Ultimate Guide: HOW TO BE A SNOW BIRD and do it right!


Our park model home in Arizona

Take the time to do it right...you will never regret it! Follow the links listed here and on the other posts. You will find a wealth of information.

I am not here to burst your bubble but there are a few reality checks that need to be considered. I know...traveling off to warm weather in the winter, having two sets of friends and maybe a second home, sounds very luxurious. Golfing while your friends are mucking around on snow and ice would be soooooo dreamy. I want you to stop and think about what you might be doing. There are choices to be made

    We sat next to a couple from the east side of Portland this summer. They were approaching retirement age I guessed. We were talking about membership in the wine club at this particular tasting room when I told that we were gone for six month of the year so a membership might not work.

    The man sat up suddenly interested. "You're snow birds? How do you do that? We want to wander some but we really just do not know how." Do we sell our house here and move? Can we afford to keep both places? How do we decide?

    That is where I come in. I can help you if you are feeling the same way. I wish there had been someone like me when we retired. Truly it was a mystery. We had no idea what was possible and what was not.
    If you want to travel from resort to resort you can do that. If you want to work and travel, that is possible too. I have known people that worked in the resort they were staying. Another person worked at the local golf course. Some go back to school and one man I know because a tax consultant. You can figure it out. If you are just looking for a place to build a nest, you can do that.

    Try it out first! I cannot emphasize how important that is. When you are first retired things look different that what they will in a while after. Go to the place you think you would like, take a short vacation and get the feel for the location. Being a snowbird requires some doing and I think making a choice about the life style can be a process. Just look around and make yourself sure that is what you want.

    If you decide where and when,  I suppose the first consideration is money. Inexpensive second homes can be had but you need to be careful before you leap. (Link: Rental information) Areas that cater to snowbirds both in the southwest and southeast do provide opportunities to rent fully furnished apartments or park models in RV resorts.

    You will need to do some research online or even call a rental agent in the place you have chosen to visit. It is all very doable. ( Inexpensive Retirement Information)

    RV resorts offer a lot of activities and that is a real consideration when you have free time on your hands. You can rent the park models* in these places. This is another choice that might replace living in an apartment.

    Will I Miss my Grandchildren? I think the answer for this one is obvious. Yes, you might miss your family. It is a given. But on the upside, your family dynamic may be better when you are gone for a while.

    When we started this life my children actually needed for me to be out of town for part of the year. I got a break from babies, my children became more independent and we enjoyed each others company more when we got back together. In fact, they now see us coming home as a vacation of sorts for themselves.

    If you have children that live in a warm place, you can choose to live part of your year close to one child and part of the year near the other. If you get lonesome for them, you can talk on Skype, or use your smart phone, iPad or computer for Face Time or even use video via your Facebook account. This is our link to home or where ever our children are at anytime.

    Where should I go and can I afford it? This is such a personal thing...we chose a human comfort zone. Really the geographic location is not as important as the people around me. For example, if I won the lottery, I would not be comfortable living in a high roller apartment in Las Vegas. That is not who I am. While this is an outrageous example, it is absolutely the truth.

    If you are a very educated person that loves the opera and expensive restaurants, you need to find a place where those people that live around you love the same things. If golfing or cards help you pass the time, there are a lot of opportunities to connect with those people in a resort. If the pool is important, you need to find someplace that has a heated pool. Even in the southwest it is winter and the days can be chilly. (Link: Like Minded People)

    But, what you are really here for is to find out if you can actually afford this life style. It is a given that traveling in a motor home big or small is initially going to be more expensive than buying a park model in a resort. Because snowbirds have been around for a long time, those that are either aging or simply moving will sell these small homes for lower than you will imagine. A price of $10,000 to $20,000 is not that unusual.
    How much it will cost to rent the property where the park model is depends on that you expect:
    ...beautiful vistas and enticing amenities come at a price, and it’s not cheap. Rates vary widely depending on location, season, and how far in advance you book it. For an in-season rental, rates usually start anywhere from $70 to $100+ per night. In addition, many luxury motorhome parks have a minimum stay requirement. A week-long stay at even the most basic luxury RV park could cost $1,000 or more. (From RVShare.com
    You can get a space for less but be aware that very old unmaintained resorts can be tacky. It depends on your level of "luxury". Mom and Pop may be fun and really nice but the location counts as well as the amenities.

