You’re sitting in your living room and looking around at your life’s possessions aka “STUFF”. You start to wonder if its really all that worth it. Then, your mind wanders…you’re yearning to throw caution to the wind and travel. You’re thinking ‘time is too short to be sitting here’. Whether you’re a man or woman enjoying the single life, young newly married couple, with a family, just the two of you, or new/seasoned retirees, you think to yourself, ‘hey, let’s do what the Liberty Crew is doing’. And so, it begins…..
When contemplating this way of nomadic life in an RV, the biggest decision you’ll make is “buying your new house on wheels”. Careful considerations must be made when deciding what kind of RV you want to live in. This certainly is not an overnight decision to make. Like S&B’s (Sticks and Bricks aka ‘houses’), all RV’s are not created equal. You need to take time to find the one that’s just right for you.
Here are the most common types of RV’s and Campers:
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There are others such as bus conversions (coach and school bus), hybrids, box truck conversions, etc. that we also share the road with. This purchase us such a personal one and only you can make this decision. Whatever you choose, don’t ever let anyone downplay or destroy your dream. This is YOUR JOURNEY!
First, we highly recommend doing your research:
- Budget (how much are wanting to spend?)
- Are you looking for New or Pre-owned?
- Assess your/your family’s needs and wants (family size, pets, etc.)
- Will you want to RV weekends, part-time or full-time?
- Consider what parts of the country you may be traveling at what time of the year
- If you’re going to be at full or partial hookups or boondocking (self contained)
- How long you’re going to be traveling vs. living in or using/living in your RV
- Activities you are going to want to do (ie. sightseeing, hiking, motorcycling, etc.)
- Working on the road? (Will you need a work space/office?)
- How many meals will you be ‘eating in’ vs. ‘eating out’?
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about before taking the plunge and your head will hurt…A LOT…before actually getting on the road. Appreciate this journey though. Its what will build you and your family’s experience. We recommend sitting down yourself, as a couple or family to discuss some or all of these factors. What may be important to one family member, may not be to another. One thing to remember, because RVs are much smaller than the homes we’ve all been accustomed to living in, we must appreciate ‘we can’t have it all’ (ie. toys, crafts, tools, etc.). Space is premium. Enough said about that.
If you have never RV’d before, there are RV rental companies out there who offer the opportunity to ‘try it out’.
You might find out that your family of four just simply can’t get along in a 25′ camper on a rainy weekend or you might find out that a Pop Up camper just doesn’t suit you and your spouse’s taste or…you buy a big honkin’ 5th wheel and just can’t seem to get it right hitching or unhitching. If you have a friend or relative that trusts you with theirs, GO try it out! This is a great way to test the waters before making a costly investment. Once you decide you want to do this, then you’ll want to decide ‘new’ or ‘pre-owned’.
Think about that for a minute…
One thing one must accept is purchasing a brand new RV depreciates as soon as you drive or pull it off the lot; just like a car or truck. However, there’s sort of an inside RV-buying-secret that when you see an MSRP price on a brand new coach or trailer, you’re not going to pay that. No No No! Of course, the dealers would HOPE you would however, arm yourself with some RV buying tactics. RV dealers don’t want you to know is the significant discount off MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) ranges from about 25-35%. Again, this is for NEW RV’s and Campers.
For example, if you have your heart set on a ‘brand new’ fifth wheel with an MSRP of $100,000, keep in the back of your mind that your first price negotiation offer should be approximately $65,000. Always start off low; you can always work your way up. Immediately expect the dealer salesman to look at you like you have three heads, but it’s okay because they know this game. They just are praying you’re not as good at the game as they are. All of that said, before making your initial offer, there are things to keep in mind…like “options”.
We recommend that you ask for a ‘build sheet’ that lists exactly what is in the RV you’re wanting to negotiate on. Do extensive research before even putting in an offer. Naturally, if you get a ‘loaded’ RV, its going to cost you much more than the standard build. In many models today, you can get luxuries like dishwashers, king size beds, washer/dryer setups, residential refrigerators, nicer cabinetry, induction cooktops, convection microwaves, high powered generators, larger holding tanks, etc. which drive the price up, up, up. So, ‘know before you go’!
EXPECT TO WALK AWAY!! Before we purchased our current 5th Wheel, we sat THREE WEEKS in negotiation.
