Renting Frustrations Lead to the Snowbird Dilemma – Rent or Buy?

Category: Retirement Real Estate

March 14, 2016 — Every year about this time a significant segment of the snowbird population, the portion that rents instead of owns their own place, share a common worry. The concern boils down to this simple question – where on earth are we going to stay next winter? In this article we will attempt to explain the many issues that come into play when boomers go about seeking a snowbird rental, and how those factors often drive them to start thinking about owning a place vs. continuing to rent.

The rental worries
Here are some of the major problems that repeat snowbird renters can face – assuming they were lucky enough to find a rental in the first place.

– Will we be able to rent the same place next year that we had for this season?
– If not, how are we ever going to find a different rental?
– Can we get it for the weeks/months we would prefer?
– What is the price going to be?
– Is there a better place somewhere, in this town or community, or another?

Here are a few anonymous case studies that illustrate some situations that baby boomers experience in the snowbird rental market. Obviously these stories are just that – a small sampling. They will differ by where you spend the winter, because some regions have plenty of rentals, while in others the supply is very tight. We look forward to hearing your rental issue stories, and how you coped with them.

The difficult landlord
This couple found their dream rental on Florida’s West Coast. It was a beautiful home with a hot tub, and they were able to get it for the months they wanted. The rent was reasonable. The fly in the ointment was the difficult agent who managed the rental.  She repeatedly brought prospective renters and contractors to the home, unannounced. She criticized the way the home was cleaned, and was very reluctant to discuss or agree that they could stay there again next year. All of these difficulties produced a dilemma for the couple – should they hang in there and try to push the agent to a new rental agreement for the next year, or would it be a better tack to find a rental with a different landlord, knowing this was a limited and expensive rental market.

The evaporating deal
Other folks we know were extremely diligent about finding their 2016 rental. After weeks of searching during a 2015 visit, both online and on the ground, they found the perfect apartment on a quiet street in a pleasant neighborhood. After some dickering, they signed a contract, enjoyed the rest of their stay, and then returned north in March. All was well until they heard from the landlord in July. It seems that the apartment complex had been sold, and the rental was no longer available. Suddenly, despite all their due diligence done well in advance, they were nowhere. Discouragingly going back to the Internet, they resumed their search, only to find that prices had gone up and almost nothing was available. At last giving up their quest, they found a much cheaper rental in another town.

Hopping from place to place
Unfortunately in many parts of the warm-weather country this year the snowbird market has been very tight – availabilities are just about nil. To cobble together a whole snowbird season a couple we know had to rent 3 different places – each for one month. That meant they had to pack up and move every month of the winter. Their back up rentals were nice enough, but not in the properties they were looking for.

Buying vs. Renting – Pros and Cons
The rental problems and situations discussed above contribute to the snowbird dilemma – is it better to buy a place than to continuing to rent? Countless snowbirds are now wrestling with this issue. Here we will attempt to lay out some of the key issues to help cope with this conundrum.

Cons of Buying (which generally make them pros of Renting)
These are some of the big negatives that come with buying a place for the winter. Most of them reflect the negative sides of the beauty of renting, which is truly Lock and Leave. When renting if something bad happens to the property, like a hurricane – it is not your problem! Perhaps our members can add more.
Cost of entry. The biggest disadvantage that comes with buying is, obviously, the cost. Assuming you are a snowbird and live somewhere else the rest of the year, you have to have sufficient free capital or borrowing power to own two homes.

There is risk. If there is a hurricane or other natural disaster, and these do tend to occur fairly frequently in areas with warm winters, you will have to pick up the pieces. If the damage is severe enough, you might not even be able to repair it sufficiently to be able to live there yourself the next season.

Your investment sits idle a great part of the year. Although in some resort markets you might be able to rent your home or condo in the summer months, that is generally rare. Which means you have a valuable asset that costs money in taxes, air conditioning, utilities, and maintenance, even when you are not there. You also have to insure the property and pay Community Association fees all year.

Maintenance issues. Whereas if the pool malfunctions when renting it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it, if you own the place you now have a big headache. This also applies to your landscaping, pest control, etc. And, every so often you are going to have to upgrade your furnishings, paint, put on a new roof, or replace an expensive air conditioning unit.

Pros of Buying (and negatives of Renting)
Number 1, you will have a place to live. That brings considerable peace of mind. It also eliminates the danger of losing your place – like from the owner who wants to spend more time there or rent to his brother-in-law.

Minimum hassle. You don’t have to wait to hear back from landlord, or scramble through VRBO or realtor sites trying to identify possible rentals. It also avoids traipsing through multiple inspection tours.

