LAST UPDATED: March 7, 2023
The pandemic has changed the vacation rental landscape for snowbirds, and many snowbirds have already started to feel the effects of shrinking supply and significantly higher rents when looking for rentals this season.
Unfortunately, all indications are that this will not change for the foreseeable future, and may even get worse.
A number of factors have contributed to the vacation rental challenges faced by many snowbirds, including:
- During the pandemic, many boomers in the U.S. and Canada took early retirement and purchased winter homes. Some of these were previously rental properties that have now left the rental market, as these new owners intend to use them for themselves rather than rent them out.
- With the shift towards working from home, many Americans who can now work remotely from anywhere are moving seasonally from northern U.S. states to the U.S. sunbelt - as well as other destinations such as Mexico or Portugal - for the winter – which has led to an increased demand for vacation rentals in many snowbird destinations.
- More boomers are retiring every year, creating more demand for vacation rentals
- The weak Canadian dollar has further exacerbated the situation for Canadian snowbirds, as it makes vacation rentals in the U.S. even more expensive.
This has resulted in a tight rental market with limited supply and much higher rental prices than we saw pre-pandemic.
All of this is to say that a lot more planning – and in some cases compromising – is required by Canadian snowbirds who rent over the winter.
Here are our top tips for finding a vacation rental in this difficult market.
Renew your current rental now!
There is no better way to secure your rental for the following winter than to renew your lease while you are still in your destination.
Let the owners know as early as possible that you want to come back for next year. And don’t be surprised if the rent goes up - landlords know that demand is high and they can charge more.
Look for next year while you are in your snowbird destination
If you are still in your winter destination and are not able to rent the same place again next year, start looking for different rental options for next winter while you are still in your destination.
This way, you can actually go visit the properties and see exactly what they look like, which is much better than just seeing photos. You can also check out the location and surrounding units, etc… to get a feel for noise factors or other considerations.
Another advantage of looking for a place for next season while you are still in your winter destination is that you’ll also be able to draw on local resources such as estate agents, property management companies, and local notice boards and newspapers – as well as word of mouth, which can often be the most valuable resource of all. Talk to everyone you meet about rentals and ask if they know of any that might be available.
The longer you rent for, the more options you’ll have
It’s also important to keep in mind that longer-term rentals will win out over short-term rentals every time. Landlords would rather rent to one person for a minimum of 3 months over the winter, so if you only want March, you will find it much more difficult to find a place.
If you’re looking to rent for a shorter period of time, it is sometimes easier to find rentals for November and December - and even the month of April – but from January through March most places will require you to rent for the full 3 months.
You’d also be wise not to try and rent for an odd number of weeks, i.e. 6 or 10 weeks, as most rentals are conducted on a calendar month basis.
Where to Look
There are several rental sites that most snowbirds use to find vacation rentals, with the most popular being VRBO, HomeAway, HomeToGo and Airbnb.
There are also many local and niche sites that have listings for a particular destination or region. If you Google “vacation rentals” and the location you want, many of these will come up, along with the ones mentioned above.
You can also find vacation rentals on classified websites like Kijiji, Craigslist, and other similar sites.
Some snowbirds are finding rentals through Facebook groups and Facebook Marketplace, however, it’s very important to be cautious when looking for vacation rentals here, as they are rife with scams, so you’ll want to make sure the listings are legitimate and the person advertising them is actually the owner.
And as mentioned earlier, local real estate agents, property management companies, and newspapers in your desired winter destination can also be good resources, as well as word of mouth – ask your friends who winter in the same destination if they know of any rentals or resources they have used to find rentals.
Watch out for rental scams
Wherever you’re searching rentals, be aware that rental scams are on the rise - so make sure you use reliable, reputable resources, ask for references from the landlord from previous tenants, and do everything you can to ensure you are dealing with the owners directly when possible. Here are a few tips to help you avoid a vacation rental scam:
- If the rent or terms are too good to be true, be suspicious and verify the property exists and that the advertiser is the owner.
- Always ask to speak to the owner by phone not just through messages or email. Ask lots of questions about the property features and see if they can answer easily.
- Ask for contact information for previous tenants and check with them.
- Look for owners who have proper rental agreements and legitimate payment methods for deposits, payments, etc.
- Whenever possible pay through your credit card, this method offers you the greatest protection.
- If you are booking through a vacation rental website and are directed away from the site you are on to make a payment, BEWARE. This is a common trick by fraudsters. Only pay through the website you are on unless you know the owners and have dealt with them before or you have verified through friends, etc.
- Never pay by cash or money order as this is impossible to trace.
Snowbirds can find more tips on how to protect yourself from vacation rental scams here.
Get a rental agreement
You should always have a comprehensive rental agreement signed by you and the landlord that clearly covers the terms of the rental, rental dates, price, property address, when the final rent payment is due, etc.
You should never rent a vacation property without a formal rental agreement, as a formal agreement will protect both you and the owner.
At a minimum, the rental agreement should include the following key terms:
- Duration, rental amount and payment instructions
- Specific occupancy dates and times
- Deposit amount
- Refund and cancellation terms
- Any other additional costs such as cleaning fees, utility charges
- Any rules for the property
- Clarify if there is a security deposit and the date it will be refunded by
For more vacation rental agreement tips for snowbirds, click here.
The bottom line
If you are having a lot of trouble finding a vacation rental at an affordable price for next winter, one possible alternative is to consider buying a property. While not everyone is in a position to do this, it is often why some snowbirds end up owning property.
If you are going to be staying in your winter destination for 4 months or more, then owning often makes sense financially for many people. This is especially true with the significantly higher rental rates we have seen since the COVID pandemic. Of course, this only works if you are certain that you have found a place that you want to keep coming back to year after year.
However, if you don’t want to or are unable to buy a property and prefer to keep renting, then you cannot start searching too early for the following season - and you might even need to look at alternative destinations if you cannot find anything in your preferred destination.
Unfortunately, with the Boomer demographic being as large as it is and so many Boomers retiring every year, it appears that the demand for snowbird rentals will just continue to grow, resulting in limited supply and higher rental rates for the foreseeable future.