As you transition out of the 9-to-5 and into a more relaxed day-to-day in retirement, the “snowbird” way of life may be right up your alley.
Snowbirds (fondly named after birds that migrate based on the season) are people who stay in their hometown during warm months, close to their family and friends, and escape to delightfully temperate climates during winter. If you’re torn between staying close to your grandkids and avoiding frigid snow and ice, becoming a snowbird is a winning compromise.
Before you jump into your first winter away, some planning is in order. Successfully embracing life as a snowbird is all about the details. Here are some tips for transitioning to the snowbird lifestyle without a hitch.
1. Choose Your Winter Home Carefully
Part of the appeal of becoming a snowbird is not having to shovel snow, pay an increased electric bill, or worry about the other minutia associated with owning a home in the winter.
While many opt to buy a second home in a warmer destination like Phoenix or Palm Springs, don’t rule out rentals either. You won’t be responsible for most maintenance and upkeep, and you can avoid the tricky tax burdens associated with owning multiple homes in different states. You can even get a furnished place to avoid having to buy a second set of, well, everything.
Buying a condo is often the best of both worlds when it comes to living out the snowbird dream. You can own a property in your favorite part of the Sunbelt, but all your indoor and outdoor maintenance needs are take care of — plus, you’ll be able to enjoy amenities like pools, fitness centers, and more (without the responsibility of maintaining them).
2. Make a Plan for Healthcare
If you’re over the age of 65 and using Medicare Part A or Part B for your medical needs, you may not have any issues when it comes to receiving medical care in a different state. If you use a private health insurance provider, however, you need to make sure your plan’s network expands to the state where you will be spending the winter. Similarly, people on Medicare C are likely to be in an HMO network and require additional coverage to retain their access to care in a new state (and out of network).
If your health plan does not extend to your winter home location, you can seek out travel insurance and other solutions to make sure you’re covered while living there. When in doubt, fill your prescriptions in your home state using your insurance before departing for your snowbird abode.
Always bring copies of important medical records with you to your winter home. You should also make sure you have emergency service coverage, in addition to the routine care and daily medications you need.
3. Discuss Tax Implications and Budgeting with a Pro
If you do decide to purchase a second house or a condo in another state, you should consult with a tax professional regarding your property tax obligations. You may have to pay twice depending on factors such as how long you stay in each location during the year. Different states also have different rules regarding income and estate taxes, so get some help navigating these red-taped waters before you buy.
Remember that a second home likely means double the house payment. You’re also looking at another electrical bill and the cost of transportation — either renting a car for the winter, transporting your vehicle with a service, or driving between your two homes. In other words, there may be expenses you didn’t see coming and you should have funds set aside to cover these. A financial planner can help you figure out an appropriate budget for your second home.
4. Prepare Your Primary Home for Your Absence
Finding a new winter home is the exciting part – so exciting, in fact, that it’s easy to forget about all the details necessary to get your main home in order.
You can prepare your home by ensuring you:
- Forward all mail to your winter home while you’re away. You may think you’re all set as long as you have e-billing on your accounts, but you could miss important notices if you don’t have your physical mail forwarded. Plus, your mail can really pile up.
- Pause or forward your newspaper subscriptions. A heap of unread papers is a huge red flag that no one is home, and could make your property a target for burglary.
- Find out if you can pause your cable and other non-essential utilities. It may be cheaper to keep them on while you’re away, but some providers let you turn them off for a few months without penalty. Check with your specific provider.
- Adjust your thermostat to save on energy while you’re gone. You should set the temperature warm enough to keep pipes from freezing, but you can generally set it lower than you would to heat your home while you’re there.
- Take care of any outstanding maintenance items, from leaky toilets to broken vents.
- Empty your refrigerator of perishables and unplug major appliances you won’t be using. They can drain phantom power while you’re away, so you’ll pay for electricity you’re not even enjoying.
- Put a few lights on a timer so it looks like someone is living in the home while you’re away.
5. Find a Housesitter
Even with your house locked up tight, it’s wise to have a trusted neighbor or housesitter stop by periodically while you’re at your snowbird home. Unpredictable maintenance could arise, and there are preventative measures that a housesitter will be able to manage for you.
Have your friend or housesitter:
- Stop by once a week and flush your toilets and run hot water in the sinks. This helps you avoid coming home to frozen pipes. Alternatively, you may want turn off your water while you’re away.
- Bring in any deliveries, newspapers, or flyers that are left on your porch or in your mailbox.
- Keep up the shoveling on your walkways and driveway, or make sure your snow removal provider has been paid and sticks to their schedule.
- Look for any issues with partially opened windows, frozen taps, and other things that can create a problem in cold weather.
If you think you’re ready to spread your wings and glide into the snowbird lifestyle, make sure you’re ready for the logistics, as well. As with most things in life, a dollop of preparation can spare you a dose of disaster later. The above list will help you get most of your bases covered as you prepare to migrate to warmer waters for part of the year. Get to planning – your winters in paradise await!