No rent increases or annoying landlords. You are the landlord and in control.

Plenty of storage. Unless you have pets, you can usually fly back and forth in the spring and fall. You get to avoid a 3 day drive in an overloaded car carrying all your stuff.

Room for your pets. It is generally quite hard to find a rental that will accept pets. And although most developments have some pet restrictions even for owners, you stand a much better chance of bringing along Felix or Fido if you own your own place.

Bottom line
After learning about all of the problems our friends have had with rentals (although there are plenty of happy situations too), we can understand why many boomers are tempted to buy a winter home and avoid the rental market. It is, however, a difficult decision with many competing factors. To help everyone understand these issues more clearly, we hope our Members will share their experiences and outlook in the Comments section below.




PS – one of our readers asked about how to find a rental in a new location. Here was our advice:

First of all, i think renting first is a great idea. We recommend you read some of the Blogs we have done on renting, if you haven’t seen them already:
How to Find a Vacation Rental for Your Retirement
How Anyone Can Find an Affordable Warm Winter Retirement
Your Best Place to Retire Might Be a Rental

There are lots of good ideas in those articles and they probably have links to more. Now that there is AirBnB and VRBO HomeAway it can be pretty easy, particularly for short term rentals. Seasonal and monthly rentals can be tough in hot snowbird markets.




Posted by Admin on March 13th, 2016

27 Comments »

  1. I have never been a snowbird and have never left my home unoccupied for months at a time. My one experience with dealing with my Mother’s home after she passed was very unpleasant in regard to home insurance. The insurance company through AARP insisted we had to have a person living in the home to continue to insure the house. We didn’t have anyone so as soon as the contract came due to renew they dropped the policy. I had to go to a ‘3rd world’ type insurance that was super expensive. It was probably twice what was being paid. Fortunately, the house sold in 3 months after buying the new insurance. They told me I would get half the money back if it sold in 3 months. It was a 6 month policy. Well, in their world 1/2 the money means something different than in my world. I got back less than half back and of coarse they had all kinds of explanations on WHY. Ugh, it was ugly. So, I can imagine if you leave your house for months at a time and live in another State, the insurance company would not like it one bit. If your house floods with a broken pipe for 3 months and the entire house is full of mold and totally a disaster, I wouldn’t want to explain to them that the house had been unoccupied for 3 months time. They will probably reject your claim. Your policy may state that the house has to be occupied at all times, with the exception of normal vacations. What are some of you snow birds doing in regard to this? Perhaps you could find a college kid to live in your home for free.

    by Louise — March 14, 2016

  2. We have been snowbirds for the past 4 years. Finding a good place to stay is like having a part time job!! We have stayed in the central Florida area. We stayed in the same house the past two years. The owner decided to sell it last year, so we looked for another and secured it for this year. We came to find out that the new owner decided to rent it out short term, but by the time we found out, it was rented for this year. So we secured a lease for Jan-Feb next year. In July of last year we found out that the house for this winter was being pulled from the short term rental market!!

    We did find a new house for this winter, but at more than what we wanted to pay. This winter we stayed in Daytona for Jan and Orlando for Feb-Mar. When we thought about sliding the House next year from Jan-Feb to Feb-Mar so we could stay in Daytona again, the rent would have increased by $2,400, just to move the lease a month!!! No thanks.

    Rental rates have really gone up. The first three years, we payed $2,400 per month. This year we have payed an average of $3,000. I don’t think we will be able to afford coming back here after next year.

    by Bill — March 14, 2016

  3. Thank you for this most timely article! I am driving to Florida in two weeks, where I plan to explore the Lady Lake, Ocala, Spring Hill, Tarpon Springs, Brooksville areas, and perhaps a few more as time allows in the 3 weeks I shall be there.

    I own a park model ‘home’ in a seasonal RV resort on the coast of Maine. As this park is open from May through mid October, I need to find a winter rental when I retire this Fall.

    I’m interested in a number of what appear to be lovely over 55 manufactured home communities in the towns mentioned earlier, but they also have negatives, primarily lot rents as high as $700 a month! Will the assurance of knowing I have a place to live next winter if I buy a place be enough to compensate for having to pay lot rent for the 6 months when it will sit there empty while I’m in Maine??

    I shall be looking at both rentals and buying, with the hopes of finding a reasonably priced place that is structurally sound but that might benefit from a little TLC in the area of redecorating or updating. Ideally, a 3 bedroom 2 bath place which would allow for a roommate or rental situation, where we both might benefit from a shared living situation.

