Snowbirds in Florida face cost-of-living crunch as prices rise 

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Fierce competition in the rental and homeownership markets and high inflation, languishing crazies making things difficult

Rising real estate and living costs are making it difficult for Canadian snowbirds to enjoy Florida like they used to. Rising real estate and living costs are making it difficult for Canadian snowbirds to enjoy Florida like they used to. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images files

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Aging Canadians have looked to South Florida for affordable winter months for decades, but fierce competition in the rental and owner-occupied home markets, compounded by the rising cost of living, is making it difficult for the country’s snowbirds to enjoy paradise the way they once did.

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“It’s a very different market,” said Dr. Ann Meyerson, a licensed real estate agent in Southeast Florida who specializes in working with seniors, in a recent interview. “A lot of my clients don’t understand how tight it is… There are no deals out there.”

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Florida is booming in part because the expansion of remote work and restrictions to combat COVID-19 have changed the calculus of where people wanted to live, with Americans flocking to the Sunshine State in droves. According to the United States Census Bureau, the state experienced the largest net internal migration in the United States last year, with an influx of 220,890 people, in addition to 38,590 from outside the country.

Figures from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles show that more than 61,728 New York state residents relocated to Florida last year alone, with the pace accelerating this year.

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That demand, along with low pandemic interest rates, has helped drive rapid price increases in the state’s housing market.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Florida experienced the fastest home price increases in the United States for both the second quarter (6.74 percent) and the 12-month period ended June (29.77 percent), with the latter checking in more than four Percentage points ahead of North Carolina and Arizona, which are growing second and third fastest.

There are no offers out there

dr Ann Meyerson, real estate agent

The price paid by foreign buyers is increasing in lockstep.

The median price foreign buyers paid for real estate in Florida in 2021 was $347,300, up 33.1 percent from a year earlier, according to Florida Realtors, an industry group.

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Statistics from the group show that while Canadians were still the top foreign buyers in Florida in 2021, accounting for 19 percent of purchases, their share has declined significantly since 2019, when Canadians accounted for 23 percent of all foreign buyers.

The tenants are no better off.

Apartment buildings in Miami. Apartment buildings in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A review of 107 major real estate markets by Florida Atlantic University in April found that Fort Myers, always a popular destination for Canadians and one directly hit by Hurricane Ian earlier this month, had the largest increase at 32.4 percent from a year earlier of rents recorded same period in 2021.

Southeast Florida — including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties — was a close second with a 31.7 percent increase. Similarly, a recent study by Apartmentlist.com, which looked only at apartments, was up 28 percent in southeast Florida last year.

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Bob Slack, a snowbird who summers in Ontario and winters in central Florida, said he’s found the rental market is extremely limited and that some are giving up this year.

“There is real demand for rental properties. People look for the three months in particular: January, February, and March. And people say, ‘Well, nothing for 2023, so I have to book for 2024 to find something.’”

Meyerson said it’s about taking what you can get for renters.

“You have to want to rent for at least six months and be willing to do what the agent tells you. It’s very easy. If they want it, they just have to take it as it is because there is nothing out there.”

Adding to the pain for buyers and renters is the rising cost of living and languishing madness.

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According to the Composite Cost of Living Index, published by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, the cost of living in Florida is 0.3 percent higher than the national average. Groceries are among the most expensive in Florida compared to national prices, costing about 5.6 percent more than the average. Overall, prices for all types of essential and luxury goods have increased by almost nine percent compared to the previous year.

The loonie, meanwhile, has tumbled against the greenback.

The Canadian dollar has tumbled against the US dollar. The Canadian dollar has tumbled against the US dollar. Photo by Mark Blinch/Reuters

From a peak of 83 US cents in March 2021, the loonie fell more than 10 US cents and fell below 73 cents in September. Despite some recent strength, it is still trading below its pre-pandemic levels.

Adjusting for exchange rate fluctuations, Florida home prices are up a staggering 58 percent since the pandemic began, Toronto Dominion Bank economist Admir Kolaj noted in a Florida Housing Market Report released last month.

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Jennifer Lee, an economist and chief executive at Bank of Montreal, expects the loonie to remain fairly weak for the rest of the year and into early 2023.

“As long as the (Fed) keeps raising interest rates, the US dollar will strengthen,” Lee said.

Evan Rachkovsky, director of research at the Canadian Snowbird Association, a national nonprofit that defends the rights of Canadians traveling, said the cost of snowbirds is definitely increasing.

Condominiums in Miami Beach, Florida. Condominiums in Miami Beach, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images files

“It’s gotten more expensive overall because obviously you now have COVID-19 insurance coverage and you’re also dealing with the exchange rate issue,” he said.

But whether that’s enough to discourage Canadians from winter getaways after many have halted such travel during the pandemic is another question. So far the answer seems to be no.

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“We haven’t seen a slowdown in the number of Canadians choosing to winter in Florida, and it still remains the top destination state for Canadian retirees,” Rachkovsky said.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, which hit some of Canada’s most popular snowbird destinations, will only make things worse. Rachkovsky said many chose to travel to Florida earlier than expected to check out their seasonal characteristics.

“Obviously, if they have to claim their insurance, they face higher insurance costs when they need to renew their policies, which increases the cost of enjoying the Snowbird lifestyle.”

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dr Ken Johnson, a real estate economist and associate dean of graduate programs at Florida Atlantic University, says Florida markets are undoubtedly overvalued, suggesting South Florida homes are selling at a premium of 30 percent above normal levels.

Accelerating population growth since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame, he says, but there may be no turning back.

“As long as people like warm weather, we will always have a significant share of the retirement home market, but it will not be as easy to withdraw financially from here as it has been in the past,” he said.

For Slack, Ontario’s snowbird, getting to Florida is still a priority. There are other strategies to deal with high prices.

“Just cut back on your extracurricular activities and go out to dinner,” he said.

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