Let me summarize one of the largest perks of condo living in one simple word. Winter. Despite the beauty of a first snowfall, or the abundance of snow that allows you to participate in your favourite winter sport, the novelty quickly wears off. Grey skies with less sunlight (think SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder), increased commute times, icy streets with piled up, wrinkled cars and alas, shoveling the driveway. And so, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to understand why by March (or sooner), we are DONE and ready to bid it farewell.
For condo dwellers such as my parents, it’s a different experience. Something that we refer to as the “Winter of a condo kind.” When the majority of single family dwellers retreat to our nests when it’s 15 below, condo dwellers have the luxury of continued living, within their “condo bubble.” My folks will often boast to people that they go from their own underground to that of a cinema, in merely a sweater or sweatshirt, not having to endure or suffer from the elements of mother nature. They can even have a dinner party with their friends without any of the guests having to put on a parka, boots or hat to join them around the table. Reason being…their friends live down the hall and are merely steps away.
Yet for some, even the luxury of condo living and its mitigation on the negative aspects of winter, isn’t enough. They opt for a different escape. Often to a place that’s warm and that has a beach. And so that’s exactly what they do. In fact, it’s what over 750,000 Canadians do when the leaves start to fall in October. They’re what we refer to as snowbirds. And the number one place they do it is… you guessed it? Sunshine State. Florida. About another half a million of Canadians own homes there. Canada is also the number one foreign buyer of U.S. properties (& the top tourist group in the U.S.). I should mention that Arizona is becoming an increasingly popular choice as well. But, before you go, there’s a few things you need to take care of. Okay, maybe more than a few – but you can likely count them on two hands. (Sorry – fairly certain you can’t say the same if you live in a house. I’ve lived and know both realities.)
Most consider “maintenance free” related to a condo lifestyle to literally mean that you don’t have any maintenance responsibilities. Let me remind you, there’s nothing in life that doesn’t require maintenance. Nothing. And condo living is no exception. Granted, it’s easier than most, however still requires effort on your part.
There are some major items snowbirds should attend to, on top of the basic household essentials when closing up shop for over 6 months, which I’ll cite a resource for later. Equally critical (in addition to ensuring you don’t exceed the permitted 183 day, or 6 month allowance of visitation without incurring the burden of US taxes, which the CRA may collect on their behalf btw), are taking care of items related to insurance, particularly travel, home, auto and title.
Travel Insurance – A recent TD Insurance survey discovered that only half of Canadians 50 years of age and above reviewed their travel insurance policy before leaving for vacation. Only 16% contacted their provider to see if they required any updates. Snowbirds have to be cautious when it comes to travel insurance as they have different requirements. They need to be clear on coverage, according to VP of TD Insurance, David Minor. He also reminds that Snowbirds should review the details of their travel medical insurance policy including limitations for out of country coverage and/or pre-existing conditions.
Home Insurance – Only 12% of Canadian snowbirds check their home insurance policy before leaving for vacation to ensure their primary home is covered in their absence. It’s an alarming number since many insurance policies have guidelines regarding holiday or vacation coverage. The first step is to let your insurance company know you’ll be gone and the approximate time of the vacancy. Making sure someone checks in on your home is also, always a wise decision. Some insurers mandate regular monitoring as criteria for coverage. Many also include exemption qualifiers such as “…if you have been away from your home for more than 4 consecutive days you’ll still be insured if you had taken one of the following precaution: arranged for a competent person to enter your dwelling each day you were away to ensure that …” The timing will vary with different companies and policies. Some are not as rigid as daily, but have a four or seven day adherence. It’s important to remember that you live in a shared space – so you ultimately have a responsibility to ALL in your community.
Auto insurance – The abovementioned TD Insurance survey also found that 46% of Canadian snowbirds assume auto insurance policies are transferrable to out of country. This is often a false assumption. Even if renting a car for over 30 days it’s a different type of policy. Minor of TD recommends an increase in snowbird’s liability limit in the event that out of country expenses are more costly.
Title Insurance – Recent research has stressed the risk of leaving your home unoccupied during winter months and the vulnerability it results in, relating to mortgage fraud. It’s an increasingly prevalent problem and you’re not exempt, even if you haven’t had a mortgage on your home for quite some time. In fact, seniors with paid out mortgages are at a higher risk. Title insurance, is the simplest way to protect yourself.
When you first buy a home, your lawyer registers you at the government land registry office as the owner with title to the property. It’s not a foolproof solution though, unless it’s insured. Identity theft (a common occurrence these days) can enable criminals to fraudulently have title to your property, without it. The consequence is monumental, as your home can illegally be sold or remortgaged as a result. Far fetched? It happens. An extreme example is the discharge of an existing mortgage, transfer of title and then using the property to acquire a mortgage that’s even larger. At the end of the day, you are left to pick up the pieces, which worst case scenario, could be returning to a home which in fact now belongs to someone else.
These are fairly significant and proactive sources of protection that you want to ensure you take care of before you leave. It’s the prime example of how a little effort can go a long way in keeping you, your family and your home protected. Be safe.
For further details on how to prepare your home physically, before you leave, see here.
Feature Image – Canadian Snowbird Association