    You also need to know that a nice resort is not going to let you come if you don't fulfill their appearance/length requirements. Still don't be frightened by the prices quoted above. Check with places like Rincon RV Resort Country in Tucson. Rincon Country has two resorts in Tucson. Here is their 2019 rate schedule. I would also check with Voyager RV. That resort is beautiful. I could not find a price schedule for them so you will have to contact the resort either online or personally.


    How to Snowbird We are leaving for Tucson soon...here is where we get down to the nitty gritty of being a part time person in two locations. Think about:
    • How long to stay gone? We are living about 6 months in both of our homes. That is a personal choice and one we have settled on after all these years. We began by traveling in a motor home, bought a park model in a resort in Tucson, AZ and now have a small townhouse. We live in the Portland Oregon metro area and have been Oregonians all our lives. It rains a lot here and we like to avoid as much of that as we can and still enjoy our beautiful location.
    • Should I fly or drive? After people have done this for many years they usually buy a clunker car and simply fly to their winter home. Really this depends on whether you are coming to Arizona from Nova Scotia or from Oregon. Some drives are just not worth the time and expense. Our friends put the car on blocks, disconnect the battery, find a spot in the shade for the vehicle and leave it behind. The worse that can happen is it is stolen or the rats gnaw on the electrical wires! But if it is an insured clunker, you are fine. (Rats are another thing entirely but still you need to be aware of any varmints that lurk about...FYI.)
    • Should I rent out my home while I am gone? Let me tell you if this is possible and you can find someone you trust, do this. Most of your other dilemmas don't exist when you do this. We have had students live in our house and rented it out. In both cases it was a win/win situation. The extra cash in the case of renting can pay for your time in the south! The minor clean ups and damage were nothing compared to what we need to do when no one is in the house. The best part is the "closing the house up" part just disappears.
    How do I switch from one life to another? There is an extensive list of to-dos when you close your house down and switch to a different life. Many of things mentioned in this will save you money that can be used while you are gone from home. This is a list worth copying:
    1. Mail...the post office with forward mail with a beginning and ending date. If you are in one location, this works perfectly. If you are on the road you can have a family member forward you mail occasionally or you can have your mail forwarded to a service and they will take care of this for you.
    2. Turning off the water if possible. This is one big bill you do not pay if you do that. If you turn off your water you also need to turn off your water heater. The tank could burn up without water. Some heating systems are dependent on the water. Can you turn your heat off and not have big freezing problems? Draining pipes might be necessary if you are from the frozen north! No matter what, keep in mind what water can do. If you cannot turn it off, have someone check you home frequently. Water damage is a horrible thing and it happens a lot! (Yes we did have that happen to us.)
    3. Have the insurance for you second car changed...this can save you a lot of money. The insurance company will reduce the cost for you if you have the car in storage. The coverage is comprehensive so if another person drives that car check with insurance companies to see if their insurance covers the car while they are driving it. Cutting the cost for car insurance for six months out of the year saves you money. 
    4. Keeping the bad guys out...I know people that turned on an alarm system and walked away feeling very secure. I still advice you to be very careful. We have someone check in occasionally and ask neighbors to be watchful too. We leave our phone number as well as our local family's number with them.
    5. Make your home look lived in when it is not...(see keeping the bad guys out). Be sure that some delivery person is not leaving unwanted ads at your front door. Piled up newspaper ads are an invitation to trouble. I suggest that you have a neighbor clear these away. I hate those things anyway but it happens. The local pizza parlor has to advertise somehow I guess. Leave the blinds partially cracked and leave a plant by the front door that will survive through the winter. You can even hang a generic wreath on the front door that looks welcoming. All these things make your house look lived in. I see that timers for lights do not cause fires so you might consider using some of those.
    6. Make choices about turning off garbage, TV, internet, phone service, etc. Most of these services have a "vacation/hibernation" setting. That means that they don't disconnect you entirely and all you need to do when you return is give them a call and they turn your service back on. Your garbage can, TV cable box (if you still use one) and your modem for internet hook-up can remain in place. You might have to pay a small fee but it could be cheaper that paying to have services reconnected. This also gives you the option of coming home for a short period of time or letting a friend/relative use the home and having the services needed. We come home at Christmas and have our internet, garbage and TV turned back on for that short period of time. You make the choice. I have written about what I think is a wonderful solution for reducing cable cost in a post called How Snow Birds Can Cut RV Cable Costs.
    7. Decide on a wardrobe. It has taken me years to learn what to take with me and what to leave behind. If you are a total newbie, check on the temperatures during the months you are going to be in a locality. Arizona for example, is NOT hot in the winter. Locals and experienced snowbirds do not dress like it is 90 degree when the temperature rises to the mid 60's during the day. You will need sweaters, longer pants and a jacket in the evening hours. Pay attention to this sort of thing when you pack for your trip. I know we all dream of warm winter days but in this case it is all relative. Warm in the winter is 65 degrees but compared to say Iowa that is really warm. See what I mean?
    8. If you leave the electricity on, UNPLUG EVERYTHING that can be disconnected. Just because.
    9. Then there is the cat!!! Our cat was a real part of our life...however, the RV resort where we spend our winters before we moved to a townhome would not allow a cat outside the park model. (See making snowbird location choices.) Because our cat was a feral cat when we found him in Texas, he would NOT stay indoors all the time. 
    So, there you have it. Actually, when you think about it, the benefits far outweigh the problems. I hope this reality check helped you make the decision that will work best for you. If you have any further question or ideas, feel free to comment and I will get back to you. I love comments and I am sure you love answers!

