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Snowbird Needs Direction
Old 02-09-2014, 01:36 PM   #1
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Snowbird Needs Direction

Hi Guys,

Wonder if I could pick your brains on the topic of Snow Birding. DW and I currently live in NY and have decided that we are going to start looking for a place in Florida for the winters. We have 17 months left before we officially retire but we are sick of the winters here and are concerned that if we wait too long, the prices are going to escalate.


I am 55 and DW is 54. We are looking for something South of Lake Okeechobee as we were told that the weather is typically better there during the winters. I do not yet have a coastal preference. I have never owned a condo before and am a bit concerned about privacy, but I don’t need another 4000 SF alligator to feed. I would like something maintenance free if possible.

As we are somewhat “young” retirees, I would like someplace where the average age is not 150. We would like to meet other like minded couples down there and was hoping to get some ideas from you kind people on the subject. It does not need to be the end game for us, but we wanted to lock into today’s real estate prices. We would love something on the water, and or near a golf course and not too far from a major airport. We have looked at Miami and West Palm Beach. Not a fan. We thought they were too pretentious. We are looking at Hallandale now but have not visited there yet. We don’t want to spend more than 300-400k which we will pay outright or self finance with our HELOC. This affords us the opportunity to act quickly when the time is right. We can wait until the summer to look if we can get a better deal. Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks in advance for your help.
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Old 02-09-2014, 02:01 PM   #2
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I just finished selling my mother's condo in the Fort Lauderdale area, and it was not a very pleasant experience. So I may be tainted in my opinion here, but perhaps you can learn what not to buy from my experience.

The condo was purchased more than a decade ago for $120K. It was an older condo with 16 units in it. It had a small swimming pool, but otherwise no amenities. It was two blocks from the beach. Because the condo only had 16 units, the HOA fees were $550/month. For a unit with three very small bedrooms, and a total of 1,300 square feet, this seemed ridiculously high.

But what really made it bad for us was that several homeowners could not afford their HOA dues. When this happens, the remaining condo owners must pay the difference. So my mother would keep getting special assessments for the deficiencies of other homeowners.

What finally did her in was a 40 year inspection that had just come due. It is required by Broward County for condo owners. Other counties may or may not have similar inspection requirements. When the preliminary inspection was done, substantial damage was found to the roof, patios, and concrete. A special assessment was assessed, and our share of the assessment was $67K. My mother could not afford to pay that, so we had to sell the unit for less than $80K to someone who was willing to assume the special assessment upon transfer of ownership.

So for a condo that cost $120K more than a decade ago, and with ongoing HOA fees of over $500/month, we ended up selling for $40K less than we paid for it. It was an absolute nightmare.

So the lesson I learned is...if you want to buy in Florida, buy something relatively new, in a unit with a lot of homeowners who can spread out the fixed HOA costs, and accept that you are going to pay a decent HOA fee each month. And investigate how much reserves the HOA board has for future inspections and repairs, along with what inspections may be coming due.

If it were me, and I only wanted to live there a few months a year, I would find a long term rental that I could rent for 3-4 months. You could probably get a great unit for less than $2,000 per month, and not have to pay HOA, utilities, property taxes, insurance, and upkeep. That's what I plan to do when I decide to find a second place to live a few months a year some day.
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Old 02-09-2014, 03:13 PM   #3
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Not south of Okeechobee, but I would recommend a visit to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. My visits there have been great.
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Old 02-09-2014, 03:43 PM   #4
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Ready's experience is, unfortunately, not unique. DW & I owned a nice on-course 2-unit condo in South some yrs ago with same thoughts as OP. Even renting it out and with area real estate values rising at the time, we ended up barely breaking even when we decided the hassle was no longer worth it.

