Snowbirds left in limbo because of the pandemic

WINNIPEG — It’s that time of year when many Canadians escape what’s coming – winter.

But some snowbirds are grounded this year because of COVID-19.

“This year it looks like I’ll be staying in Canada,” said Lori Whitelam, who is a snowbird.

She said she has been travelling to Arizona in the winter for the last six years, but this winter she will be calling Winnipeg home because the border is closed to vehicle traffic and there is uncertainty around her travel insurance coverage.

“The insurance plan is only covering us until Dec. 31, 2020, and then it’s undecided what’s going to happen come Jan. 1”

Leslie Maccallum, another snowbird, is in a similar situation.

“I want to drive. I don’t want to fly. I have a big dog that travels with me, just not going to work,” said Maccallum.

With unknowns such as the border, flight availabilities and case numbers in the southern United States, online guide Snowbird Advisor said this year’s flock sits in three categories: going, staying home, and up in the air.

“The majority who are in the middle are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach,” said Stephen Fine, president of Snowbird Advisor.

The organization said insurance is another factor keeping some home this winter, and it is cautioning snowbirds who are heading south to read the fine print.

“Make sure you know you’re covered for. If you are covered for COVID, if there’s any limitations, if there’s any exclusions,” said Fine.

With many Manitobans now needing a place to stay for the winter, David Powell, a real estate agent, said it has become a renter’s and seller’s market for houses, condos and cottages.

“It’s definitely driven demand up and when demand goes up, prices do go up and you see that right into the new construction,” said Powell, who is with Powell Property Group.

He said a similar trend is happening south of the border.

“If you’re thinking about selling that snowbird property, now might not be a bad time.”

Whitelam is hoping to rent out her property in Arizona this winter.

She said she is disappointed she can’t use it, but she is trying to put a silver lining on the incoming storm clouds.

“It’s going to be my first experience having a Winnipeg winter in seven years and I’m going to work really hard on my home-based business,” said Whitelam.

For those who aren’t heading south, Snowbird Advisor said renting is a good idea to make sure the property is protected, otherwise they should have someone check up on the property.

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