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 …!
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