Early Retirement “Snowbirding 101”

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Not long ago I had lunch with my recently early retired friend Russ, who gave me the inside scoop on snowbirding from wintery Minnesota to sunny Florida.  Russ and his wife, Tracey, are new to the lifestyle, having bought a condominium on the gulf coast of Florida last year, which they can enjoy now that he retired from MegaCorp at the end of January.  They expect to live in Florida for most of the year in the future – only coming “home” to the Midwest for the holidays and summertime.

Since my wife and I have have similar hopes of escaping the worst of the winter weather with at least an extended vacation to warmer climes starting next winter, Russ and I enjoyed some Chicago-style pizza and he shared these NINE insights on making the jump to TWO addresses …

  • TRY before you BUY – Russ and Tracey visited Florida for almost 20 years, staying with family and meeting up with friends before they bought their condo.  It made sense for them to buy instead of rent for retirement because they have family in the area and knew it well.  Those are the key considerations to think about – do you know the area well enough and do you have family or friends in the area?  The numbers I’ve run show that the breakeven on renting versus buying is about 15 years, so there is no reason to rush into anything.
  • Look on the beach when you are ready to buy– It wasn’t too hard for them to find a place that they were excited about buying.  “There was plenty of beachside inventory available when we bought,” Russ said.  “My brother-in-law, who is a Realtor helped us look.”  While there has been a certain amount of volatility in Florida real estate prices, “there were 6 units available in the building we were looking at.  My wife bought it when I was at work in Minnesota.”  Russ definitely feels that it is worth paying the ‘beachfront premium’ versus being off-the-water.  “I wouldn’t want to live there if I couldn’t be on the water.  It’s not worth the savings to have to always drive everywhere and be looking for parking.”  He can walk on the beach for many of the everyday basics they need to get to.
  • Florida Residency is WORTH a lot– If you live in the State of Florida for at least 6 months and 1 day, you can become a resident of a state that has no personal income taxes.  That can save you a lot, because per capita taxes in Minnesota are $1.2K per year – potentially saving a couple $2.4K in state income tax annually.  But you can’t “cheat” on the days you spend in Florida or your former “home state” might contest your residency and want to tax you.  “Our goal is to stay in Florida between mid-October and mid-May – so that’s more than six months,” Russ said, “what makes it tricky is that our Minnesota house might need yard work done earlier in the spring and later in the fall”.  I have another friend who is an Arizona resident, while his wife is a resident of Minnesota!
  • Becoming a Resident is Involved– In addition to spending most of the year in Florida, it is suggested that you cut ‘administrative’ ties with your home state.  This means getting a new driver’s license, new license plates for your car, re-registering to vote and changing your bank and credit card addresses. Residency attorneys even suggest joining a new church, getting a new doctor & dentist, and moving your personal property to your new home as proof that you’ve actually moved your primary residence.
  • Owning TWO houses requires a lot of shopping– Since Russ and his wife do want to come back to Minnesota during the year where they have family, they have two houses that they need to keep up.  This means 2x the maintenance to think about during the year and double the household possessions.  Russ said they “spent the last 2 years acquiring 2 sets of everything that they might need” depending where they are at: furniture, dishes, silverware, electronics, linens, household cleaners, tools, and clothes.
  • Keeping track of where you are– Because residency can become a legal issue,  Russ forwarded me some information suggesting you document your annual travels, keeping track of where you are each day of the year.  At home in Florida, at home in Minnesota, and days that you might be vacationing somewhere else.  Credit card statements and phone records may be used to confirm your whereabouts later, so it is best to keep good records.  Even partial days in Minnesota are sometimes counted toward residency.
  • Cold & warm are all relative– Since the weather in Florida can vary from freezing to 85-degrees in the winter, it’s not like you can just have winter clothes in Minnesota and summer clothes in Florida.   While they are escaping the BITTER cold of Minnesota, they have to keep some cold weather gear in Florida.  Russ said, “I’ve now gotten to the point where I can get on a plane without a suitcase, if I need to.”
  • It pays to have friends & family to make it work– When they shut up their Minnesota house in the fall, they need to put utilities like garbage, cable/internet, and the newspaper all on hold and do some extra fall maintenance, including shutting off the water.  Shutting up the Florida condominium in the spring is less involved since they are in a building where a lot of things are taken care of centrally.  Since their son is in Minnesota, they count on him to “check on things while we are gone – so I don’t worry about security.”  Tracey’s sister & her husband can check on their car and unit in Florida because they live there year round.
  • Extra house means extra car– Shifting between houses every fall and spring means that you need to have an extra car in your “fleet” if you are a two-car family.  Russ and his wife plan on driving back-and-forth between the Midwest and Florida and having extra cars stay in each state.  In the summer, the car they have in Florida will be parked outside in a surface lot.    It’s almost a 24 hour drive from one home to the other, but there will inevitably be some things they’ll want to load up the car to bring with them.

