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Can You Afford to Be a Snowbird?

Jun 09, 2020 by Maurie Backman

When we think of snowbirds -- people who live in the northern part of the U.S. but intentionally migrate down south during the winter months to escape the cold -- we tend to picture retirees who have the flexibility to split their time without it impacting a job. But with remote work becoming more and more popular, the snowbird lifestyle is no longer limited to retirees. People who work from home or own their own businesses may easily have the option to divide their time between two homes, and while it's a more challenging feat to pull off with children, homeschooling makes it possible for families to be snowbirds, too.

Of course, the upside of being a snowbird, whether as a retiree or not, is getting to enjoy your share of seasons up north but avoid the harshness of winter at its worst. As a snowbird, you can up and leave your home in December, ride out the brunt of winter till late March, and return in time for a few minor flurries that may linger into April.

But there's a downside to being a snowbird, and it's the cost involved. Owning or renting two homes is expensive, and if you are a dual-homeowner, leaving one of those properties unattended for months at a time is hardly a wise practice. As such, to be a snowbird you must be in a strong enough financial position to pull that setup off.

Run the numbers

If you're eager to be a snowbird, you'll need to decide what that arrangement will look like. Will you rent two properties and attempt to sublet whichever unit you aren't occupying during the year? Will you own one home and rent another for a couple of months? Or will you buy two properties so you get the flexibility to come and go as you please? Before you can even think about becoming a snowbird, you need to know what costs you're dealing with, so figure out exactly what that will look like for you.

Next, incorporate that decision into your budget. As a general rule, you're supposed to keep your housing costs to 30% of your income or less to avoid getting squeezed financially. As such, you'll largely want to stick to that rule as a snowbird.

From there, you might think about the things you can do to offset the expenses you'll face as a snowbird. Imagine you decide to own two properties at once -- say, one in New York, and one in Florida (a popular combination). You may decide to rent out your New York home from December to March to generate income to offset your housing expenses, and then rent out your Florida home during those months when you won't be occupying it.

Another option may be to find a house-sitter who can watch over your property in each state and address maintenance and repair issues in exchange for free or very low-cost rent. That way, you won't risk a scenario where you leave for Florida in December, only to return to extensive damage from a burst pipe in March.

There are plenty of options you can play around with, but if you crunch the right numbers beforehand, you can make your snowbird goals work. And that way you can really enjoy the best of both worlds.

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