Consider This Before You Buy Your Warm-Weather Home

Fed up with the hardships of snow and ice in the colder regions of the U.S.? Does spending a few months in Florida, Arizona, or other Sunbelt states every winter sound enticing?

If so, the snowbird lifestyle could be just what you’re looking for. But before you toss that snow shovel in the trash, there are challenges and additional expenses you should consider.

The Upfront Cost…

The most obvious is the cost of buying a place to stay — a house, condo, mobile home.

Then you’ll need to budget for furniture, appliances, dishes, and other household items.

And suppose the home you buy needs repairs or renovations to make it suitable for your liking? Better budget for that, too.

Ongoing Home Expenses for Two Homes…

When you lock up your northern home for a few months, fixed costs don’t take a break.

You still have:

  • Insurance
  • HOA or condo association fees
  • Property taxes
  • Maintenance

Utility costs should drop. But unless you want to deal with the expense and hassle of disconnecting and reestablishing phone and cable TV, for example, expect to pay some charges each month.

Now figure in similar expenses for your winter home.

Plus you have the cost of traveling back and forth. And if you fly, you’ll likely need to have a second car or rent one for your stay. Incremental day-to-day spending could rise if you plan to spend much time on the golf course or eating out.

Also while you are away from your northern home for a few months you should have someone you trust house sit or stop by regularly to make sure it’s secure and there aren’t any problems, like a roof leak or fallen tree. 

Your municipality or HOA might require that you clear snow off your sidewalk or driveway. So you’ll have to arrange for someone to do that as well.

Your snowbird home will need watching too when you are gone. Grass needs mowing, pools need cleaning, plants need watering, and weeds need pulling 12 months a year in many warm climates.

Prices for the basics can vary widely, depending on your winter location …

For instance, the cost of groceries in Hilo, Hawaii, is 45% higher than in Pensacola, Florida. Housing is 104% higher. And utilities … a whopping 128% higher. You can compare the cost of living for your dream spots here.   

What About Your Pets?

Often condos and HOAs limit the number and size of pets allowed or don’t allow them at all. That means you’ll have to get someone to watch them for you while you are gone for the winter.

And if you can have pets at your winter home, there’s the cost of transporting them back and forth, which can be especially pricey if you fly.

Medical Care

If you are over 65 and have Medicare, you’ll have access to medical care anywhere in the U.S.

However, if you have private health insurance or a Medicare Advantage Plan, find out which doctors and hospitals are in your plan’s network at your snowbird locale. I suggest you do that before you actually need care.

As far as prescriptions go, getting your refills from a major retailer like CVS (CVS) or Walgreens (WBA) make it relatively easy since all the stores have access to your records.

Alternatives To Buying a Second Home

Renting a furnished house or condo is an option. HomeAway and Airbnb are two sources to check out.

You won’t have to worry about repairs, upkeep, or furnishing.

Then you’ll have the flexibility to try different locations several winters to get a good feel on an area before you commit your hard-earned dollars to buying a home. Things to investigate include:

  • What activities do residents like to do?
  • What social opportunities are available?
  • Is crime a big problem?

And even if you like the area, you might find that you miss your family and friends too much to spend months away at that dream location. 

Recreational vehicles (RVs) are becoming popular among retirees flocking to warmer climates during the winter.

You could stay in parks throughout the country, such as in the Florida Keys or New Mexico. And you don’t have unpack … your pet and other necessities go with you.   

Living in an RV isn’t exactly cheap, though. First, you need to buy or rent the RV (one source for rentals is Cruise America). Then there’s the cost for fuel, upkeep, and overnight campsite parking fees.

Receiving mail can be a bit tricky as some RV parks don’t accept mail sent to temporary visitors. So you’d have to use a post office general delivery address.

Yet it could be an adventure that can be repeated every year just before the first snow and winter blast blows in.

No matter which you choose … buying, renting, or RVing … becoming a snowbird can give you the best of both worlds.

And as long as you are aware of the hidden cost, it could be well worth it when facing the frigid winds of another winter.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap

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