Russ and Tracey expect to have a lot of visitors throughout the winter months, so they have a 3-bedroom condo unit.  Just as they spent the last 20 years visiting family & friends in the winter in Florida, now they will be the hosts.  The funny thing he said is that they find themselves frustrated at the “tourist traffic” now that they are becoming Florida residents for the first time themselves.  Traffic in some parts of Florida is particularly dense in the winter months (I once spent 90 minutes driving 9 miles to Fort Myers Beach) and accidents and noise comes with it.

I appreciated sitting down with Russ to hear about how he and his wife are working this shift to Florida and all of the planning considerations.  I think we will try a warm weather rental for 4-8 weeks in early 2017.  What location have you considered ‘snowbirding’ to in early retirement?  Especially interested in ideas from readers from other countries …!

Image Credit: Pixabay

 

34 thoughts on “Early Retirement “Snowbirding 101”

  1. I did not know about the rules on residency, that is good to know!

    I don’t blame anyone who wants to get out of MN for at least a few months of winter

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  2. We haven’t started “snowbirding”…yet. I’ll be interested in watching your adventures. We are just at the stage of considering “hopping a plane and escaping the Idaho cold for a bit.” We haven’t yet considered leaving for more than a couple of weeks. We’ll see.

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    • I am not sure if it will be four weeks, six weeks, or eight weeks for us next winter. Our son is starting college and they have January off, so that will play into the equation as well. Many of the students do you abroad programs during that J term.

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  3. A very interesting post for someone (like me) in the throes of downsizing out of our lifelong family home, turning our “snowbirding” former second residence into our permanent home. Several of our new neighbors in Dubois WY have just completed the same challenge. So be aware when you venture down this road: You may wind up relocating outright.

    Like so many others, we simply fell in love with our Wyoming hometown and fell out of love with New York City — especially when we discovered that the winters in that “banana belt” of Wyoming are actually more pleasant than those in New York City. (As to the summers, it’s not even a contest.) Also, the dry climate is great for older, aching bones.

    After 8 years, I got very tired of the commute back and forth, especially when we began to feel disconnected with our former first residence. Whether you drive or fly, the trip back and forth may be the least rewarding part of the snowbirding adventure.

    Interestingly, we reached a consensus about abandoning the city within a year of my early retirement. I felt that when I was no longer standing on the corporate ladder, when the kids are out of the house, ever more of the neighbors are strangers, and the physical locations such as playgrounds always bring back bittersweet memories of an earlier time — and when I’m wholeheartedly ready to move on to new adventures — it’s time to move on in earnest.

    I write weekly about our new life in Dubois at http://www.livingdubois.com.

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  4. I love the idea of snow birding in retirement but not excited about maintaining two homes. Maybe we could down size to two condos though and make it work. The no income tax is real nice!

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  5. I suspect that you are right. A new place to live could quickly become the only place you want to live. We have a lot of family in Minnesota, so that will keep it “home” for a while.

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  6. When my parents retired from the Northeast they went full time in Florida. What’s was noticeably different was the cost of living. They initially purchased a home, but as they got older my dad did not want to have to worry about doing the maintenance himself and they moved into a condo. Maintaining two homes would really require lots of planning and like my parents you may want to factor how much you want to do yourself or pay someone to do,

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    • Yes – it seems pretty complicated to have two places. We’ll “wade” into the Snowbirding idea by trying an extended rental and see where it goes.

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  7. My parents retired to Arizona. Eventually they sold the MN home and bought in Arizona. They came home for the summers and rented a furnished one-bedroom apartment in a very nice and friendly place. They just had one car, a pretty cool van so they could have stuff in the van while they were on the road.

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    • That might be where we end up someday. It depends on where our son ends up living after college. Because he’s an only child, I think there is a good chance we’ll want to live nearby him.

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  8. This is a great list of tips! We had two places for a short time, and I found it really stressful. I don’t foresee us splitting time any time soon, though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out for our golden years. Of course, these days we actually WANT snow, so being snowbirds makes no sense. We’ll keep milking those powder days as long as our knees hold up! 😀

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    • It does seem a bit complicated, but the winter weather can be brutally cold in MN. It should probably be called “Cold-birding” than “Snow-birding”.