Depending on how long you want to spend in FL, you might also consider renting- at least to start with. Rent same place/same time every year & you get to know folks just as if you owned. But without the hassles & risks of ownership. If you REALLY like a spot after renting a while, you can then buy with much more inside knowledge of the area. FWIW- From purely financial perspective most snowbirds seem to think that renting is typically cheaper (for similar property) unless you spend >3mo/yr in same spot for several yrs.
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Old 02-09-2014, 03:44 PM   #5
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If it were me, and I only wanted to live there a few months a year, I would find a long term rental that I could rent for 3-4 months. You could probably get a great unit for less than $2,000 per month, and not have to pay HOA, utilities, property taxes, insurance, and upkeep. That's what I plan to do when I decide to find a second place to live a few months a year some day.
That's exactly what my neighbor does and for those reasons. He's retired, used to design satellite navigation systems, so I think he's a reasonably bright fellow.
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Old 02-09-2014, 04:25 PM   #6
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+1 on renting. You don't have to deal with repairs, and overall I think it is just a better deal financially to rent. You can check on vrbo.com or homeaway.com or local rental agencies for snowbird rentals. Once people find a place they like, they go back to the same place each year, so the best places are booked a year in advance.
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Old 02-09-2014, 05:38 PM   #7
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Hi IslandTraveler. We are in a similar boat, having a house in the mountains we will retire to in a couple of years, but wanting something less cold for the winters. We looked at several places, but when I realized how much money I would need to buy and furnish a second home as well as maintain it, it soon became apparent that it made more sense just to keep that equity earning money and take the earnings every year to rent. We are frequent vacation rental customers via places like VRBO.com, and love the no hassle approach.

So we are putting $100,000 into a travel bucket, taking the earnings and spending them on travel, or letting them accrue for bigger trips. We will leave the principal for unknown emergencies down the road. It seemed to us to be a less stressful way to have a second home. We are self insuring for LT care in the same way, setting funds aside to grow while we are young.

IP
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Old 02-09-2014, 06:24 PM   #8
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Thank You all for your posts. You have made me look in another direction which is prudent and consistent with collective wisdom of this forum. One needs to review the "unintended consequences" of their decisions which has certainly given me pause as it relates to this one. There are times where renting does indeed make sense.
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Old 02-10-2014, 01:15 AM   #9
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OK, my spouse and I do AZ for the winter, but the issue is the same; rent or own. From a logical and financial point of view, renting wins hands down. From an emotional perspective, well, that's a personal matter.

We've been doing a long-term rental here of a stand-alone pvt house just south of Tucson. We stay around five months a year, but that'll be going up to maybe six, maybe six and a half months next year.

We keep two cars in the garage here plus a house full of our "stuff." And that's the rub with renting. How much "stuff" do you need when you're doing your snowbirding? For all practical purposes we've duplicated our winter home here in AZ.

I fear that come Spring of 2016 (when the owner wishes to reevaluate whether to continue to rent this place or try and sell it) my spouse will lobby for us to buy our own place. Sigh.

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Old 02-10-2014, 07:30 AM   #10
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How much does one normally pay for a winter long term rental? Say 6 months.

Are they usually 2 or 3 bedroom?
Are they all inclusive, if not what are the extras?

Condos or single Family homes?

Thanks
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Old 02-10-2014, 07:47 AM   #11
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Just a different opinion. We bought our place in central FL for our snowbird place. We got it at the bottom of the housing market and think we got a good deal.

We rent it out for 6 months each year until we retire in two more years. We like the idea of going at the drop of a hat and are very comfortable in the community. Also, at some point, we will probably sell the propriety up north and live there full time.
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Old 02-10-2014, 08:13 AM   #12
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Too Young!

You two are too young for Florida!

Plus, you would be surprised how cold it feels in Florida when the temperature dips a little.

