying a home as long as there is anything nice around 5-10 miles out the gate.