Back to Can snowbirds save the U.S. sunshine states? **Can snowbirds save the U.S. sunshine states? **
November 25, 2011
Shant Epremian, Canadian CEO of Pink Realty of Florida. “We joke at seminars (for Canadian house hunters) that the president, and the governor of Florida, would like to thank you for your contribution to the bottom line of the United States.”
Sarasota resident Marvin Boisvert couldn’t help but feel a little torn this week as he shivered in a Florida hockey arena, watching the Maple Leafs trounce the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The transplanted Canadian felt it was best to not say a word, given all the Floridian fans around him.
“It’s a strange feeling to be at a hockey game down here. There was lots of cheering for Toronto, but I had to be careful,” Boisvert chuckles.
The native Quebecer is making himself heard in other ways. He’s among a number of Canadians who are not only snapping up deeply discounted real estate but doing their small part to help turn the U.S. economy around.
Boisvert, 58, has started up a sports event marketing company that brings golf, soccer and other tournaments to hard-hit Florida. He also runs a magazine for Canadian investors when he and his wife Silvie aren’t soaking up the southwest Florida sunshine or enjoying Sarasota’s busy cultural scene.
But Boisvert admits that his heart, and a getaway condo, are still back in Montreal while he’s “testing the waters” of living in the U.S. all year.
While Boisvert may miss skiing in Canada, he’s enjoying the drastically lower taxes and cost of living in the U.S.
So is Shant Epremian who left his six-figure Toronto job three years ago to start buying Florida real estate.
He turned that lucrative hobby into a thriving business, Pink Realty of South Florida, and now has a staff of 20 who help Canadians look for properties.
“Americans may not be welcoming of some other nations in the world, but they absolutely love Canadians,” says Epremian. “We joke at seminars (for Canadian house hunters) that the president and the governor of Florida would like to thank you for your contribution to the bottom line of the United States.”
Even snowbirds may soon be stepping up their spending.
On Dec. 6 officials of the Canadian Snowbird Association land in Washington to lobby for passage of the proposed “Canadian retiree visa.” It would allow Canadians over the age of 50 to stay in the States eight months, instead of the current six, if they own a home or plan to rent there.
It’s part of a broader bipartisan proposal, the VISIT-USA Act, that is working its way with uncharacteristic speed through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It’s aimed at kickstarting the decimated housing market by offering foreigners a three-year residential visa if they invest at least $500,000 in real estate.
A least half that has to be on a home where they plan to live at least six months of the year.
At the same time, the U.S. is aggressively wooing wealthy Canadians willing to invest at least $500,000 for a minimum of four years in economically depressed regions of the U.S., says Toronto-based immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk.
They get a green card for helping fund construction of, for example, a new hotel and condo complex at Vermont’s Jay Peak Ski and Golf Resort that has created jobs.
“There used to be a bit of griping about snowbirds: ‘They’re clogging up the roads,’” says Michael MacKenzie, executive director of the Canadian Snowbird Association. “But right now things are so bad, I’m finding people are quite welcoming.”
Canadian tourists spent $5 billion last year, just in the big-four sunshine states of Florida, Arizona, Texas and California, the snowbird association says.
In addition, Canadians are the biggest foreign purchasers of U.S. residential real estate and own an estimated $50 billion worth in Florida alone.
“We think there’s going to be a big uptick in people who will embrace this (sunbelt) lifestyle in the next 10 to 15 years,” says MacKenzie.
His hope is that, if the U.S. approves the retiree visa, his association can use it to push the provinces to unify the current hodge-podge of provincial out-of-country health care coverage and expand the six to seven months’ maximums to at least eight.
Long-term residents such as Boisvert and Epremian say low taxes in Florida more than compensate for the thousands they pay in private health care.
But that remains the biggest stumbling block for most Canadians, says MacKenzie who expects to see baby boomers agitate for improvements.
“These folks have pretty solid disposable income. They may not just go to Florida, they will travel to lots of other places, but the United States is going to be the largest beneficiary based on its proximity and its climate.”
Its lifestyle, as well as lower taxes, that will likely keep realtor Shant Epremian in Florida, thanks to sponsorship from a relative.
Boisvert’s new business helped win him a five-year visa, so he’ll see how things are going then.
In the meantime, he’s contemplating what seems unthinkable to a true Floridian — spending a month each winter back in the cold, white North.
“Christmas down here is … well, it’s something else. Green. It’s not the same without that carpet of snow.”
**Related: **Canadians eye cheap Florida real estate](http://www.moneyville.ca/article/1091048--canadians-eye-cheap-florida-real-estate)