Fleeing the chilling cold of winter for US-based vacation properties and resorts is practically a national pastime as Canadians of all stripes regularly gather their belongings and travel south to bask in balmy temperatures for varying lengths of time each year. Because of this, a new type of Canadian citizen has emerged: the “snowbird”. These individuals choose to leave Canada and its ice and snow for prolonged periods of time by either renting or buying a second home south of the border.
While some Canadians already know the snowbird life is for them, others may be considering trying it for the first time. Choosing to pack up and head down to Florida or other sunny areas is certainly exciting, but it’s always important to ensure you are properly covered before you do so.
A snowbird’s insurance needs are different from those who take a holiday for a week or two at a time, so it’s important to get to know your existing insurance, including what your policy will cover, whether you’ll need to purchase additional coverage or a new policy, and how your policy may be affected as it relates to your home in Canada.
Gathering all the critical facts is key. You want to be able to make an informed decision that protects your family, your possessions and your property. So here are some questions to keep in mind when evaluating what you need to do before you follow the birds south for the winter.
RENT OR BUY?
The decision to rent or buy is predicated on a range of factors, including budget, availability of suitable properties, and the amount of time you’re planning to spend down south. It’s important to note that a standard homeowner policy can protect personal items taken with you and cover you for liability if you choose to rent a property while abroad. So, if you happen to accidentally flood your rental, or if a fire is accidentally started in your space, your home policy will cover you. It should be noted that there are specific rules around what content is covered in your policy. You’ll need to talk to an insurance professional about this because what’s covered is contingent on your insurance package and your circumstances.
Purchasing is different. If you choose to buy a vacation home in the United States, then you will need to buy insurance through a U.S. insurer. As always, talk it over with an insurance professional first. Your insurance agent or broker will be able to clarify what you’re currently covered for and what additional options may be worthwhile.
IS MY PRIMARY RESIDENCE COVERED WHILE I AM AWAY?
One of the biggest concerns for snowbirds who head south for extended periods is how their permanent home’s coverage will be impacted. To ensure your property’s insurance stays valid for any leave of absence longer than four or more consecutive days, there are specific steps you must take to ensure coverage on your primary residence.
- Have someone check on your home regularly. You’ll need to ensure that a competent and responsible person is available to check on things while you’re away. This person should visit frequently, ensure your home is secure, and conduct checks to make sure there are no leaks in the plumbing or that other water damage hasn’t occurred. This is something you should arrange to have done all year round no matter when you travel. Whether you’re taking a short trip to break up the winter blahs, or if you’ll be gone for the whole season, having someone check on your home is crucial. Check with your insurer about how frequently you’ll need someone to stop by your home. This can vary based on your insurer and policy, and other circumstances surrounding the state of your home.
- Take steps to prevent bursting pipes. During your absence, no matter the season, the potential is always there for a power outage. In our Canadian winters, a heat source failure could cause your pipes to freeze and burst. This makes draining your pipes prior to heading south in the winter an important task to consider. The process of emptying all of your pipes and shutting off the water can be time intensive, so your decision should be made based on your individual circumstances. Once you’ve shut off the water, be sure to check that all the pipes have been drained. Also be sure to check under the sink and other areas where water can sit. There’s no coverage for damages due to freezing and burst pipes if you are away for an extended period and you did not take necessary precautions to prevent these issues, so make sure you talk to your insurance agent or broker about the best options for you and your home.
WHAT ABOUT MY CAR?
If you’re planning to fly to your destination and you’ll be leaving your car behind in Canada for an extended period, you may be eligible for a reduction on your auto premiums while you’re away. By speaking to your insurance professional, you can discuss modifications to your policy that could save you money while covering your vehicle during your absence. Many insurers make allowances for the fact that your car will be parked at home for the duration of your absence and will not be in use. If you do choose to go this route, be sure to take measures that will ensure your car is not driven by anyone for any reason during this absence. If necessary consider collecting spare keys from people who may have used your vehicle in the past and communicate the circumstances of the situation to anyone who will have access to your vehicle while you’re away. Don’t forget to let your insurer know in advance when you’ll be returning — so that your regular coverage can be reinstated once you’re home.
Whether you choose to go away for a few weeks or a few months, it’s crucial to ensure your belongings are covered, both at home, and wherever it is you’re planning to stay. Speaking to a savvy insurance professional about your coverage as well as a trusted friend, family member, or neighbour to keep an eye on your home can ease your mind as you make plans to escape the cold.
The only thing left to do when it’s all said and done — is to fly on snowbird, and enjoy the warm weather!