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  9. I’ve thought about this a lot actually. Even snowbirding as an employed person as long as you can work remotely. I’m not a huge fan of winter or taxes, so it has crossed my mind quite a bit. Great run down!

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  10. We have 2 places since we took advantage of the house market downturn a few years back, but have not done a full snowbird season yet! But we have friends who do it. They have condos on both ends. Started renting in Florida but each year, extended the trip length. 3 weeks to 8 weeks to 4 months (post purchase) in just a few years. They love it. We will be figuring out logistics a bit more over next few years since we have 2 houses and no family to watch over one. ( Florida is actually easier for watching things; services exist more readily and neighbors are used to snowbirds.). Where in FL are you looking?

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    • We’ve been looking around Sarasota. Maybe as far north as St Pete, or as far south as Naples. Just a rental arrangement is all we’re looking for at this point.

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  11. Interesting, we’ve often wondered what it is like to split your time between two places. While we have no intention of doing that in the foreseeable future, we do have two places, as we have a vacation home in the mountains, 3-4 hours drive away. It can be stressful having two homes to watch over. Things do happen, like the time we arrived in our mountain home to a big hole in the living room ceiling caused by a delayed water leak from the washer. also the time we were away skiing half way across the country and our wifi thermostat reported heating wasn’t working in the middle of an arctic style cold spell. Ah, good times! We’re looking forward to being full time there and only there!

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  12. This is great information! I agree with a lot of their points but I would add a few things related to buying as well. Just prior to my husband retiring, we bought a condo in Sarasota (WE LOVE IT THERE!!) We have owned it for almost 3 years now. We still have a child in high school (senior next year), so we are not able to “snowbird” officially yet – but we have enjoyed it for weeks at a time on school vacations and in the summer. We did extensive research about the area and visited at different times of the year. We did not choose to buy on the beach though. We found a 2 bed/2 bath condo in a nice, quiet complex that is a little over a mile to the beach. We walk, ride bikes or drive – whatever we want to do on a given day. Because we had done our research, we knew what a good deal would look like. The owner of the condo we bought had passed away and his children were just looking to sell. We have bought foreclosures in the past and weren’t worried about some work (and we could make it more our own then as well). Beach front condo’s cost 10X (or more) what we paid and we could not justify that as we want to travel extensively in the future. Our condo also came with some nice furnishings (and a fully stocked kitchen – dishes, pots and pans, etc.) I definitely agree with the rest of the post though! If you want to chat about Sarasota (we are in South Sarasota – near the South bridge) – let me know 🙂

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    • Wow – One-tenth of the price to be off the beach would certainly convince me! My wife has been down to Sarasota (2x) and she wants me to come down in the fall to check it out. We’ll let you know if we explore it further then. Thanks!

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  13. Great tips, but as someone who grew up in Florida (Tampa area), this is a touchy subject. Since snowbirds and tourists help keep the state economy going, they’re viewed as a necessary evil by the locals. Generally, we were not sad to see them go when the weather started warming up. On the other hand, if I lived up north in retirement I’d strongly consider heading south for at least part of the winter! Just thought I’d give some perspective from the other side.

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  14. Hey MrFireStation,

    We’re Australian (G’Day), we have similar weather to Florida, California and Spain (maybe a bit more yearly rain than the last 2). So we already have pretty amazing weather compared to most places. The only time we don’t have great weather is during May – August (winter). But as you can guess, this is actually when the northern hemisphere has its summer. So I think we would spend a fair bit of time during our winter holidaying to USA/Europe/etc and maybe a bit of time in Queensland (an Australian state with similar weather to the Caribbean – year round good weather, but the occasional tropical storm.)

    New Zealand may also get a visit for some snow-seeing. (Queenstown is very beautiful)

    Tristan

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    • “Snow-seeing” – that’s what our friends that live in Florida do during the Winter. They go to Colorado or Utah on ski trips. The “snowbird” phenomenon is for those of us stuck in the northern USA and Canada. My wife has Australia on her list of places to go … maybe great weather in January or February.

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  15. Have you modelled the strategy of leasing out the house you own in Minnesota, and renting (for yourself) a snow-bird house for half the year, and renting (for yourself) a house in Minnesota for the other half of the year? Assuming the rental income on your owned house covers the rent payments you make — you could do this for a few years to “buy time” then decide if you want to own homes in both states, where, etc.

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    • I don’t know if I would be comfortable renting out our Minnesota house. I’m almost certain that my wife wouldn’t be comfortable with that. For now we are happy to rent someplace warm for a month or two in the winter – and try it out. I’m not sure if it is for us or not.

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