    As a 68 year old divorced woman, I find this to be one of the most difficult decisions to make … Rent vs buying. I’m unfamiliar with each of the Florida communities, despite having lived in Pensacola when first married, and having traveled often to WDW and Miami. I am choosing to look upon my 3 week exploratory trip (including the 1500 mile solo drive … eek … which route to take from NH to the Villages, avoiding I95) as a grand adventure!!

    I look forward to reading any thoughts or experiences any readers may have, particularly with regard to desirable manufactured home communities or towns in Florida, as well as ones to avoid.

    I cannot thank the editor of this great site enough for his valuable, timely articles. This article adressed each of the itens on my list of concerns. I also value tremendously the wise advice and comments offered by the many readers of this site. Making this trip, and then having to finalize a decision, are both scary and inspring to me … and isn’t that what life is all about!!

    by Diane — March 14, 2016

  4. I purchased a condo in Cape Coral, FL, last year with a view to being a snowbird. I had already spent a lot of time in Cape Coral and liked it. I had neighbors to look after my townhome in Minnesota and my sister to look after my condo in Florida, so leaving the places unattended really wasn’t an issue.

    Then my property taxes went up 23% in Minnesota. I decided I really don’t want to make the 1700-mile trip twice a year and I’m tired of being taxed out of house and home. So I have become a Florida resident and will return to Minnesota to sell my townhome. I can always fly back to visit whenever I want.

    I do recommend checking out your new community. I had a 6-month rental while looking for a condo. Cape Coral has a very active New Residents Club and I could be doing something with those folks every day if I had the energy! I have found it very easy to make new friends here as everyone is from someplace else. I wanted a place on the water and Cape Coral, with all its canals, was a good choice for me.

    by Linda — March 14, 2016

  5. Hi Linda
    What’s the name of the community in Cape Coral you purchased your condo in?
    Thank you
    Michael
    Myrtle Beach

    by Michael — March 15, 2016

  6. Michael, I’m not in a gated community. Cape Coral has some of these, but not many. I live in Cape Coral itself, close to the downtown area, on a major canal. The city of Cape Coral is full of these two-story walkup condos. To me it represented a major value. I did not want to have to deal with hiring a pool service, lawn service, tree service, pest control service by myself. I’m happy to share the pool with my neighbors–it’s a good community.

    by Linda — March 15, 2016

  7. Your right Linda, Cape Coral is a nice community. My husband and I owned a home there for 10 years. (about 6 yrs ago) Anyway, your right..people are very friendly. Our next door neighbor, kept an eye our place. It also opened up a new area for my Mom. She and her husband moved down from IN and did join the newcomers club. Met a lot of nice friends.(Both have since passed) . I can’t say enough of ;the canal properties…and laid back atmosphere. I have notice the traffic has increased a lot..but hey I think you will have that it any popular place. I’m glad you found your home!!

    by Lindaf — March 16, 2016

  8. First, never leave your home entirely empty or tell the insurance company it is empty. At least furnish one bedroom and leave a few things in the kitchen “so when you go the to home, you occupy it”. I learned this when I thought of trying to sell my home unfurnished and the realtor suggested leaving minimum occupancy furniture etc so as not to have problem with the wonderful insurance company.

    The author also never mentions using an RV for the winter residence, with the ability to go most anywhere, avoid all the hassles of owning or renting a second home. It is the most economical and much fun and there are many many RV parks that cater to snowbirds.

    by Chuck — March 16, 2016

  9. If the rental market is tight in the warm weather area you prefer and you are retired why not buy in the warm area and visit the cold area in the summer? Lower taxes, or in Florida no income taxes. it gets hot for a few months a year so visit north during those months!

    by Gary Burris — March 16, 2016

  10. We are not snowbirds but are in the process of moving toward retirement. A few years ago my husband had the
    opportunity to work in China for a couple of years. We did not want to sell or rent our home. We left it fully
    furnished and rented turn-key in Nanjing.

    YOU CANNOT LEAVE A HOUSE EMPTY FOR OVER 30 DAYS OR YOU VOID YOUR INSURANCE!!!

    We were forced to purchase VERY expensive insurance that only covered half the value of the house and not
    the furnishings. We also hired a property manager to check the property weekly, and respond should the alarms
    go off.

    I know numerous “snowbirds” who intend to lie, if they need to. They leave their homes in December and
    arrive back mid-April. I hate to tell everyone but they would be committing insurance freud, which usually
    has prison time associated with conviction.

