Insurance for Snowbirds, Living Half the Year Down South

By: Leslie Bodge, AAI, CISR Elite

As the branch manager of the Attleboro office, Leslie brings more than 30 years of agency experience, including customer service, sales, and management skills.

Every year, hundreds of Massachusetts residents purchase property in the Southern states. For some, it’s a retirement home. For others, a source of rental income in the meantime. If buyers also happen to keep a first home in the Bay State—splitting time between New England’s mild summers and Florida’s mild winters—we refer to them as “snowbirds.” And while these birds aren’t exactly rare, their insurance needs are definitely unique.

If you or a loved one divides time between Massachusetts and someplace sunnier, the following info is worth a read. Take a moment to ensure your coverages—home, auto, and umbrella—are all designed to support the way you live and travel. You can also call our team of experts: 508-339-2951, who specialize in insurance for Massachusetts snowbirds and families planning retirement.

Car Insurance for Snowbirds

Is your insurance company aware that you take your car down South for half the year? Many snowbirds neglect to mention this seemingly minor detail, assuming that two seasons away from home is the same as any other long-distance driving vacation. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Most auto insurance carriers now include specific language in their underwriting terms, stipulating that the insured vehicle(s) must be “garaged” in the state where the policy originates for at least six months every year. Some car owners never notice this language. Or else, the language doesn’t apply to them when they first purchase the policy. Later on—after buying a second home and switching to a snowbird lifestyle—they simply neglect to update the policy at renewal. That can spell trouble.

We recommend keeping your agent informed about any plans to spend significant time—with your car—away from home. The same holds true when kids move off to college and take the car with them. Your insurance carrier wants to know where that car is staying on a semi-permanent basis. Some carriers will allow us to make a note in your file (approximately how many days per year the car is garaged in Location A and Location B). Other carriers are a bit stricter about garaging updates. This may require a bi-annual phone call to your agent, whenever you’re planning to swap one residence for the other.

If that sounds like a hassle, we can promise you’d rather be safe than sorry. An insurance journal recently published this true story about a Massachusetts family who took their car to Florida part time, without completing the insurer’s renewal questionnaire (something we all might lose in the mail). Spoiler alert: an accident occurred; both cars involved were total losses; the cost added up to more than $100,000, and the family’s auto insurance company denied the claim—because no one told them the car was garaged in Florida half the year. Here at C&S we have never seen a situation quite like this, and we’re confident the top-rated insurance carriers we work with would not try to shirk their coverage via any loophole. Still, this is just another reminder of why it’s a good idea to check in with your agent every year, OR when something in your life changes. 

Home Insurance for Snowbirds

Many snowbirds own the second home they visit during cold-weather months. And yet many aren’t prepared for how insurance on the second home differs from coverage on the first. What are some common differences? Here’s a brief list:

  • A second home is often viewed as a higher risk property; its premium may be higher.

In the eyes of most insurance companies, second homes tend to be viewed as higher-risk properties, Why? Possibly because they’re located near the water. Possibly because they sit empty for extended periods of time, making them more susceptible to burglary. Fires and water-damage events can also be much worse if no one is home to notice and stop the destruction. When comparing quotes for your second home, be sure to ask your agent about home insurance discounts for minor home improvements (alarm systems, water leak detectors, emergency generators), which could offset the higher premium.

  • The second home is insured only for specific types of events; it’s a “named perils” policy.

When you bought your first home insurance policy, you probably didn’t have to pick and choose the types of damaging events you wanted covered, but the same may not be true when it comes to your vacation home. Second home insurance policies are typically not as broad as their “standard” home counterparts. It’s up to you (and your agent) to include all relevant types of losses and coverage terms. If you already have a trusted partner for Massachusetts insurance, it makes sense to have this same agent coordinate coverages for a vacation home.

  • The second home is inadequately insured as a rental property, unless you seek additional coverage.

If you bought your down-South property already knowing that you planned to rent it, you’re probably familiar with the insurance implications. On the other hand, if rental income is a new idea—or if you’re considering a long-term tenant versus short-term vacation renters—it’s important to sit down with your local, MA insurance agent. Insurance companies will want a clear outline of your plans. (For example, are you going to be an Airbnb host? A landlord? Are you considering renting your Massachusetts home while you’re in Florida?) Here’s a good overview about insurance when renting your home.

These differences aren’t universally the case, and in fact there may be others. So, if you’re buying a second home (or renewing coverage on a vacation property you’ve already purchased), contact our agents for a quick review. Although we are based in Massachusetts, we are licensed to write policies in many Southern states, and can often help you bundle coverage for both homes—securing today’s most optimal terms and rates.

Umbrella Insurance for Snowbirds

There’s a common misconception that umbrella insurance is only for the ultra-wealthy. We’re not sure how this rumor got started, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. You don’t need to be a millionaire to get sued for a million dollars. Car accidents, personal injury claims, even your activity online (comments posted on social media, for example) can land your family in the courtroom. Meanwhile, today’s legal defense costs and jury settlements can quickly exceed the liability limits on your home insurance policy.

So how does umbrella insurance apply to snowbirds, in particular?

Maybe you keep a backyard pool for the grandkids. Maybe you volunteer on a board of directors. Maybe you adopted a dog this past year. You should be free to focus on the happiness and joy these examples bring to your life; your insurance agent should be mindful of the associated risks. There are dozens of reasons why an umbrella policy makes sense for today’s seniors—folks who have worked hard to build a nest egg and plan for retirement. If you’re not 100% clear on your personal liability exposures, ask one of our agents to review them with you today. Call us at 508-339-2951.

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