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The ‘snowbird’ lifestyle—what it can cost

Meghan Streit

Created date

September 20th, 2011

Typically, the word retirement conjures up images of white sandy beaches and frozen drinks not slushy white snow and freezing temperatures. That s why many so-called snowbirds head south to vacation homes when temperatures start to drop in their home states. The snowbird lifestyle can be a rewarding way to spend your retirement if you consider all of the financial implications before you buy. Pittsburgh Merrill Lynch wealth advisor Michael Duckworth says the decision to buy a vacation home should be part of a larger discussion about your long-term financial goals and lifestyle priorities. Many people fall in love with the idea of a condo on the beach in Florida, for instance, but fail to consider that it could diminish their ability to meet other financial goals, like helping children and grandchildren or donating to charity. I ve seen clients who have been surprised by a number of things that fall out of the decision to purchase a second home, Duckworth says.

Small expenses add up

That s why Duckworth advises his clients to consider all of the costs a second home may entail. Sure, you ve accounted for the mortgage and property taxes, but have you considered the expense of a third car to use at your vacation home or the money you ll spend to join the golf club? Snowbirds may also incur unforeseen costs like plane tickets back home for emergencies or family celebrations, security or maintenance fees for the vacation property, and additional medical or insurance expenses. These tiny little expenses, when you make a list of them, become extraordinary, he says. One of the biggest expenses associated with a second home is actually your primary residence. Matt Taylor, a Pennsylvania retirement advisor, says if you simply lock the door and head to the beach, you could come home to a big mess and a huge bill in the spring. You re escaping winter, but your house still has to endure it. Taylor advises snowbirds to invest in preventive maintenance like having a plumber drain your pipes so they don t freeze while you re away.

Consult your advisors

Even if you have everything squared away at home, remember that estate laws vary from state to state. A will drafted in Pennsylvania doesn t have any effect on property in Florida, Taylor says. He advises clients to put vacation homes in trusts and name real estate beneficiaries to save heirs the hassle of opening probate in two states. A second home can also mean more insurance, not only for the property but also for your vehicles and possibly for yourself if you need medical care while you re away from home. New York state insurance agent Billy Van Jura says it s critical to keep your insurance advisor informed about major purchases and your whereabouts. He also says snowbirds may be able to save a few hundred dollars annually by consolidating all insurance policies with one agent.