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Being a Snowbird: Why It’s Great and Why It’s Not So Great

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Are you surrounded by snowbirds? If you’re a senior living in a cooler northern clime – such as the Pacific Northwest, home to AgingOptions – you probably have friends who are snowbirds. They seem to be a common species.

Snowbirds will stick around their fair-weather home in the Northwest during the spring and summer months. But then, when the cold rains of October and November settle in, they’ll head south to their place in sunny Tucson or Phoenix or Palm Desert, and spend the winter golfing and swimming while the rest of us endure winter’s cold, dark, damp days. If you’re in the Upper Midwest or the Northeast, where winters are typically harsher, it’s the sunshine of Florida that beckons snowbirds to their annual migration.

We confess, the idea of being a snowbird gets more tempting as we get older. That’s why this recent article from US News caught our eye. Reporter Maurie Backman took a look at the question of owning a home in two different locations, and he came up with several tempting reasons why being a snowbird is a good idea – and an equally compelling list of reasons why sometimes it isn’t.

Snowbirds Can Include Younger Workers

Backman begins his article by expanding the definition of “snowbird” beyond our preconceived notions, writing, “The snowbird lifestyle used to be largely reserved for retirees. But in the wake of the pandemic, more people are working remotely full time. This gives people of all ages the opportunity to split their time between two cities or locations.”

Regardless of age and situation, these residents of (often) cooler climates choose to “escape” to warmer temperatures during the winter, splitting their time between two regions.

But Backman points out, “This setup won’t work for everyone. You may be a remote employee who can work from anywhere, but if you have school-age children, being a snowbird might mean having to pull your kids out of school or homeschool them for months on end. However, if you don’t have those constraints, the snowbird lifestyle may work for you.”

There are some folks in the snowbird category who choose to own one home and live in a short-term rental in their chosen warmer location. But for clarity, Backman notes that his article is centered around the traditional idea of a snowbird being someone (often a couple) owning two different homes in two different locations.

He provides the following benefits and disadvantages to being a snowbird, so let’s take a look.

Benefit #1: Snowbirds Build Equity in Two Homes

“When you own a home, there’s the potential to sell it at a profit over time,” Backman writes. “When you own two homes, you have that opportunity times two.”

Florida-based real estate advisor Ivan Chorney told Backman that he has seen property values skyrocket where he lives; this could make for a very lucrative investment for snowbirds interested in living in that area. Double the houses means double the options.

Benefit #2: Snowbirds Always Have a Place to Stay

Warm-weather destinations are popular for a reason, and hotels and other lodgings in those places can fill up very quickly. But Chorney points out that one benefit of being a snowbird is that you never have to fight for lodging in that location or pay higher prices for hotels. You can go there whenever you please.

Larry Mastropieri, a real estate broker in Boca Raton, says that in his area, “It can be hard to find a rental when you want it.” That means, he adds, “If you’re not ahead of the game, you might get shut out for a months-long rental.”

After all, owning your own warm-weather escape gives you freedom to travel – a big plus.

Benefit #3: Snowbirds Have Twice the Social Connections

When you own a home, you’re more likely to become part of the neighborhood and community you live in. “The benefit of owning a second home in another area is building a second social network,” Backman writes.

Chorney adds, “You know everyone on the same street.  You get to know the same people and develop relationships with them.” This is an experience, he says, that you wouldn’t get with a series of short-term rentals.

Mastropieri agrees: “You can build two separate communities, which is kind of cool.”

Benefit #4: Snowbirds Enjoy the Potential of Rental Income

A home that is vacant for half the year could potentially be turned into an income source. But be careful. Many communities and developments have strict limits on vacation rentals, especially as Air BnB homes proliferate.

“You’ll need to proceed with caution when going this route, which opens up a lot of questions about maintenance issues and becoming a landlord,” Backman writes. “And you should be aware that depending on the type of second home you buy, you might struggle due to restrictions placed by your condo board or homeowners’ association. But you may have a chance to pocket a nice amount of cash if you buy a home in a popular warm-weather locale.”

Benefit #5: Snowbirds Diversify Their Investment Portfolio

Owning two homes can change the way you engage with your investments. Since most people consider their primary home an expense, not an investment, they usually focus their investing in stocks, bonds, and other similar assets.

But Chorney says that one perk of owning a second home is that you’re diversifying your portfolio. “It’s not easy to sell your primary home in a crunch, because you’ll be stuck without a place to live,” he says. “But should the need arise, you could always sell your second home and pocket the cash. Having the option to wait out high interest rates, or rid yourself of a pricy mortgage, is an advantage in the current economic climate.”

