Should Snowbirds Rent or Buy Their Second Home? How to Decide

December 24, 2018

rent or own


The day after Christmas, my dad will head to Florida for the winter to escape the brutal weather in Michigan, where he lives. My grandparents on both sides also made this pilgrimage every year, leaving the snow-shoveling behind and enjoying the mild winter temperatures and senior-friendly surroundings of Florida.

But this year will be a bit different for my dad: Rather than rent, he’s decided to buy a place.

The question of whether to buy or rent is a common one for snowbirds. There’s no clear-cut, one-size-fits-all answer on whether buying or renting is better. It varies by family situation, income, and whether you’re ready to consider your winter home, well, home.

Here are some considerations for when it’s best to rent and when it’s best to buy, along with some tips if you’re planning to buy a winter home.

3 times snowbirds should rent

Although buying a home makes sense for some, it’s not always the be-all and end-all it’s made out to be. For some snowbirds, renting simply makes more sense. Snowbirds should consider renting in the following situations:

  • It’s your first year flying south. “I wouldn’t buy before I rent,” says Mike Leipart, managing partner of the Agency Development Group in Beverly Hills, CA. “I would rent the first year and make sure it’s exactly what you thought it was.” For instance, you might think you’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of a remote house in the woods, but once there, you may realize you’d rather be in the middle of a bustling neighborhood. If you’re still in the audition phase of your snowbird experience, you should also rent until you narrow down your geographic preference.
  • You’re nervous about market volatility. The real estate market is unpredictable. If you think you may need to sell quickly and you’d lose money with a home purchase, it makes more sense to rent.
  • You’re concerned about upkeep costs. Homeownership costs money. Even with proper maintenance and upkeep, it doesn’t take much to end up with a large, unexpected bill. Rentals offer predictable costs. Richard Barenblatt, a mortgage specialist with GuardHill Financial Group in New York City, suggests caution when deciding whether to rent or buy: “Owning a secondary home is an extra expense. Make sure you can carry this additional financial obligation.”


3 times snowbirds should buy

Living out of suitcases gets tiring after a while, as does lining up a new rental for each winter. Eventually, you may be ready to settle down. Buying a home makes sense for snowbirds in these situations:

  • You’re ready to call someplace home. You’ve fallen in love with an area, and now you’re ready to get hitched. Instead of piling all your worldly goods into a car twice a year, you can step on a plane with a suitcase and land in a home that’s painted, arranged, and decorated as you like it.
  • You’re thinking about your legacy. Your legacy goes beyond leaving your home to your family, although that should be a consideration, too. You may want to buy once you’ve found the perfect spot and want to host your grandchildren. “That’s how traditions get started,” says Leipart.
  • You’re able to qualify. Some retirees have a challenging time qualifying for a second mortgage. “These types of home buyers often have plenty of assets, but they may not have enough income to qualify for a new mortgage,” says Tom Rydberg, senior vice president of residential lending with Draper and Kramer Mortgage Corp.’s headquarters in Downer’s Grove, IL. So make sure you can carry two mortgages before moving ahead.


The decision to buy a winter home is both financial and emotional. If you think you’re ready, though, here are some tips for making the most of your winter home purchase.

Snowbird home-buying advice

Unfortunately, buying a second home can be just as involved as buying your first home. Here are some ways to keep the process moving along smoothly:

  • Get pre-approved before you go. “I get calls all the time from people visiting Florida who found a home they want to buy far sooner than expected,” says Rydberg. “Suddenly, they need a pre-approval letter to make a strong offer, but all their financial documents are back home.” If you’re planning to buy, make sure you have mortgage pre-approval, and all your financial documents readily available.
  • Find the right real estate agent. There are lots of great real estate agents who specialize in snowbirds, says Leipart. A snowbird real estate agent can help you with everything from your home purchase to your cable hookup.
  • Check if you can rent it out when you’re not there. You may assume you can rent out your second home during the months you aren’t there, but make sure—your homeowners association may have rules about that. Some HOAs don’t allow rentals, while others require any potential tenants to be screened. There’s also the factor that places that have a great climate in the winter can be miserable in the summer, so you may have trouble finding someone who will rent your home during the offseason. If being able to rent out your purchase is important to you, discuss that with your real estate agent. “Don’t buy a property and expect to rely on rental income when you’re not using it,” says Barenblatt. “Future rent is no guarantee.”


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