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Snowbirds, follow this checklist before you migrate

True Wealth: Judith McGee


As a financial planner, I’ve shared the dreams of many who envision a retirement life in the sun for six months of the year.

In fact, for over 30 years my husband Chuck’s mother and stepfather went south to Arizona in October and didn’t return to Oregon until late March. They may have missed the dreary cold winters, but he felt they also missed the family holiday celebrations and many of their grandchildren’s events. Chuck has always been adamant that he wouldn’t be a snowbird like his mom.

Yet, it’s here again! Gray clouds are covering the sky, the temperature is dropping and I’m wondering how many of our cohorts are headed south to sun and fun.

Everyone has a different dream of retirement living depending on lifestyle choices and pocketbooks. Some of us just visit or vacation for a few weeks. while others have second homes in places such as Palm Desert, Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona. Let’s look at some of the things to consider when making these decisions.

That second home

If you’re considering purchasing a second home or condo for your sunny getaway — one that eventually may become your permanent residence — keep these things in mind:

* Familiarize yourself with the area by visiting during different seasons. The temperatures in places like sunny Arizona can be lovely during the winter, but sizzling hot in the peak of summer.

* If possible, consider renting in the area before making any offers to buy. And then, always work with a local real estate agent.

* If popular resort areas appeal to you, be aware that some services and restaurants may not be as readily available during off-season periods.

* If you’re considering renting out that second house or condo in your absence, create a checklist: Does the place have appealing amenities for a short-term renter? Are there any restrictions against renting the property?

* Be aware of the costs of maintaining the property: taxes, insurance, utilities, property managers, and travel expenses to and from. Plus you may be faced with higher mortgage rates for second homes.

* Don’t buy a timeshare! Not only are they hard to sell, the secondary market is replete with scammers who charge fees for initiating paperwork; and then vanish.

* Before you do anything, consult with a wealth manager to get a clear picture of your financial situation and understand what you can comfortably afford. They may advise you to think of the second home only as pleasure and recreation, rather than an investment, as there may be better investment options available with less maintenance costs.

Don’t leave home without it

The “it” I’m referring to is the peace of mind you’ll have knowing you’ve secured your home before heading for the sun, whether for an extended stay or just a short vacation.

* Water pipes can freeze in extra cold temperatures. Cover outside faucets.

* Clear your gutters and downspouts to prevent clogging during heavy rains.

* Pay someone to shovel snow should it become necessary.

* Forward your mail and have a neighbor check regularly for deliveries.

* Install variable light timers so it appears that someone is home.

* Notify your bank so out-of-state debit/credit charges do not raise red flags.

These are some of the practical things to consider, but there is also that human element. What are your family traditions and how do you stay connected to loved ones while away? Many Skype with the family and others schedule a return home for the holidays or special occasions.

This advice is meant for all you snowbirds — loving the sunshine in the winter and the beautiful Northwest in the summer!

Any opinions are those of Judith A McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James. McGee is chairwoman and chief executive officer of McGee Wealth Management Inc., an independent registered investment advisor. She is a co-branch manager of, and offers securities through, Raymond James Financial Services Inc. (Member FINRA/SIPC) in Portland. Contact her at 503-597-2222 or Judith@mcgeewm.com.