Benefit #6: Snowbirds Can Pass the Second Home to Heirs

Chorney and Mastropieri both agree that owning a second home in a favorite warm-weather location can have inheritance-related benefits, too.

“If you’re committed to the area, your family loves it.  You can buy a property that stays in the family,” Mastropieri says. “If you can afford it, there can be sentimental value.”

But Backman warns, “On the other hand, if you don’t invest in that second home, and your kids have the desire to vacation or spend time there once they grow up, it may not be affordable to them without having free lodging available.” (We might add, make sure you find out how your family really feels about the place before you count on their future enthusiasm. They might not love that vacation home as much as you do.)

And now, let’s look at some drawbacks of the Snowbird Lifestyle.

Drawback #1: Snowbirds Have to Maintain a Second Home Remotely

Every homeowner knows that maintenance is a huge challenge of owning property. It can be even more of a challenge—twice the challenge, really—to maintain a home you’re not living in for multiple months of the year.

Chorney notes that most of his snowbird clients pay for a property manager to oversee their homes while they’re not there. “They tend to have somebody who’s coming by to check on the house once a week,” he says. But hiring a property manager isn’t foolproof, and things can still happen in between visits.

“Even if you have cameras and a security system, there’s always a risk to not having people in the house every day,” Chorney warns. Mastropieri agrees: “There’s headaches around all of that, managing a property from afar.”

Drawback #2: Snowbirds Can Feel Like They’re Wasting Their Money

Chorney points out that one of the pitfalls of owning a second home is realizing that you’re not using it as much as you thought you might.

“That,” Backman writes, “can feel like throwing money away. This especially holds true for people who buy a condo as a second home and pay a monthly fee for different amenities they may not use regularly.” Those fees can really add up and create a heavy, frustrating burden.

Mastropieri says that renting on occasion might be a better option if you’re not confident you’ll use your second home much. “If you’re a snowbird and not using your property, you’re spending a huge amount of money,” he says.

Drawback #3: Snowbirds Always Vacation in the Same Place

Maybe Miami is your favorite vacation destination right now, but what if that should change? What if you get tired of going to the same place every year?

“When you own a second home, you’re committing to that locale,” Backman writes. “You may not be able to afford a short-term rental someplace else for a season if you’re covering two separate mortgages already.”

Mastropieri adds, “Owning in a second place means you’re obligated to go there over and over again.” But people and preferences change, and your lifestyle might shift over time. Before you buy that second home, ask yourself if you want to be stuck in a location that no longer works for you someday down the line.

Drawback #4: Snowbirds Who Rent Out Their Homes Risk Damage, Vacancies

As mentioned, renting out your second home to make up some income could be a wise choice for some snowbirds. But rentals come with their own problems, as Mastropieri warns. “In addition to local restrictions, there’s the risk of sustaining property damage in the course of multiple short-term rentals. It’s people messing your stuff up,” he says.

Besides, there’s the further issue: what if you want to use your home when other people are using it? And what’s more likely, if you’re renting out your second home during the season when demand is lowest, what if you struggle to find tenants on that schedule?

Backman advises, “If you’re someone who would be reliant on rental income to afford your second home, you may want to opt for a series of seasonal rentals you return to year after year.”

As you can see, there are definite benefits and drawbacks to the life of a snowbird. Sunny skies and warm beaches aren’t the only consideration, tempting as they are. Is the lifestyle right for you? Make sure you consider all the angles before you decide.

Rajiv’s Take: Two Houses but Only One True Home

Rajiv Nagaich has seen this question play out many times, and he has some powerful insights about the choice to be a snowbird with two residences. “The most important priority is to pick the place that you want to call your home,” he emphasizes.  “Let’s say you’re choosing between Washington and Arizona.  If you should fall ill in Arizona, but all the important elements of your life – your loved ones, your friends, basically your entire support system – are here in Washington, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable situation.”

Rajiv recounts a real-life example. An aging couple had a home in Arizona, but their entire family was here in Washington State.  “Dad fell ill in Arizona,” Rajiv recalls, “and ended up in a care facility there. For three long years he was miserable, and the family was going nuts flying back and forth between Washington and Arizona to help make sure he was okay.”

Rajiv says it succinctly: “It’s important to remember that you can have two houses, but only one home. Bear that in mind before you decide to become a snowbird!”

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(originally reported at

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