All brand new RV’s come with a stem-to-stern warranty; usually one year but some higher end offer two-year warranties. Then, after your RV warranty expires, some of your RV’s components (ie. furnace, AC, refrigerator, etc.) have individual warranties that may extend by the manufacturers of those components. Whether you purchase a new vs. preowned RV, there are ‘extended warranties’ out there. We can’t recommend either way if you will need one. Again, personal choice. We didn’t opt for one. Like all insurance or warranties, its a risk to weigh.
If you are wanting to buy ‘new’, you can shop for one on the lot that is already set up or if you know exactly what you want, you can ‘order’ however, you must go through the dealer to do so and typically may take up to a few months for it to be built. Be advised, RV manufacturers have their models; designing your own floor plan isn’t going to happen…well, unless you have unlimited room in your wallet filled with Benjamins.
In very rare cases can you order from the manufacturer themselves. Very very few manufacturers do this. Do know though, what one dealer may not have on their lot, another RV dealer may have. Not all dealers carry every manufacturer therefore, if you are ‘brand loyal’, you can find a dealer that showcases the particular manufacturer you’re looking for. For example, if you’re looking for a Heartland product, you must find an RV dealer that sells Heartland products.
We highly recommend attending an RV Show or Camper Expo where they have hundreds of units. Walk in them. Sit in them. Lay on the bed in them. Take the whole family and sit in it together. Move around together in them. Open cabinets to look at the hinges; open drawers to see the construction quality . Collect brochures from those you like. Then, take them home, research the products and manufacturers. One thing to remember is don’t expect a $100,000 unit for $25,000. Higher end units will absolutely show differential such as cabinetry, flooring, furniture, hardware, and construction quality.
Also know that there is a huge difference between a regular camper/RV and one that is a ‘full-time’ camper/RV. So, judge based on what you’re going to need. If you will be using your unit up in South Dakota in the winter or Texas in the summer, there’s much comparison you need to be aware of such as wall insulation, plumbing insulation, HVAC expectations, etc. You will pay more for a unit that is of ‘full-time’ quality because essentially, they are built for all weather and elements. If you’re getting a unit to be your weekend getaway or two-week a year family vacation, then those won’t be of your importance. Assess your own family’s needs before even looking as it will rule out units you won’t need or won’t meet your needs.
We highly recommend taking a factory tour of a few RV manufacturers (we did up in Elkhart, Indiana where the majority of travel trailers and 5th wheels are built) to see and understand the build and quality of their construction. Find out which is close to you or if you’d like to take a mini vaca to go take a look see.
Now, if you don’t want to buy new risking depreciation, buying pre-owned is your other option. Again, know what you’re looking for. Please be extremely cautious about who and ‘how’ you shop for pre-owned. While Craigslist and Ebay ‘can’ be wonderful avenues, we’ve seen first hand on the downside of dealing with sellers. We’ve seen and read about countless people fall victim to criminal actions (fake sellers, no such RV for sale, weird payment requirement, etc.). If you choose to go this route, be very cautious about giving your credit card info out, paying cash, etc. Also, check around online. Oftentimes, a fake seller will post photos of a hypothetical RV for sale yet, really, there is none. They will use real address but never show up with the alleged RV. Read about this scam that left a couple penniless: Texas couple stranded in Omaha after falling for RV scam. Please do your research. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. We recommend you to familiarize yourself with scam tactics. Before making any monetary transaction, have friends and relatives look into also. It never hurts to have extra sets of eyes to see alerts that you may not. Just be careful.
Okay, enough of that. Yes, there ARE honest folks selling their RV’s and campers. When you find them, you’ll do fine. Make sure you have your checklist of questions to ask:
- Does it have a VIN #
- How old is the RV or Camper
- Who is it registered to? State?
- Where is it located?
- Has it ever been involved in a wreck?
- Is there a lien on the RV or Camper?
- Is it a ‘one owner’?
- Can you see the RV or Camper anytime you wish?
Also, here is a good checklist guide regarding buying an RV or Camper: RV Checklist: Know the Right Questions to Ask
We all have different standards of living; RV’s are no exception. Look at the condition first (ie. cabinetry, carpeting, flooring, etc. Look around windows, doors and ceilings for water damage. Water is an RV’s biggest foe. Your nose is your best indicator. If, at a dealer, it smells like an air freshener, RUN…FAST…because you have to wonder ‘what are they covering up’ unless you are willing to accept the risk.