    Please check your policies. We now have one that states someone must spend two nights every 30
    days in the home. Should we leave for 30 days we will do this and fully document it.

    I hope this helps. It is a very important issue!

    by Deborah — March 16, 2016

  11. I would be interested also about possible RV parks for snowbirding. What are peoples experience in RV/Travel Trailer living for the winter months?

    by Sam H. — March 16, 2016

  12. Can you get a much better deal if you rent
    for a whole year

    by Alex Lakatos — March 16, 2016

  13. We purchased a condo 8 years ago in Miami Beach, which we rented out and visited in between tenants until we retired last year. We really loved visiting there, and love the great public transportation system and the bike share program. It was also nice that we were able to rent it in the off season when we were not there. But we found after spending a winter there, that a 500 sq ft condo just was not large enough and that the 24/7 lifestyle was a little too much for us now that we are 8 years older.
    So, my advice would be not to buy until you have spent a full winter in a town. The advantage of renting is that you can go somewhere new each year, and we wish now that we had followed our accountant’s advice and rented instead of purchased.
    We were nervous about leaving our home up north for the winter, and put in a SmartHub system with a camera, temperature, and humidity sensor, as well as an outlet we could turn on and off. We set it up so that we receive an alert if the camera detects movement upstairs or water in the basement. We also connected a radiator to the outlet which turns on automatically if the temperature drops below a certain level.
    We told our State Farm insurance agent our plans, and she thought it was just fine. I need to go check the fine print, I guess.

    by Linda — March 16, 2016

  14. Chuck & Sam H.,
    RV’s (Recreational Vehicles) indeed provide greater opportunity vs. renting. You pay rent to park and use the RV Resort’s facilities, but of course you provide the “apartment”. Monthly rentals in Florida range from about $450 to $1,500 (much higher in the Keys). Also, great Snowbird RV Resorts in Texas and Arizona (and other southern states). Rent sites by the day, week, month, or months (cheaper for the longer terms). Pick up and move if you don’t like your neighbor or the area. There are numerous websites geared to RV living and also Full Time RV living.

    by BRFGolfNut — March 17, 2016

  15. Does anyone know if you can lease an RV? If so, would you have any idea of pricing? Name of lease company?

    by Louise — March 17, 2016

  16. This comment came in from Jay:
    IRT the article on renting versus buying, I wonder what those Snowbirds think who live in an RV park. Has it been worth it living in an RV for 3-4 months versus living in a condo or other rental? What are the pros and cons?

    by Admin — March 17, 2016

  17. We added one more plus to the owning side of the equation in this article – greater ability to bring your pets along for the winter. Thanks to everyone else for their great additions here, especially the ideas of living in an RV for the winter and owning in the winter/renting in the summer.

    by Admin — March 17, 2016

  18. Our insurance agent in MN knows of our seasonal lifestyle, and hasn’t mentioned anything about being “un-insurable.” Humm, better check on that.
    We have had the most extraordinary experiences this winter, as we search for our retirement dream. It would take several posts to explain how many wonderful, generous, lovely, caring, and generous people we have met during our 10 week stay here in Apollo Shores near Spring City TN. This has to be one of the most incredible communities in the country. There has been plenty of activity to keep us busy, yet we are told, if you don’t want to be as active…..that is just fine as well. There are many people out walking, or driving golf carts every day. It is actually hard to plan a specific walk time, because we always end up visiting with different people in the neighborhood. Some people only use their homes here for weekends or summer, and the neighborhood helps one another keep track of each others homes, so they can feel okay about leaving. There are many retirees here, yet a few families as well. This is a resort/lake community, yet you can find some real deals in housing because it is off the “beaten path” a bit. Housing prices are mostly between 100k and 400k. It is located about 1/2 way between Knoxville and Chattanooga on Watts Bar Lake. They have a sense of humor too, because you can belong to their “yacht club”….. No boat ownership is required! Just fun times! Some people drink, others do not. Some have religious affiliation, others do not. No problem. Yet, most of the people we have met seem rather “unpretentious” and somewhat conservative. Everyone seems fairly pet friendly, yet I have noticed that there are many “responsible” pet owners. I haven’t heard excessive barking, or complaints about unruly animals. The deer aren’t even afraid of us! A convenience store with gas is about 2 miles, yet a real grocery store (basic) and other services are about 8 miles.
    This may not be for you if you like being in the heart of the city. There is no garbage pickup, but you can just drop it off at the dump on your way to town. HOA (very laid back) is about $8 a year perhaps, just to pay for the lights and community boat ramp and park. They laugh about spending the money for the summer picnic! I would guess that there are about 150 homes in Apollo Shores, and about 20 for sale right now. The first owners built here in the 60’s, so some of the older homes go very reasonable, even if they’re lakefront. Gina Luhn (Blue Key = ERA) is the local Realtor here. We don’t know her real well, yet you can mention that you heard about her from F.&C.(initials) from MN. Folks here would be happy for the endorsement. FSBO’s too!

