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Retirement property

Nine U.S. hotspots for Canadian snowbirds Add to ...

This is part of a series of stories on retirement and second home destinations in North America.

Canadians looking for affordable, hot-weather retirement real estate options have traditionally turned south to the United States. The subprime mortgage collapse in 2008 set off a free fall in U.S. home prices that made purchasing a second property or eventual retirement property an option for even more Canadians.

Of the international clients who bought homes in the United States, 71 per cent were Canadians, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors that summed up the 12-month period ending in March of 2013.

As a group, buyers from Canada continued to be the top international purchasers of U.S. homes, followed by clients from China, Mexico, India and Britain. Canadians shelled out a median house price of $182,955 (U.S.), the report said, with about 86 per cent purchasing on an all-cash basis.

Florida, Arizona and to a lesser degree California, continue to be the top geographical draws for Canadian buyers. (To a lesser extent, Nevada is also an emerging property destination for Canadians.)

Per cent of total Canadian purchases by state

Florida: 39 per cent

Arizona: 24 per cent

California: 8 per cent

This year, though, with the Canadian dollar declining in value against the U.S. dollar, the search for bargain properties has become more challenging. U.S. home prices have strengthened, too.

Based on interviews with property experts, here is a selection of suburban or resort areas in the United States – some long-time favourites, others up-and-coming – that are proving popular with Canadian buyers.


1) Sarasota offers small-town feel

More Canadians own real estate in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice region in 2012 than any other Florida location, according to a Bank of Montreal report released last year. These three smallish Gulf Coast cities are popular for their beaches, small-town feel and walkability. Retirees who decide to settle in the area will have plenty of company – Venice has the oldest median age of any non-planned retirement community in the United States: 67.


2) Historic Fort Myers offers value – and baseball

Also on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Fort Myers is emerging as a contender because of its revitalized downtown, nearby airport, Fort Myers Beach and excellent prices (one-bedroom homes can still be found for $120,000). It’s also the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Another draw is that while new development can be scarce in places such as Sarasota, Fort Myers still has plenty on offer.


3) For sugar-sand beaches, try Naples

Nearby Naples, Fla., is a higher-end retirement choice, with subtropical weather, upscale shopping and abundant medical facilities. The town’s greatest selling point is the beautiful “sugar-sand” white coral beach, spectacular sunsets, and its many golf courses. Not surprisingly, prices are higher in this popular retirement destination.


4) Theme parks ensure lasting appeal of Orlando

With its proximity to theme parks such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, Orlando remains a popular choice in Central Florida for snowbirds looking for plenty of diversions for their visiting grandkids. Orlando offers a diverse array of real estate options at affordable price points, from condos to single family homes to retirement communities. Conveniently, the nearby airport boasts daily flights for Canadians.

5) Like the desert? Phoenix tops Arizona destinations

Weather alone is reason enough for chilled Canadians to consider Phoenix, with a fast-growing metro area of more than 4.3 million people, as a second home in winter. Golf, hiking and a spring-training baseball season are big drawing cards along with spectacular scenery (deserts, foothills and red rock canyons) without even counting the state’s most famous landmark, the Grand Canyon.


6) Love the mountains? Explore the outdoors in Tucson

With a metro-area population of just less than one million people, Tucson, Ariz., is smaller, less expensive and more laid back than big-city Phoenix. Surrounded by five mountain ranges, Tucson offers a wide range of outdoor recreation (from golfing, to mountain biking to bird watching), with a rich cultural life influenced in part by the proximity of Mexico just one hour south by car. Like Phoenix, the average monthly high in the winter is between 15 and 20 C, with about 290 days of sun in the year.


7) There’s more to Las Vegas than the ‘strip’

Yes, Las Vegas is one of the world’s best-known entertainment capitals for its glitzy 6.8-kilometre “strip” of casinos, nightclubs and hotels. But for retirees there are many reasons to consider Nevada as a second-home location: A relatively low cost of living, affordable housing, diverse recreation and cultural amenities in one of the least populated, but geographically dramatic U.S. states makes Las Vegas, with more than 290 days of sunshine, an attractive proposition.


8) Palm Springs not just for the rich and famous

Though it tends to be more expensive than some other sunny retirement locales, a move to California will guarantee what many retirees crave: a dependably mild climate and plenty of outdoor activities. Palm Springs has long been an oasis in the desert for many Canadians. With its abundance of golf courses, sunshine and (relatively) affordable housing prices, it remains a snowbird hub.


9) San Luis Obispo – a college town that isn’t just for the young

For retirees willing to spend a bit more, one popular California locale is picturesque San Luis Obispo, which enjoys proximity to vineyards, beaches and mountains, plus a vibrant arts community. Known as “little Santa Barbara” or SLO, San Luis Obispo is a quiet, walkable town of 45,000 popular with retirees and students alike – it’s also home to California Polytechnic State University.

10) Couldn’t resist a 10th option: Camarillo – Ventura Highway in the sunshine

Camarillo in California’s Ventura County is becoming popular with wealthy snowbirds, particularly for anyone looking to settle in a retirement community – Camarillo boasts several 55+ developments. For a taste of the city, Los Angeles is just 80 kilometres away, and nature lovers can frequent the three nearby national parks.

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