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Horrible Winters Make More Boomers Consider Becoming Snowbirds

Category: General Retirement Issues

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.

Christmas in Florida is a little different

Christmas in Florida is a little different

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.

Bottom line
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

Posted by Admin on March 3rd, 2014


  1. The headline pulled me in. I was considering PA, NC, SC and FL (in that order). I will admit that after a miserably long winter, including a family member’s trip to an emergency room where I saw several elderly people being treated for falls on ice, I have reordered my choices to SC, NC, FL and PA. I love PA’s Fall, Spring and Summer but this winter has been unbearable. It feels like the sky has been gray and my driveway has been coated in ice since December.

    by Sharon — March 4, 2014

  2. Make sure you go far enough south. We live in central Virginia, usually below the snow belt around Fredericksburg, and have had way too many single digit days and snowstorms for one winter.

    by Sandie — March 4, 2014

  3. remember that an entire state will have different weather environments. For example, Wilmington NC is very different than Asheville. Spokane different than Seattle, etc. etc. I live in Fredericksburg VA and agree with Sandie that right now and the weather hasn’t been great this winter, but it has been far better than many places.

    One thing to think about is how they handle unusual weather. I lived in Birmingham AL for several years and no snow, but they had 15 inches the winter after I left. They do not have the equipment to handle it. Had the same situation this winter.

    And just because you are retired and think that you do not need to go out, remember you may lose utilities or need to get to a hospital.

    Weather is a consideration in retirement, but not everything…this winter did, however, remind me that I do not love snow like I did when I was a snow skier.

    by elaine — March 4, 2014

  4. Timely article for us. Currently we own a winter home in the suburbs of Philly and a vacation home at the New Jersey seashore. Next week we are going to Northern Florida for a few days to look at homes for sale in Ponte Vedra and Palm Coast areas. The snow bird routine does sound like a lot of work (we also have 2 dogs and 2 cats), so we are thinking of selling both of our current homes and becoming permanent Florida residents. Not sure what we’ll do, but the kids are all in college (or older), so nothing keeping us here in Philly anymore. This winter has indeed been brutal. Any comments would be appreciated!

    by Dave McKay — March 5, 2014

  5. 21 years of winters in Connecticut have been too brutal for me. I am ready to move to North Carolina for warmth and friendly people. Florida is too hot and humid for me personally speaking.

    by Jasmine — March 5, 2014

  6. I am a snowbird and have 2 condos, one on the west coast of Florida, and one in Westchester County NY. You hit it right on the head with double expenses. When I leave either residence, I Lowe my heat/air, shut my water main, and shut water heater breaker to save a few bucks. States are accommodating in allowing you to put cable and car insurance on vacation mode, so this lowers those bills. I struggled with the thought of renting a second place, but felt I was throwing money away month after month and not gaining equity from an owned properties. If I feel chocked by the expenses, I’ll have to choose between the two, but it won’t be easy. One has the family and the other has the relief from the weather. I do have 1 suggestion to those thinking about becoming a snowbird. Rent the first year where you would like to buy and see if it’s a place you’d really want to own.

    by Ellen Roux — March 5, 2014

  7. I agree with you Ellen..I own a home in Florida (The Villages) and a small condo on Long Island NY. The expenses are killing me but to make a choice is so hard. Lots to do and enjoy in Florida and great weather 80% of the year but no family near. Family in Northern NJ and Eastern PA — to buy a condo near either is almost as expensive as LI. I spend about 7 months in Florida and 5 in NY each year … Taxes in NY condo are $8,000/yr with maintenance charges of $430/mo…total expenses for my house in FL are about $900/month. Wish I could rent my condo in NY for the months I’m not there but no luck…tough decisions ahead! Aging without family nearby is difficult and right now I’m fortunate enough to be in good health. 67 years old.

    by Charlene — March 5, 2014

  8. For many years, we have rented out to the snowbirds that came from South Dakota, to live in our home in Fort Mahave, AZ. We now have a permanent renter. But, my point is, Fort Mohave is wonderful during the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring. It’s Hell in the Summer though! Laughlin, NV is just across the Colorado river and offers Casinos, Live Entertainment, and Shopping. If Las Vegas is in a plan for travel, you’re only 1 1/2 hrs away. The Grand Canyon is fairly Close, Hoover Dam, and Lake Havasu too. Get yourself in the car and come on out and see the Desert during the best three seasons away from the Snow! Real Estate locations in the Laughlin, Bullhead City, and Fort Mohave areas are waiting for you to contact them about a Snowbird location to rent or buy. Either way, both are reasonable costs and I guarantee you’ll love getting away from that snow.