You might consider the Virgin Islands.... or, other friendly islands where you can find good flight connections from NYC.
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Old 02-10-2014, 09:21 AM   #13
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To ShokWaveRider-There are so many combinations of bedrooms and bathrooms, so you just decide what you'd like and use the filters to look at what you want. In our area, I've seen from 1-7 bedrooms and 1-5 or more bathrooms. There are stand alone houses, as well as condos. Decide what you want and then go to your desired area and search online.
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Old 02-10-2014, 09:32 AM   #14
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To ShokWaveRider-There are so many combinations of bedrooms and bathrooms, so you just decide what you'd like and use the filters to look at what you want. In our area, I've seen from 1-7 bedrooms and 1-5 or more bathrooms. There are stand alone houses, as well as condos. Decide what you want and then go to your desired area and search online.
I was just trying to get some basic info for a 3 bed 2/3 bath. Here where I live in St Augustine FL that can be ~$2k - $3k pm in a nice spot.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:02 AM   #15
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There is no "correct" answer to rent vs. owning a retirement property. Each situation is unique. My wife and I looked at this question about 15 years before we retired. We decided to rent for a few months each winter in Florida. It has worked well for us.

We started out 5 years ago renting a condo in SW Florida in a marina/golf community for January only. We are in the same community right now for February and March. We have rented a different condo each year, found them mainly on VRBO. We have rented directly through the owner, and twice we happened to find the condo of our choice that was listed through a realtor. We prefer to rent directly from the owner. We have had a small dog that we bring with us, and that eliminates approximately 60% of all rental units because pets are not allowed. In many communities the properties are rented year to year, meaning people leaving in the spring will reserve the same unit for the following year. So it's best to start your search in the spring for the following year. Don't wait until September.
In Florida we will only consider locations south of a Tampa/Orlando line. North of there it gets too cold in the winter.

The reason we have rented a different condo each year is the owner was able to find a renter for the entire snowbird season (Jan. Thru Mar.), or he lined up an annual renter.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:07 AM   #16
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I guess I don't understand the psychology of snowbirding. To me, it seems like the ultimate, expensive consequence of not being able to make up one's mind. But then, a lot of people do it so I suppose it must have its appeal.

I would certainly urge renting before buying. Your opinion of a location, and of neighborhoods, may change once you are living there.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:27 AM   #17
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I guess I don't understand the psychology of snowbirding. To me, it seems like the ultimate, expensive consequence of not being able to make up one's mind. But then, a lot of people do it so I suppose it must have its appeal.

I would certainly urge renting before buying. Your opinion of a location, and of neighborhoods, may change once you are living there.
But you live in New Orleans!! Try dealing with 6 degrees outside and a foot of snow every few days for thirteen weeks....it sure will "make up one's mind" on where to spend three months a year!

I agree on renting until one has found the right place...lots of times everything looks good until after you've been there a while.
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:38 AM   #18
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But you live in New Orleans!! Try dealing with 6 degrees outside and a foot of snow every few days for thirteen weeks....it sure will "make up one's mind" on where to spend three months a year!
It doesn't get hot here in the summer?
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Old 02-10-2014, 10:51 AM   #19
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It doesn't get hot here in the summer?
Well...you're right.
But snow and cold (especially snow) is a huge, huge inconvenience and PITA that warmer summers don't seem to have.

Schools and businesses have to close, costs of snow removal, slick roads, downed power lines, enormous traffic jams, potholes the size of bathtubs (just cost me $400 for a new tire last month...just before I left for Florida), slips and falls, you have to bundle up just to go to the drugstore, etc etc.

Not a good time. Now, I am an avid skier so it's not that I don't appreciate snow, but every year just wears you down more and more.
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Old 02-10-2014, 03:37 PM   #20
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I would also suggest renting preferably in a golf course community with a short drive to the beach .Flood insurance rates are skyrocketing right now in Florida so you can get a bargain condo and be stuck with a huge insurance bill. Also snowbirds get no tax breaks on their home taxes . When you are ready to make the move pick a new development since they tend to attract younger buyers .I know Florida looks attractive right now after all the snow you have been having but our January was record cold .
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