The best way and time to see a pre-owned on their lots or even someone else’s yard is a surprise visit. Say ‘hey, we’re in the neighborhood and would love to see the inside of your camper/rv’. If it smells musty or moldy, it means there was or is a moisture issue. Look in corners behind furniture; look for black, brown or white powdery issues. Always, when buying a pre-owned, not everyone is honest about previous ownership and care.
One thing we highly suggest, before signing papers and writing the check for a pre-owned RV or Camper…like buying a S&B (sticks and bricks home), you pay an independent RV inspector to go through your pre-owned RV with a fine tuned comb. We suggest not using an RV inspector recommended by an RV dealer; they most likely will have an underhanded reward by working with an RV dealer. Hire your own; research their credentials; they should cost no more than $500 depending on the size and type of rig. Ask a potential inspector if they are NRVIA certified (National RV Inspectors Association) and ask for a copy of their certification. Here’s a great article Why Do You Need a Certified RV Inspection.
Like home inspections, inspectors should look intensely at every inch of the RV or Camper. They will look at roof structure and age; a new roof can cost upwards to $10,000! They will focus on all engineering of the coach; plumbing, sewer, electrical, and all mechanical features (ie. slides, awnings, etc.). They will look for water intrusion and critter invasions. Do appreciate that there are younger RV’s that are pre-owned that have ‘all the bugs worked out’, there are also dumps that we wouldn’t even let our two cats walk in. A good inspector should be honest and precise; providing you with a written report of their findings.
Here’s an ‘approximate’ what current inspector rates are. One thing to consider is rates may be regionally based, so keep that in mind.
For more info regarding hiring a pre-purchase inspector, here is a great article: NRVIA & RV Inspection Connection
And then there’s the whole ‘learning process’ about owning an RV…
Prior to taking the plunge, we can’t stress enough to NETWORK with like minded and those who are doing it or have done it. However, realize, when asking ‘who makes the best RV?’ is like asking ‘which truck is better?’; it could potentially open up a very opinionated dialog. We call them ‘truck or RV wars’ and those discussions…er ‘arguments’ always end badly. Just do your homework and research.
There are several Social Media avenues to get information, advice and suggestions from (ie. Facebook, etc.) Take lots of notes; written and mental. Keep a folder. Visit lots of RV dealers and step foot in tons of RV’s. Ask lots of questions. Before deciding and buying our current Heartland Landmark 365 Ashland, we reviewed approximately 30 other models of various manufacturers and floor plans. Arm yourself with information and questions to ask the dealer or seller.
Okay, onto the money part…
Today, you can finance an RV (depending on RV type, age, and size) all the way up to 20-30 years just like a house. But remember, when budgeting, one must consider also campsite/park/resort fees, fuel, RV and vehicle maintenance, and other finances (we will cover this on a later blog post). There are so many options out there on price. Once you find a comfortable budgeted amount, stick with it. Don’t over extend your finances when it comes to your purchase price.
Shop around for finance rates. Some RV dealers will offer financing but just remember, they are making money on ‘their’ financing also. Don’t ever feel you must finance through them. Do comparison shopping and if they offer financing, ask if they would be willing to match rates of your banking institution to make buying easier and benefit either of you. If you prefer to not finance and have the cash, you’re golden!
NOTE OF CONSIDERATION: If you are ‘selling it all’ to RV full-time, it is our recommendation that you purchase your RV first before passing papers on your home. You will need that address to set up financing from the bank. Once you sell and move into your RV, you can claim residency elsewhere as you wish. If you sell your home and THEN buy an RV (especially a larger one), banks are and will be reluctant to finance due to lack of you not having collateral assets.
And then there’s the insurance part…
Most insurance companies that insure your vehicles will also insure your RV or camper. Just read the fine print on what they will cover, deductibles, etc. Know the difference between ‘full-timer insurance’ and part timer.
Oh, and one more thing…
You will need ‘a roll to roll’; meaning you will need to outfit your camper or RV and it will cost you a small but necessary fortune. Always set aside approximately $3000-5000 to outfit your RV or Camper with necessities (another detailed blog post about that very soon!). You will need important ‘stuff’ so you can roll.
Your RV is out there! Just be patient. Its like buying a house. Your head will hurt (I think I’ve mentioned that before) but the end result will take you to places you’ve dreamed about; sitting on beaches, hiking mountains, visiting museums and eating at cool diners all across the good U.S. of A.!