March 3 — This winter has been so beastly in the midwest and northeast that it has tipped many folks into seriously considering becoming snowbirds. A study from Trulia confirmed that, finding that for every temperature drop of 10 degrees there is a 4.4% increase in searches for homes in warm winter climes. This article will continue our series on the snowbird life in retirement, with the emphasis on more considerations you should keep in mind if you are thinking about heading south for the winter (see end of article for other snowbird posts we have made in this series).
How will you handle the extra expense? Living in 2 places has to be more expensive, even if one of them is modest. If you own as a snowbird you are going to have a double set of taxes, maintenance, utilities, and insurance. If you rent you won’t have those expenses in the second home, but you do have to pay rent. Plus the annual hassle and uncertainty of finding a nice, affordable place to live. Whether or not to heat your summer home in the winter is a big question. Do you go all out and drain the pipes and turn off the heat? Or do play it a bit riskier and keep the heat at 55 or so?
You could try to minimize your extra expenses by renting your place(s) while you are not there – often a good strategy if there is a good off-season rental market. Others look to buy or rent in many of the inexpensive RV and manufactured home parks that cater to retirees.
Who will take care of your homes? It is worth thinking about what type of place(s) you want to own in retirement. An apartment or a condo is a lot easier to take care of while you are not there. There you can probably shut off the water, turn the heat way down, and have a friend check it very occasionally. But a home in a harsh climate needs to watched carefully – sidewalks might need to be shoveled, the house checked for damage/leaks, packages removed, etc. A home in a hot climate has to be air-conditioned year round to avoid the risk of mold. A lot of retirees might be interested in checking your place for a small fee. Or perhaps you have a handyman who could do it.
How warm do you want your winters to be? A terrific piece of advice we’ve heard is to think about how long a snowbird season you want, and plan your location accordingly. If you’ll be away for months, it doesn’t matter too much if there is the occasional cold day in the Carolinas, Georgia, or northern Arizona. But if you only have a few weeks or a month and you wanted to swim, fish, or play golf, you might be unhappy if you hit an extended cold streak. In that case you had better consider South Florida, Arizona, California, or Central America.
Are you going to drive or fly between places? There are many considerations to think of here. One is how much you like to drive (or fly). How much stuff you have to cart back and forth. Your age and the state of your driving skills (let’s face it, when we get into our 80s we should all think twice about it). Do you have pets, which might be too big or too precious to ship. Fortunately there are services that will drive your car, stuff, and even pets for you.
Can you handle divided loyalties and friendships? Being a snowbird isn’t perfect. Many folks who go back and forth say they lose their grounding – you really aren’t a part of either world (while others like the variety!). Your friends in one place will go on without you, and you might feel left out hearing about their fun. You might become disconnected with your church and clubs. It is hard to be a volunteer when you have to miss half the monthly meetings. You will find you say “back home” and then realize you have 2 homes -which one do you mean? Holding even a part-time job can be difficult too.
What state do you want to be a resident of? Becoming a snowbird represents an opportunity to become a resident of a more tax-friendly state – if you do it correctly and meet the legal requirements. Caution: states like New Jersey and New York are very aggressive about snowbirds who own property in those states but claim residency elsewhere. Make sure you have your t’s crossed and i’s dotted! (See “Why Becoming a Florida Resident Might Be a Good Idea“).
How will you make new friends? In most situations it is pretty easy for snowbirds to make new friends in their winter communities. That’s because they tend to congregate in the same places, so there are many folks in the same boat. But you do have to have a plan – get ready to make an extra effort so you don’t feel a social void, particularly if you are single. Active communities make it especially easy to find folks you enjoy being with.
How will you deal with visitors? Don’t laugh, fending off visitors can be a problem, particularly if you decide to snowbird in a very attractive spot. We will be curious to hear “war stories” from our members on this issue. Some of the strategies we have heard: don’t get a place that is very big; institute the 3 day rule (you are welcome for 3 days, if you can stay longer that’s great – here are some great B & B’s to consider); just say no to friends of friends.
Being a snowbird has many advantages – mainly letting you do the outdoor things you like to do year round, while others back north get cabin fever. But everything has its costs, and it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the pros and cons before you dive in too deep. Which is why we always say – rent before you buy!
Comments? Are you considering, or have you become a snowbird? What are some of your considerations and reservations? Have you experienced drawbacks, or advantages? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
More Snowbird articles:
Ideal Snowbird Pairings
How to Find a Great Snowbird Rental
Encore: “Fewer Workers Delaying Retirement“