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Snowbirds Face Financial Cost

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Named for the migratory fowl they mimic, human “snowbirds” spend the colder part of the year in warmer climes and their summer up North.

Living in a different state for the winter feels like an extended vacation and can allow Upstaters to enjoy other benefits as well.

In many ways, snowbird living seems like an ideal retirement except for one: the cost. Maintaining two residences can double living expenses.

Denise Cambisi, 71, and her husband, Tom, 76, are snowbirds that spend their winters in Florida. She retired in 2006 from teaching in Spencerport. He worked as a plumber for the Water Bureau in Rochester until 2008.

While they enjoy their time in Gates with activities like the Oasis Community Chorus, they enjoy the warmer weather during wintertime.

For a few years, they had vacationed in Florida and decided to buy a house there for spending their winters. The couple’s legal residence is in New York, as they spend fewer than six months per year in Florida. Their primary care provider is also in New York.

The slower pace of life in the South has been the biggest surprise for Cambisi.

“We were used to a certain level of services here in New York,” she said. “You can’t expect that same level in Florida. If you call someone to do a house repair, let’s say, you could wait for weeks before they even come to acknowledge your request. Here, you call someone and they may tell you, ‘I’m busy now and it will take a couple of days’ but at least you know when they’ll be there.”

They enjoy going North for the summer because otherwise, the weather is too warm to enjoy the outdoors. The couple loves strolling the beaches and eating outdoors all winter.

“I think you have to be a lot more flexible when you live in two places because everything is in a different place in your summer home than your winter home,” Cambisi said. “In Florida, you don’t have to take bags to the grocery store because they give you plastic bags. Your brain has to be flexible to remember where you are. As we age, it’s making us be more flexible.”

“Renting an apartment, RV or staying with family can be some options to explore and minimize costs,” said Diana Apostolova, investment consultant with Rochester Investments.

While their southern home is vacated, they could also lease it to others, which can help them mitigate expenses. This is particularly effective if the home is located near a desirable vacation hotspot or other attraction. This arrangement allows people the ability to travel during their summer in the North, such as renting different vacation homes or use an RV. However, fully equipped RVs cost as much as a standard house and the cost of fuel and maintenance can be high also.

Jeff Feldman, Ph.D. and certified financial planner with Rochester Financial Services in Pittsford, said that renting a home in the South may be the way to go.

“A lot of people want to go down for three months, from January through March,” he said. “It might be $3,000 a month to rent and don’t want to pay that much. If it costs $200,000 to buy down there, plus you have taxes and upkeep, and your money is tied up sitting there instead of you earning money on it.

“The other side of it is if the property is appreciating in value, that’s something, but you can’t take it for granted. I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t rent. For most people that makes sense. People own a place for convenience. From a financial standpoint, it makes more sense to rent.”

Phillip Provenzano, insurance agent and financial adviser with The Financial Guys Insurance Agency in Rochester, said that snowbird hotspots include the classic locale of Florida, but also the Carolinas.

“Florida is always going to be the most popular snowbird location,” he said. “A lot of people are going to the Carolinas. Arizona does pop up, but it is hot.”

More temperate Colorado represents another option. However, the cost for housing is high.

As to where they choose to snowbird, the weather represents a big factor, but Provenzano said that financial motivators such as property taxes and politics also play roles, particularly for retirees who plan to move their permanent residence outside of New York.

Provenzano said that the pandemic caused many people to evaluate their retirement ideals and realize that they want to live someplace else—at least for part of the year. Some choose to snowbird rather than completely sever ties to the state so they can reconnect with their friends and family in New York during the summer.

To successfully snowbird as a retiree, he encourages people to “plan, plan, plan. The reason we start a financial plan with clients well before they are retired is to see what their goals and desires are,” he said. “If people want to snowbird, then we can incorporate that into their financial plan and begin the process to see that come to fruition. The issue with these types of desires or goals is that oftentimes they are not planned for. If we can begin to create a true financial plan, which by the way is ever changing, then we can take into consideration all of these types of wants.”