Snowbird Tips You NEED To Know
Are you a snowbird traveling south for the winter? Tips, advice and information for snowbird retirees (and non-retirees!) who plan to travel to warmer destinations during the winter months. For those that do not know what a snowbird is, it is commonly defined as a northerner who moves to a warmer southern state just for the winter months.
We have gone down south for an extended period of time the last three years. We liked it so much, that last year we purchased a condo down in Florida, and now snowbird down south for almost three months in the winter. Over the course of the last three years, we have learned quite a bit about closing up our northern home, and how to make the process of living in another state part-time easier.
Snowbird Tips You NEED To Know
• Arrange for a mail hold, or mail forwarding, depending on how long you will be away. The USPS will also gather up your mail and send it on to you for a fee when you will be gone an extended period of time. Financial documents such as bank statements, credit card statements, etc cannot be forwarded. Make arrangements with your financial institution to add a seasonal address.)
• Have as many bill pays online as possible. Utilities, credit cards, rent, mortgage, whatever you have that you can pay online, do so. This way, if mail goes astray you are still getting an email alert an account is due, and you can pay from your checking account online.
• Cancel your newspaper delivery. Arrange a start and stop date. If you want to keep up on local news, see if your local newspaper has an electronic edition.
• Cancel your trash service if necessary.
• Arrange for a part time caretaker for your property. Friend, relative, or paid service, someone needs to check on your house weekly or every other week. Leave a phone number with a neighbor for emergency purposes (assuming you have a cordial relationship with a neighbor). Make sure they go through the whole house. If someone isn’t there every day they won’t catch everything that could happen in your house, but footprints in the snow, even on occasion, will help deter a thief. You can also check with your local police department if they have a “vacation check program”, and if so, what it entails.
• Get a plow service. Make certain they shovel the walkways too. This not only will help you avoid a ticket in many municipalities, but it also doesn’t scream “no one is home!” to a would be robber.
• Put your telephone,cable and/or internet on vacation hold. Not all companies offer this service, so call your local utilities and ask. You will pay a monthly fee that is significantly less than if you were paying for regular service.
• Empty the refrigerator. We use this as an opportunity to clean out the fridge. It is funny how those condiments you opened “last week” were actually opened up months or years ago, and are now expired. If you are unplugging your refrigerator, and it is a refrigerator/freezer unit, make certain you have emptied the freezer too. Note: if you DO unplug the unit(s), you will need to leave the door open to prevent mold and foul odors.
• Empty your dishwasher. Leave the door open. This prevents mold and foul odors.
• Open up the washing machine lid. If you have a fuel efficient machine that has an outside detergent load, open that too. This will prevent mold as well as foul odors.
• Take out ALL the trash. You don’t want anything left in the house to stink.
• Shut off the water in your northern home. Open all the drains to let the water flow out, and leave open the lowest drain. Yes, I understand you will still have the heat on low, but believe me, there are enough stories of pipes bursting that it just isn’t worth keeping the water on and undrained while you are away for an extended period of time. This will also help prevent water from sitting in pipes and stinking up the place if you are gone for a long time.
Before we filled in our pool, Hubby and I went on a cruise out of San Juan one year. Sonny-boy was home, so the water was on. The pool guys didn’t shut off the water to the pool down the basement (they were supposed to as part of the closing process), and one of the pipes to the pool split!
Fortunately we have excellent plumbers, and after I gave them a quick call they came out and fixed the issue. We had a bit of a mess when we got home, but imagine how much worse it would have been if it had split in the house instead of in the garage? Just shut off the water and drain the pipes.
• Drain the Hot Water Heater. We did this last year and were glad we did. Not only does it cut down on the gas bill, we didn’t have to worry about the hot water tank splitting. Hubby also did something to shut off the pilot since there was no water to heat. Make sure you read the directions for your hot water tank. Our Florida tank is electric, so we need to unplug that one!
• Close the fireplace flue. This way heat doesn’t escape, and you won’t have any “friends” finding their way down the vent.
• Set the heat to low. Like low-low. The last thing you want to do is pay to heat the house to 72° when you aren’t home. These days, you can get set up with a phone or the internet so you can track your house settings (with the correct thermostat). Hubby always tracks ours to make certain it no warmer than 60° in our house.
• Store your valuables in a safe. While you probably have things you regularly store in a fire-proof safe, you may want to add any jewelry you won’t be taking down south, important documents, guns, etc. “Just in case” there is a fire or burglary while you are gone.
• If you have a landline turn off the ringer. That way, the neighbors (and would-be thieves) won’t hear the phone ringing without anyone picking up. If you have an answering machine, don’t change to an away message. Leave your regular message and retrieve new messages remotely.
• Unplug unnecessary lights and appliances. Even when running, plugged in fixtures can draw electricity. No sense paying for something no one uses.
• Leave a few lights on inside your house. Set timers, and have different settings for different days of the week.
• Make sure all your windows are locked. Adjust your curtains so that some of the lights you have going on will be seen from outside. Total darkness isn’t something you want.
• Set the house alarm. We have an alarm system at our house. We set it, and leave my brother as a contact with the alarm company. We had a scare once when the front door alarm triggered (for no apparent reason) while we were in Vegas over New Year’s. My brother met the police at the house, and the police walked through to make certain no one was in the house and nothing had been stolen or trashed.
• Set motion detectors if separate from your alarm system. We have both alarm and independent motion detectors, so we set ’em all!
• Lock your gate if you have one to the backyard to deter trespassers.
• You may want to consider having a doctor down south and up north. Last year Hubby went to the chiropractor four times a week in Florida. He also has a chiropractor in New York.
• Make sure your prescriptions are with a pharmacy that is easily accessible in both states. The first year we went down we only stayed for a month. I just made certain I had enough of my prescriptions to see me through the entire month. However once you are staying more than 90 days, this becomes more difficult to do. There are Walgreens and CVS stores in both New York State and in Florida. Same goes for WalMart, Target, and mail order drugs.
• Have a vet for your pets in both states. Our dog, Max has a disease that requires constant care, so we must have a vet in both states. This isn’t an issue for him because he always has a vet set up in St Augustine, in addition to the vet he has up here in the ‘burbs of Buffalo.
• If you have houseplants plants give them away if you plan on being gone for months on end, or make certain your caretaker is taking care of the foliage too.
Recognize that whatever you do to prevent mishaps, unless you have a 24/7 caretaker for your home while you are away, you may yet come back home to an unfortunate surprise. Last year we has several sets of contractors in our house doing work while we were away. That meant people could see someone was at the house. We had also turned the water off, and told the contractors they would not have water access.
But, last year was a wicked winter, and we ended up with a few inches of clear water at some point down our basement (it was long gone by the time we got home). This in spite of having a battery back-up on the sump pump, and a whole house generator for electric in case of a power outage so the sump pump wouldn’t die, and the water off and drained. The plumbers have theorized it was a bad snow melt, but since we were not here, we will never know exactly what happened. On the upside, our basement is now cleaned out and decluttered.
These are just tips on what we do to prepare for a trip south. I make no warrants that these will prevent any water, mold, household damage or theft to your house, these are just some friendly tips based on the experience Hubby and I have had the last few years snowbirding down south.
Do you snowbird? If so, what tips do you have for shutting down your northern home to head south?