Canadian Snowbirds Fly South Despite Currency Decline

Couple in a kitchen.
Condos are appealing to foreign buyers like Canadians because they require less maintenance. Canadians buys also want a condo that can be rented when they aren’t using it to generate income.

Vacation homes in Sunbelt States like Florida, Arizona and California have always lured Canadian buyers seeking a warmer climate.

“Canadian buyers, especially the more affluent buyers, are motivated by lifestyle rather than investment opportunities and are less concerned about property appreciation,” says Paul Zeger, a partner with Polaris Pacific, a new home sales and marketing company in San Francisco.

The weaker Canadian dollar has reduced the number of Canadian buyers in the United States. For the first time in its surveys of international buyers, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that Chinese buyers exceeded Canadians in 2015.

“There’s been a noticeable drop-off in Canadian buyers not only because of the declining Canadian dollar but also because many of the high net worth Canadians who buy in Southern California are connected with the energy business,” says Phillip Smith, president and chief operating officer of Sunrise Company in Indian Wells, Calif. “We think this is more of a delay in purchasing rather than a long-term fall-off since the demand is still there.”

Realtor.com’s research shows that Canadian buyers are the top international property searchers overall and also lead searches in the top 10 markets that attract international buyers, an indicator that their desire to buy in the United States hasn’t waned. Canadians bought $11.2 billion in U.S. real estate in 2015, according to NAR, although the percent of international buyers from Canada declined from 23 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2015.

Canadian Buyer Preferences

Climate and ease of access are two motivating factors that entice Canadian buyers to Arizona, Nevada, Florida and California. Popular cities for Canadians are Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and Naples, according to NAR. Direct flights from major Canadian cities often drive buyers to places like Tampa and Palm Springs.

“Canadian buyers on the Gulf Coast in Florida predominantly buy condos, with the wealthier buyers purchasing newly built condos,” says Craig Beggins, a broker with Century 21 Beggins Enterprises in Tampa. “The new condos have all the latest amenities, but they’re also almost twice as expensive as some of the older condos.”

Beggins says a waterfront single-family home in the Tampa area can cost $2 million and up, while an older, small condo with a water view starts in the $200,000s. Newer water view condos start in the $700,000s.

Condos are appealing to foreign buyers because they require less maintenance. Beggins says many buyers from Canada want a condo that can be rented when they aren’t using it to generate income.

“If the condo rules allow short-term rentals, they will buy a place with as many bedrooms as they can afford,” says Beggins.

In California, Canadians are the second largest buyer group behind people who already live in the state, says Smith.

“Most of the Canadian buyers in our communities in Southern California are here for all or part of the season from November through May,” says Smith. “The typical home they buy is a three-bedroom, three-and-one-half bath single family home with a separate casita for a guests with a bedroom and a full bath.”

Zeger says most Canadian buyers, as well as other vacation home buyers, choose a home and décor that are different from what they have at home.

“If they live in a high rise in Toronto, they want a place in a resort area with more land around it and a golf course,” he says. “If they have a big house, they want their vacation place to be a condo.”

He says Canadian buyers prefer new construction if possible because they want a low-maintenance lifestyle that they can “lock-and-leave.”

Zeger says Canadian buyers can find affordable vacation homes in Phoenix and outside San Diego. Central Florida also offers affordable options.

Financing for Canadian Buyers

Zeger says that between the decline in the Canadian dollar and price appreciation, especially in California, homes cost about 50 percent more than they did a few years ago.

According to NAR, 73 percent of Canadians paid cash for their homes in the United States in 2015, but there are options for those who prefer to finance their purchase.

“Lenders are willing to do deals with Canadian buyers more than with other international buyers because our banking systems are connected,” says Zeger. “Most U.S. banks have a Canadian partner.”

TD Bank, owned by TD Bank Group in Toronto, has a team of mortgage lenders dedicated to working with Canadian clients. Canadian homebuyers face similar loan requirements as U.S. buyers, needing a 20 percent down payment for a vacation home and a 25 percent down payment for an investment property, says Michael Housman, a mortgage loan officer with TD Bank in Tampa.

“The loan process typically takes about 60 days,” says Housman. “All of their income, assets and liabilities need to be calculated in American dollars, which means that every $100 Canadian dollars right now is worth about $70 in U.S. currency. That can make it a little more challenging for them to qualify, but at least 20 percent of my loans are for Canadian buyers.”

Housman says that he has seen a shift among Canadians to make the minimum down payment because it’s more favorable to borrow U.S. money than to lose value by converting their Canadian assets into American cash.

Sunshine and warm air are the main motivations for Canadian homebuyers in the United States, who are anticipated to keep buying vacation homes in sunny locales no matter what economic conditions prevail.

About the author 

Michele Lerner

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. She writes for regional, national and international publications in print and online for a variety of audiences including consumers, real estate investors, business owners and real estate professionals. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT’s REIT magazine, National Real Estate Investor Magazine and online at Bankrate.com, HSH.com, The Motley Fool, DailyFinance.com, Insurance.com, Fox Business, MSN, Yahoo, Investopedia.com, MoneyCrashers.com, GetRichSlowly.com and in numerous state and local realtor association publications.

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