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Canadians heading south for the winter will be met with a slew of rising costs, coupled with inflation and competitive real estate prices.
“Unfortunately, it's really a perfect storm for snowbirds and we started to see some of it last year,” Stephen Fine, the president and managing editor of snowbirdadvisor.ca, said in an interview Tuesday.
Fine said that snowbirds started to see heightened real estate costs for buying or renting in the U.S. Sunbelt last year.
“So we saw that last year but this year with inflation we've also seen increases in food costs, groceries, restaurants, transportation…flights, gas [and] vehicle transportation, which is all-important for snowbirds,” Fine said, adding that the weakened Canadian dollar is also driving up costs.
CURRENCY EXCHANGE COSTS
In September, the loonie fell below the 75 cents U.S. mark and remains below its May 2021 peak of 83 cents U.S.
Despite a diminished loonie and increased costs likely to be incurred by snowbirds, Fine said he doesn't see weakening demand from Canadians looking to go south for the winter.
“We don't see a lot of people who aren't going to go at all because of the weak Canadian dollar, but [what] we do see is some changes in [the spending] habits that people might undertake,” said Fine.
Fine said people may try to save by shortening their stay, while others may change their destination entirely.
“They're also looking at alternative snowbird destinations either internationally or in traditionally less popular snowbird destinations within the U.S. where they may be able to get more bang for their buck or more value for their dollar,” said Fine.
Fine said that some might look at properties away from prime locations.
“They may rent a place that's a few blocks away from the water that may be a little bit less expensive this year. So there are a number of ways people are looking to modify their spending habits if they are on a budget and they can't afford the increases that are happening,” he said.
REAL ESTATE COSTS
In the second quarter of 2022, Florida saw the most significant home price appreciation of any state in the U.S. at 6.74 per cent, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Rental costs in Florida increased in lockstep with home price appreciation.
According to a release Monday from Apartment List, Miami rent prices were up 15.6 per cent from a year earlier. Rent prices in Fort Lauderdale increased 22.5 per cent year-over-year. Tampa’s rent prices were up 6.3 per cent from a year earlier. During that same time, rental prices climbed 10.2 per cent in Orlando.
“So if you have Canadians that are looking to winter here and are looking to rent, I think they're going to be put in a really bad spot because [of] the complete and utter frenzy of the last two years,” April Robinson, a real estate broker and president of Florida Expert Realty, said in an interview Oct. 13.
Robinson, who operates in the Tampa Bay area, said that the “frenzy” of the last two years resulted in housing prices that “continued to rise at unprecedented levels,” which drove supply and affordability issues.
Robinson said the frenzy spurred a “domino effect” where many vacation rental properties, frequently relied on by Canadian travellers, were converted into long-term rentals in an effort to capitalize on peak pricing.
“It's just snowballed into a situation where it's so much less affordable for everyone,” she said.
But amid the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike campaign, Robinson said the market is changing again and buyers are now “finally back in the driver's seat.”
“The interest rates, that's the catalyst. So that's really the driving force in the market. June is when the shift started to happen [and] I started to feel it right away,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the elevated interest rates are not compatible with the appreciation that many homes have accrued over the past two years.
“So when you've got interest rates that shot up so fast and then the prices on the homes that are so much higher, nobody is left to buy them,” she said.
Despite the current buyers' market, Robinson said she would advise Canadian snowbirds to wait a year and “see where the market is.”
SNOWBIRD FINANCE ADVICE
Canadian snowbirds will accrue heightened costs across a variety of areas, according to Barry Choi, a personal finance and travel expert. Specifically, Choi said Canadian snowbirds could be paying more for airline tickets, food, hotel rates and gas prices.
Choi said that airline prices are increasing along with demand for travel. However, he said the increased airline costs are not drastic.
While Canadians might be used to seeing increases in food prices at home, Choi said it is an expense that needs to be factored into travel plans.
“If snowbirds have already travelled in the past and are used to lower prices, they’ll probably see a little bit of sticker shock once they head back south because in the U.S. restaurant prices have gone up, tipping has gone up [and] grocery prices have gone up,” said Choi.
Snowbirds should also expect to see heightened hotel prices, due partly to inflation and COVID-19-related cleaning efforts, Choi said.
“It's also worth noting that obviously parts of Florida were hit significantly by the hurricane, so some areas will have fewer hotels available,” he said.
Snowbirds driving south from Canada will be paying extra at the pump as they will likely have to fill up their tank multiple times, Choi said.
According to a release from GasBuddy on Oct. 10, the national average gas price in the U.S. was up 67 cents U.S. per gallon from a year ago and 22.5 cents U.S. from the previous month.
“The rising cost of everything that we're seeing needs to be factored in when budgeting,” he said.
Despite cost increases, Choi said he doesn't think it will dissuade travellers.
“I actually think that demand has gone up because without a doubt there will be many snowbirds who have avoided travelling for quite a few years for obvious reasons,” said Choi.
Amid various cost increases, Choi recommends travellers be aware of how they use their credit cards.
“If you're going to be using your credit cards the entire time you’re down south, keep in mind that most credit cards charge a foreign exchange fee of 2.5 per cent. However, some credit cards waive that fee. So if you get a credit card without foreign exchange fees, you’re going to save 2.5 per cent on every single purchase,” Choi said.