We could all use a getaway from time to time—especially when the St. Louis weather is less than favorable. There is a reason the snowbird lifestyle is so popular, with St. Louisans purchasing second homes in locations like Florida. But where to begin in the hunt for an out-of-state vacation property? We reached out to agents that work in both St. Louis and Florida for their expert perspective.

meet the agents

Jeffery Warner | The Warner Hall Group
Dielmann Sotheby’s International Realty


Mary Noel Donovan and Dan Diekneite
William Raveis Real Estate

What are the most important things to consider when thinking about purchasing an out-of-state vacation property?
Mary Noel Donovan and Dan Diekneite (MND&DD): It is important you know what your objective is. If your goal is to occupy and enjoy, it is important that you understand all of the costs associated with owning that home. For instance, taxes, insurance, homeowners association fees, maintenance items, utilities, internet and a home security system all add up. Consider budgeting 1% to 2% of the sales price for maintenance items. If you are thinking about purchasing a property, you might want to consider renting first. Why not try before you buy?

Any tips for looking for a rental property?
MND&DD: If you want to rent a property for the entire season, you can shop early, as owners love a three-month rental. If you want to rent for a month, there are still options, but you will have better luck booking closer to December. Of course, the least expensive way to try out different areas is to rent in the summer and fall, where rents can be half of what they are in season. The off season is still a great time to be in Florida, with the beautiful sandy beaches, discounted golf and more accessible dining reservations.

What are some important things to look for in an agent for a vacation property?
Jeffery Warner (JW): Make sure you ask the right questions: Are they native to the area or long-term second home residents themselves? If there are a large number of foreign investors or buyers, are they affiliated with an international company?

Is there anything people should learn about the location they are purchasing in before beginning the process?
JW: Check out tax advantages, homestead rules and seasonal rental rates versus yearly. Homeowners associations also can have a wide range of rules—from simple to complex. Visiting rental websites is very helpful.

What do you suggest people look for in a property?
MND&DD: A condo or a villa is a great choice when purchasing a vacation home in Florida. Many offer an abundance of amenities, in addition to being a low maintenance, “lock and leave” option when you are up north for the summer. However, you must pay attention to homeowners association fees, as they can vary greatly. Finally, check to see if there are any special assessments planned currently or in the near future for capital improvements.

How much time is generally involved in the process? How often should buyers be visiting the city they plan to purchase in?
JW: Virtual tours are very helpful, and I recommend making two or three physical visits. There’s limited inventory for each buyer’s subjective criteria, especially if you’re looking in the under the
$1 million price range.

With snowbirds specifically, how do you recommend clients plan for the months they won’t be inhabiting the home?
MND&DD: Most homeowners hire a home watch company to enter the home on a weekly basis to flush all of the toilets, run faucets, make sure systems are functioning properly and that the house is in good condition. This service costs roughly $50 a week and provides peace of mind to the out-of-town owner. The home watch service also can meet any other service providers or repair people at the house.

What about renting out your property?
MND&DD: If it is your plan to rent a property, the first thing you need to do is find out the restrictions for rentals, both from the municipality and from any other governing body, such as the homeowners association. For example, Destin, Florida, offers Saturday-to-Saturday weekly rentals, and the season is May to August, with some rentals over the holidays and in the shoulder season, the time between peak season and offseason. The City of Naples has a one-month minimum rental restriction for most properties. There also is usually a limited number of different renters per year. The rental season in Naples is January to March, with November, December and April being considered the shoulder season.

If someone opts for a single-family home, how do you recommend the deal with maintenance when they aren’t there?
JW: Opt for professional services only. Don’t penny pinch on a good manager.

What do you think is the most important advice you can give someone who is considering purchasing an out-of-state property?
JW: Buyers should decide if they’ll be happy always going to the same place. The costs of a second home are high. It is probably less expensive to rent, and it offers the freedom of visiting a variety of places. Will you be happy for a number of years, not just the immediate? Second home markets can be volatile, especially with hurricanes in the area. Make sure you have a long-term love for a town not merely a visit once love affair.