    by caps — March 18, 2016

  19. Hmmm, very interesting, Caps! I’ll look it up. Thanks!
    Heading back to MN now?

    by ella — March 19, 2016

  20. Ella; We get to stay here for Easter, says DH. We are in no hurry to leave this great group of friends we have met. I think you would fit in very well here, if you can stand being in the country. We signed a contract on a lot near Dayton, as it is so much closer to the airport and our church, yet we will always want to visit back and forth up here in Spring City. It is about a 1/2 hr. from our lot.
    So, the devil went down to GA this week, looking for spirits! It is only about an hour from here. The wine prices were great, although there was a liquor store in Hixson TN that isn’t too far. Folks in these parts just expect to drive that far for most anything; although we heard that they may be able to sell wine in grocery stores sometime this year.
    So here’s the sales tax situation:
    TN = 9.75% on most items, including liquor and restaurants. 7.75% on food at the grocery store.
    GA = 7.5 on most items, including liquor, depending upon the county of purchase. 3.00% on food.

    by caps — March 19, 2016

  21. Oh, forgot to mention……the weather has been lovely here lately. We were invited to 2 separate pontoon excursions over the last 2 weeks, to explore Watts Bar. I even got sunburned a little!
    We really did NOT want to build again, yet the housing situation on the water near Dayton was very limited.
    If you don’t need to see or be on the water, the prices here are very

    by caps — March 19, 2016

  22. Oops….must have disconnected again.
    …………The housing prices are more reasonable, yet you still will be in a lake community.
    There is a resort nearby with rental cabins, called Arrowwhead. There are several marinas and RV parks in this area as well.
    Let me know if we can obtain any specific information for you before we depart for the season.

    by caps — March 19, 2016

  23. We vacationed in Florida during the previous 3 years during the fall and winter months. We found a rental just north of Tampa that was near my mother-in-law and a friend from the lake where we live. The rental was large enough but very sparsely equipped. We had to go out and buy trash cans, light bulbs and other necessities. There was no coffee pot, microwave or vacuum cleaner, mop or broom. There were only 3 knives, forks and spoons, and the pots and pans were pitted and corroded, not safe for cooking. After staying there for 2 weeks we started looking for a condo to purchase. We looked at 25-30 units in the Venice-NorthPort area and found many that were in need of major overhaul. We finally found a 3br, 2bath condo in a gated community that was $50,000 less than the new units being offered. And it was only 10 years old and updated. We have already realized an equity gain of close to the $50k we saved. And it is in a gated community with Walmart, Publix, Target, Staples, Bealls and restaurants galore within walking distance. We can lock it and leave it since we have a neighbor that has the keys if anything goes kaflooey.

    by Malcolm — March 19, 2016

  24. Malcolm, is your condo in Cypress Falls in North Port, FL?

    by Ann Cronin — March 20, 2016

  25. This comment came in from Bonnie:

    If anyone had any more info on barefoot bay please share with me.We are seriously considering relocating to barefoot bay..thanks

    by Admin — March 24, 2016

  26. Bonnie, we used to live in Vero Beach and we investigated BFB back around 2007. We like the idea of owning your own property. Varying lot sizes depending on what section you were in. The two things that gave dissuaded us was the age of the community and pets. The age of the community gave us a concern that in infrastructure (water, sewer, electrical, roads) was growing old and would soon require repair and replacement, resulting in excessive assessments to the residents to pay for it. The second was the restriction of only 2 pets per lot. Since we have more than that we would have had to give several of them away. While the first is only money, the second is family. We had to look elsewhere.

    by Art Bonds — March 25, 2016

  27. We own a home in greater Palm Springs that is available to rent October 18 – February 28. Given the economics, it is very reasonable to rent the home if you only need it a few months of the year. In the desert, there are significant carrying costs to the home (pool, garden, HVAC, etc) and those are best left to the landlord who is close by and on top of the property. Please take a look at our rental and contact us at ranchoestellita@gmail.com if interested!

    https://www.vrbo.com/833901

    http://palmsprings.craigslist.org/apa/5586534868.html

    by Rancho Estellita — June 15, 2016

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Salary Data custom salary reports specific to your state and industry.