Young Snowbirds: The Pandemic Real Estate Trend We Didn’t See Coming
Aly J. Yale
Wed, September 29, 2021, 1:53 PM·7 min read
Snowbird buyers are no new thing. For decades, retirees have opted for the seasonal lifestyle, buying homes in opposite climates and clearing out when the weather gets too cold (or too hot) for comfort.
Some use the arrangement to be near grandkids in the summertime. Others use it to qualify as full-time residents in states with no income taxes (hello, Florida!). While those buyers certainly still exist, a much younger breed of snowbird has started to emerge — one that, according to agents, is largely borne of the pandemic and the remote work it’s allowed.
“Snowbirds used to be synonymous with retirees,” says Minette Schwartz, an agent with Compass in Miami. “But now, young professionals are migrating during the winter too.”
A new kind of snowbird
According to real estate agents, there’s been a notable uptick in younger, seasonal homebuyers since the pandemic ushered in flexible work arrangements (and other major lifestyle changes) over a year ago. In Miami, Schwartz estimates they make up about 25% of the market’s total selling and buying activity.
These new buyers come in many forms, but mostly, real estate agents say they’re young professionals in their 30s and 40s. Some have kids and pets. The majority work remotely or own businesses. The main thing they have in common? They’re looking to split their time between two climates — steering clear of the harsh, snowy winters in the north or, in the case of so-called “sunbirds,” the sweltering, 100-degree summers of the south.
Either way, it’s a big change from what agents have seen in the past — when snowbirds were nearly always retired.
“For most of my career, the person who wanted that second place to live — usually chasing better weather, was retired and an empty nester,” says Trenton Hogg, a Redfin agent in Chanhassen, Minnesota — Money’s Best Places to Live this year. Chanhassen and the greater Minneapolis area has seen its fair share of young sunbirds lately, many coming from warmer states, like Arizona and Florida, in the summer months.
Romeo and Jama Filip are one example of this sunbird phenomenon. While the pair might not have moved to Chanhassen, they did buy a second home in mountainous Show Low, Arizona last September.
Far from retired (they’re 38 and 44), the Filips now split their time between Show Low and their original property just outside of Phoenix. Though Show Low is a mere three hours north, it offers a much-needed escape from the heat. In September, Phoenix’s average temperature is a whopping 100. In Show Low? It’s just 78. The two plan to spend the bulk of their summers in their new home, managing their business from afar while waiting out the heat.
“Everyone knows that Arizona is hot in the summer,” says Romeo, who along with his wife, owns a custom foam packaging company called Battle Foam. “The past few summers have seemed even hotter. Being able to drive north for a couple hours and completely change the environment and temperature was a big part of our decision to buy.”
More than just weather
While younger snowbirds are certainly taking the same season-seeking approach that older snowbirds have always clung to, agents say what’s driving them — and how they make it work — is actually quite unique.
For one, remote work’s on the table. In years past, young Americans have been tied to their offices, with proximity to work and commute times a major factor in their housing decisions. Now, there’s a lot more freedom in where today’s buyers can conduct business and move.
Pew Research Center data shows that more than half of workers who can perform their jobs from home would prefer to do so once the pandemic ends. In some industries the switch to remote work could be even more dramatic. According to a recent survey of startup CEOs from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, a quarter of businesses plan to remain completely remote moving forward. Another 67% will adopt a hybrid model, requiring just occasional in-office work.
“With remote work still in play, buyers are finding more flexibility,” says Eduardo Pruna, sales director for Giralda Place, a luxury condo project in Coral Gables, Florida. “All you need is a laptop and strong Wi-Fi.”
Pruna says Giralda Place has seen a “noticeable” increase in non-retired snowbirds in just the last 90 days. Most have other homes in cold urban centers, like Chicago and New York.
Though Pruna says buyers in Giralda Place tend to be sans children, that’s not the case for other parts of the country. Hogg, for example, has seen a good number of snowbirds with young kids — something he attributes to virtual school options and increased homeschooling. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeschooling more than doubled during the pandemic, with 11% of parents choosing to homeschool their children versus 5% in early 2020.
“I have been struck by younger snowbirds with their chicks still in the nest,” Hogg says. “I’m seeing people who are not sure their kids will always be going into physical schools, so these new snowbirds can easily be much younger and with a family in tow.”
Beyond newfound flexibility, the pandemic itself — and all the limitations it’s come with — has also pushed some younger Americans toward the snowbirding lifestyle.
“The COVID nonsense was the final nail that pushed us forward,” Romeo Filip says, explaining that escaping the heat was a nice perk, but not the only reason they bought a second home during the pandemic. “We felt that having a second home as an escape plan was so much more important as restrictions took hold of the country. In a small town like Show Low, the rules seemed a bit more relaxed. We felt we could make our own decision on how to stay safe from COVID.”
The Filips aren’t alone either. Pruna says many young snowbirds in his area took the same approach last year, heading to Florida where restrictions were lighter and things felt a little more free.
“South Florida, in particular, was early to resume normal economic and business operations,” Pruna says. “It drew many people from states with ongoing restrictions.”
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Here to stay
Whatever the reason these young snowbirds are cropping up, it seems they’re likely here to stay.
Torreon, the Show Low golf club community where the Filips now live, has seen an influx of pandemic-era home purchases — many from buyers taking this same snowbird/sunbird approach. Over a quarter of the community’s nearly 900 households bought in 2020 or later, more than half of its residents aren’t retired, and a whopping 83% live there only part-time (the majority don’t even golf!).
“We’ve had a dramatic increase in younger families and young professionals in the last year,” says Bryan Anderson, associate broker at Torreon Realty. “The ability to work remotely is what’s driving it for most of them.”
Developers have noticed the trend, too. District 225, a new condo project in Miami, is case in point. The recently launched development is specifically targeting younger, more migratory buyers, offering perks like fully furnished units, resort-style amenities and an entire floor dedicated to co-working space.
The biggest snowbird perk, though? That’d be District 225’s partnership with Airbnb, which allows residents to easily rent out their units while away from home.
“We’re seeing overwhelming demand from digital nomads, jet setters and snowbirds, and overall, a younger generation of buyers that no longer wants to be tied to one location,” says Eric Fordin, senior vice president of Related Group, District 225’s developer. “Homeowners get to enjoy life on their own terms.”
The pitch must be working. Sales for District 225 just opened three months ago, and 70% of its units are already bought out. It’s just further confirmation that America’s young snowbirds are likely here to stay — at least as long as remote work does.
As Hogg puts it, “Once people figure out they’re going to be allowed to stay working remotely or have only a day or two a week coming into the office, they’ll really start to think about where and how they want to live.”