    by Ken — March 5, 2014

  9. I am facing this dilemma as well. I just bought a tiny place in Tucson, and am renting out my big house in NY full time. But I want to spend summers here in NY. How to do that? I can’t afford to let my house sit empty most of the year, and I need the income I will get from renting it. I’m headed off to Tucson at the end of this month and don’t know how/when I will get back to NY. But what I am thinking is that I will try to just rent a room when I come to NY. I’m lucky in that I have a number of friends in NY who rent rooms in their homes. Or, I will look at or for longer term rentals. On the whole, if I can find a room for 500 to 700 a month for 4 months, that seems the most economical way to go. One thing I know for sure is I can’t take any more of these winters!

    by Ginger — March 6, 2014

  10. Ginger, from your previous posts you seem to be a flexible and adventurous type — so one possibility for you, if you want to spend summers in upstate NY, might be to pick a larger collegetown (Ithaca comes to mind…) and look on Craigslist for summer subleases on apartments. True, you may end up in a student-dominated rental, but the summer flavor here is so much different from the academic year chaos. Plus, there are a few local rentals who cater to professional visitors to campus and are willing to rent for weeks/months and are furnished. Here’s one example: Have fun!

    by Paula — March 7, 2014

  11. Paula…..thanks for the idea. I have a friend or two in Ithaca. Might be a nice place to visit.

    by Ginger — March 8, 2014

  12. Ginger, if you come to Ithaca do look me up!

    by Paula — March 9, 2014

  13. For Dave McKay about Florida – have you ever been to Florida in July/August?? Oh my gosh, its unbelieveably HOT & Humid, I would not survive. Consider renting for a year first. Just wanted to make sure you thought of that. Good luck!

    by HEF — March 12, 2014

  14. Dave McKay, renting is a good idea, but check out the east coast for more comfort with the weather. I liked visiting my folks best (just north of Ft Lauderdale area) in the summer…less congestion and the heat and humidity did not bother me even when visiting when I lived in the north. And was much better than than Birmingham AL or even North Virginia.

    by elaine — March 13, 2014

  15. This winter was cold depending where on East Coast. But 6 weeks vs 5 months. When you are in the heat and humidity from May through September. Unless you can deal with the heat. I could not do it.
    Enjoy the great Spring and Fall

    by MS esd — April 9, 2014

  16. Appreciate all of the comments about the weather. Husband and I cannot take another winter like last year’s either but our gripe is icy roads. We are looking at the Brevard NC area. Some snow is fine but we don’t want it to hang around on the roads too long and I don’t want it to be too hilly to walk the dogs or ride my bike. Can anyone suggest any places in NC or GA that will fit this bill?

    by Nancy reynolds — June 7, 2015

  17. Nancy, I also dislike icy road and they seem to be more prevalent in the mid south, some parts if TN, etc. Snow can be less of a problem with roads. As far as icy roads, at least in areas that get a lot of snow, there is a lot of road equipment. I have lived in chicagoland area, north NJ, NH, Detroit area, Birmingham AL as well as Chapel Hill and wilimington NC and Virginia.The more snow the better able the area is able to handle it. The winter after I left Birmingham AL they got 15″ of snow. ..glad that I had left by then. Of course that was uncommon.

    You might find northern GA fits the bill. Off of I-75 might find more foothills and steeper, but not mountains, and off of I-85 more rolling Hills. Generally nice weather. I noticed that DelWebb is starting a new community in Suwanee, GA just north of Alpharetta…nothing there yet, but other opportunities in that area.

    by elaine — June 8, 2015

  18. Elaine,
    I often enjoy reading what you’ve posted. You have a wealth of experience and good insight. Could you attach the names of a few towns to I-75 and I-85. Not sure where to look on a map to find these routes.
    Many thanks!

    by ella — June 9, 2015

  19. Ella,
    Sorry, i really do not rememer.
    i was looking for general type communities, but didn’t find what I wanted at the time i remember looking at Cresswind, but is not in the foothills so much, although more the type of thing i would be more interested in now. i may go back to the area, but will concentrate on 55 type communities like Cresswind and Del webb

    by elaine — June 9, 2015

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