    b+

    *A park model is a small trailer with all the same amenities as a big trailer. Our park model was about 12' wide and 34' long. We had added a room to the side that we call an "Arizona Room". That space provides storage and utility space. We also have a shed where our washer and dryer was stored as well as my husband's work bench.

    Related articles
    How to choose the right RV park! (retireinstyleblog.com)







    Comments

    1. The number one thing that snowbirds need to do is to polish up their good manners. As a former resident of Yuma, AZ -- and yes, one of the 5 top reasons we left was because of winter visitors -- we were apalled by the "Ugly American" mentality and behavior of way too many snowbirds. Remember -- when you pull into some town, you are pulling into somebody's HOMEtown -- their home. Be courteous.

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      1. Marcie, you have hit a sore spot with many locals. I have seen a real decrease in bad behavior since we began this journey but it may just be my perception. Being an ugly American/Canadian is not what we want.

        Thank you for the comment.

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      2. Is there such a thing as an ugly Canadian...how dare you!

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      3. None of my Canadian friends want to be "ugly" any more than we Americans. Sorry you misread this comment.

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    2. We recently moved to Arizona, a prime mecca for snowbirds. As I drive along the highway and see all the RV camps out in the middle of nowhere, I have to wonder, "What do people do?" I actually wouldn't like to live back in the snow, but I'm not sure that living in an RV for 6 months sounds like much fun.

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    3. Cathy, I know what you mean...out there at Quartzite people as camping for free...but what a price to pay in lost amenities. As for what they do, the answer is live. They cook, shop for groceries, read, clean and visit. We all do about the same things. Many of those campers in Quartzite are selling at the swap meet .

      I might add that I believe that a lot of those people that just pull into the lonely roadside to park for the winter are reclusive and only want to be alone. Each to their own.

