Seasonal homebuyers flock to the Sunbelt for value and an active lifestyle. Here’s how to help them find a perfect place to land.
By Heather R. Johnson
It’s a longstanding seasonal trend as sure as the appearance of pumpkin-spiced everything: As the leaves change color and cooler weather chills the northern half of the United States, many residents escape to the Sunbelt states for a few months of sun, sand and surf.
A more resilient economy and competitive housing market in vacation home areas have led to a seasonal home buying boost. According to a National Association of Realtors report, vacation home purchases comprised 21 percent of all home sales in 2014 – the highest level since 2003.
Agents based in sun-soaked states typically see an influx of activity during the fall and winter months.
“From September to as late as April, people start coming into the Valley,” says Claire Ackerman, a Sales Associate with RE/MAX Renaissance Realty in Phoenix and a private off-market specialist for the Reeves Group.
“They often purchase while they’re here or the following year based on information about the community and market statistics and trends that we provide during their trip.”
It’s all about amenities and turnkey living
As Sindy Ready sees it, agents should be prepared when the calls come in to promote their area’s hot dining scene or immaculate golf courses as much, if not more, than a home’s remodeled kitchen.
“If someone’s interested in buying a seasonal or vacation home, they’re looking for lifestyle,” says Ready, Team Leader of the Ready Callaghan Team at RE/MAX Excalibur in Scottsdale. “We find out what people do with their free time so we can match them with the right area.”
If someone is interested in buying a seasonal or vacation home, they’re looking for lifestyle.Sindy Ready
Snowbirds tend to invest in lower-maintenance properties such as condominiums, townhomes and smaller single-family homes that they can easily lock and leave. “If the property is in a subdivision with an association that takes care of the common areas, they can just turn the water off, close the door and not worry about it,” says Joyce Bertagna, Associate with RE/MAX Ocean Properties in Juno Beach, Florida.
Ready says that the seasonal buyers often want a vacation feel: They prioritize a spacious kitchen, a patio, and mountain or beach views. “They want something simpler and possibly smaller than their main home, but with space for guests inside and out,” she says.
Younger generation is planning ahead
Although adults ages 55 and older comprise the bulk of the snowbird market, seasonal homes also appeal to a growing number of Gen Xers. “We’re seeing a lot of people in their 40s buying now so they can pay off the property before they retire,” Ready says. “They’re looking at an area that they love to hang out in and where they might want to retire. Sometimes they’ll rent out property because they’re not here that often, or they’ll make it available to family and friends. The whole perception of the snowbird is completely different now.”
Ackerman sees a lot of younger buyers from California who are priced out of their home states’ booming real estate market. “People understand that Arizona is a solid investment right now,” she says. Many East Coast residents make a beeline for Florida for the same reasons.
Connect with out-of-state agents to win clients
It doesn’t take much to persuade a New Yorker or a Canadian to buy a winter home in Florida or Arizona, but agents do have to adjust their marketing efforts to maintain a solid seasonal clientele. Many agents increase their snowbird marketing efforts in the fall and winter to target not only prospective clients, but also out-of-state agents.
“We touch base with agents year-round in hopes that when their clients start to look for a second home, they’ll keep us in mind when they’re looking in Arizona,” says Ready, who estimates 30 percent to 40 percent of her business is for second or third homes. “We always start with RE/MAX because of the strong global network. You have to maximize your connections. If agents trust you to take care of their clients, they’re going to send others to you.”
Build and maintain relationships both near and far
Social media is a cost-effective way to build and maintain these relationships. Ackerman uses her personal website, as well as regular ads and updates about new listings on Facebook and LinkedIn groups, to keep her name in front of agents and prospective clients. She also recognizes the value of client referrals. “I have a large tier of personal clients who have relocated or bought second homes, so by giving them a superior experience, they trust in my expertise and they refer friends and family to me when they’re interested in buying a second home.”
Word of mouth has also led to several home sales for Bertagna, who estimates about 50 percent of her clients are snowbirds or investors. She travels often to her native Long Island to visit family. Her brother and sister-in-law, both retired from the police department, have sent her many referrals. “They want someone they can trust,” she says of her police department clients. “The other day a gentleman called who worked with my brother 10 years ago. I’m meeting him next month to help him find a home.”
Market yourself on multiple fronts
Traditional marketing tools, such as e-newsletters, postcards, and other marketing products, work well for Bertagna. She mails annual southeast Florida restaurant guides and “places of interest” guides, both designed as tri-fold brochures, to her target market and past clients, as well as magnetic calendars around the holidays. Ready conducts a quarterly social media and e-mail campaign. She may send agent contacts and prospective clients an e-newsletter with information about Scottsdale-area events and market trends. The Ready Callaghan Team’s social media content includes links to helpful real estate articles, advice for homebuyers and tips for real estate investors.
Of course, face-to-face connections, either during personal trips or business conventions, always help build relationships with prospective buyers and agents across state lines. As national president for the Women’s Council of Realtors, Ready attends several annual events and has built a wide network of agents. “Whatever network you’re passionate about, you have to focus and make it part of your business plan,” she says.
When those prospective clients do call, roll out the red carpet to your active, sunny community. “It’s not a one-time deal when you sell a property. You want to assure your clients that you’re committed to providing excellent customer service,” says Bertagna, who received dozens of referrals and eight or nine home sales from one client alone. “As long as they trust and have confidence in you, satisfied clients will serve as your greatest source of business.”