      I do know people that go to Quartzite because they are addicted rock hounds...they search the dessert with their eyes on the ground for that perfect rock. I don't understand their hobby and they don't understand mine. I write a blog.

      Have a wonderful day!

      b

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    4. Can you give us the name of the community that your park model is in? Does it seem expensive though, with the cost of renting or purchasing a spot, plus the monthly fees? Have you ever considered purchasing a small home in a 55 plus community? Thanks.

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    5. Cybermade,

      We live in Rincon Country RV Resort East .(http://www.rinconcountry.com/rcrveast/index.asp). Yes we have considered moving to a 55+ community and actually did that in Oregon where our primary residence is located.

      The park models (older) have been going for a very cheap price. The owner here will buy all the ones that are good for $10,000 so don't expect to get anything for less than that. When the individual park model gets near to it's rent time the price will on those will drop by $4000 because that is the monthly rent. That works out to about $340 a month. We could not buy a house, maintain it, pay taxes and upkeep for that amount. AND we would not have the amenities we have here.

      In the end we view the park model like a car...it will go away someday. The rent is much more reasonable than say staying in an apartment in a safe part of town. I really don't see us leaving this park anytime soon.

      I hope this helps you out.

      b

      If you need more information contact me at my email address: orencoopinions@gmail.com

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    6. We are considering this snowbird thing, but my concern is whether the state we decide to snowbird in will tax my pension. Any thoughts on keeping a primary residence yet taking advantage of lower costs of registrations, insurance, etc in a snowbird state?

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    7. Yes, I appreciate your question. You need to keep in mind that there are laws about income taxes, etc. If you keep your primary residence in your home state income tax laws will not affect you if you spend time out of state.I am not an expert on this matter but I do know that many Oregon retirees move to Washington because the income tax structure is favorable to them. You will need to do some research on this matter.

      But in Arizona people do own a car and license it in the state. However, it would depend on what state you live in and how much car registration and insurance is. We are from Oregon and that would NOT save us any money at all. Any vehicle we have would be registered and licensed in our state.

      I believe that if you were to buy a home in Arizona as a "vacation home" the interest may be more and you will be limited on the amount of time you can spend there if you plan to rent and take a tax write off. Again this requires some research and a visit with a real estate expert.

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    8. What do you think of a lifestyle like this? Have an RV that we live in in the Pacific Northwest from Say May to November then a Park Model home in Arizona from November to May with a two week trip down and a two week trip back?

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      1. Perfect. We are leaving one of our cars in Arizona this year and will fly home. We now travel about 3 days to get to Tucson and have been down EVERY road between Portland and Arizona. Time to travel somewhere else!

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      2. Please consider Woodfield in Show Low, a short three hour drive from the Phoenix or Tucson area, where you can enjoy cool mountain climates but still be close enough to drive back and forth between your two homes. We offer beautiful new park models that are move in ready. woodfieldrv.com

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    9. I am thinking of selling my house and renting. I live in Iowa. I would love to be a snowbird and reside in Florida maybe from December - April. I am single and will retire in a year or two. I would love to hear others stories!

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      1. If you look at the labels you can click the Snow Bird Lifestyle of any of those related to it. You will find a lot of information.

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    10. My family members always say that I am wasting my time here at web, however I know I am getting know-how daily by reading thes good articles.


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    11. Appreciating the dedication you put into your site and in depth information you offer.
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    12. Hi Barbara! This is still helpful and relevant today even though you wrote it a while back...and it looks great on the redesigned site. My husband Thom and I have toyed around with the idea of buying a park model in one or two places to use in the summer (we are residents of the California Desert so we are technically "sun birds") to use like you do in the winter. But so far we are still too nomadic and haven't settled on just one place so we continue to rent. One of these days we will have to visit Tucson when you are there and get together! ~Kathy

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      1. Please, please come and see me! That would be perfect! If you are RV people I can even help you with that.

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