As a fulltimer on the road for the past four years, I recently had a chat about RVs with my clueless friend Maureen the “road” dreamer.
Maureen: Your Jazz (30-ft fifth-wheel trailer) looks SO stylish! I’ve been googling Class C and Airstream trailers… man, Class C would be an INVESTMENT! I’m just curious, what were the features that were important to you and John in choosing an RV? It is really overwhelming to look at the millions of choices, so I can see that narrowing down the “must haves” would be really important.
Levonne: Okay, there were several requirements for us. We were in the market for a fifth-wheel because of its ease of towing. We wanted something under 30 feet so that we could camp easily in all venues, including public parks. Within that parameter though, we wanted maximum living space. We wanted a closet in which to hang clothes in the event we got jobs while still living in the RV. I wanted the ability to stand and make the bed. (Crawling around in a cramped sleeping space to tuck a sheet had become too hard on my body.)
We wanted big windows so that we could take advantage of views wherever we were. We wanted our door entry in the rear side rather than middle side so as to enter with the view of the entire interior ahead of us in one direction. A sofa and built-in dinnette were preferable to two easy chairs and a moveable table and chairs. These were our major considerations based on the fact that we intended to take an extended trip over several months and might even live in our RV while resettling in a new community and beginning jobs.
The loaded tow weight of the 5th wheel had to fit with our truck. Basics on most units of the size we were interested in are: fridge, stove, storage and kitchen sinks (we looked for reasonable counter space). The entertainment center location was important (we wanted eye level vs. looking up high at the TV screen). Shower and toilet were other basics.
I told Maureen that she wanted to think about what she wanted to do with her RV, how far she would travel, how often, did she want to tow an RV or have her RV able to tow a car? Did she want a vehicle separate from her “living space” to tool around town in once she reached a destination? How much did she want to invest financially, how long would she keep it, did she already have a vehicle that she would use for towing or would she buy that also? Did she want something used or new. What sleeping arrangements must the RV have?
I explained that it is a process to narrow it all down. Go look at some RVs one day at a large RV place and see what feels right and good for you. Pay attention to size, number of slide outs, number of sleep spaces, configuration of furniture, the quality of the build. I told Maureen that of course John would give her an additional list of things to pay attention to related to the tow-vehicle engine, outside storage, water and sewage tank volume and other things that I didn’t even know what he looked for and why.
Maureen: YEAH — my own, personal report! Thanks so much for all the insights. It really helps stimulate my thinking… And, I’m the only one thinking about this, since Paul said, “let me know what you decide….” Which means, he’ll go along but isn’t really THERE yet. So, I’ll have to take the first few steps myself before he gets interested.
I definitely want to be able to drive around and sightsee – run to the store, etc. That screams for a 5th wheel and a truck, but I hate to give up the convenience of kids napping while the driver is driving… SO, that begs the question that the “RV” be SMALL enough to handle/have fuel efficiency of a vehicle… I can really see the trade-offs developing here, because no size RV really has the fuel efficiency or handling to “tool around in”…
Maureen was definitely getting it but she had one final question: “I dread to ask where all the poop/pee goes — sorry to be so indelicate, but that thought really grosses me out. There’s more to this than meets the eye.”
I explained to my clueless friend that in the RV world, you have sites with “hookups” meaning electric, water and sewer and without hookups and that means your RV stands on its own for a period of camping time. When you have hookups, somebody has to hook up the water connection (a hose from the water source to your RV), plug in the electric (to a 50 or 30 amp receptacle) and hook the sewer pipe to the sewer drain. All relatively easy and you learn the steps for utmost sanitation. Some people don’t know how to do unhook and it can get messy. So you want to know how to do it for your upmost pleasure and comfort. Maureen concluded that she would be sure to get a commitment from Paul to handle the hookups before they plunge into the world of RV ownership.
What are some of your questions about choosing the right RV?
Author Levonne Gaddy’s book “This Restless Life: A dream chased through California parks in an RV” chronicles her relocation adventures from the Southwest to Central Coast California during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. They encounter many twists and turns including a dead body found near their camp hosting camp site, problems finding work and multiple threats of floods. @Levonnegaddy
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Most people we meet seem more concerned about how they’re going to get their mail or whether they’ll have phone service or wifi…. so far I can’t remember anyone asking us about the dump station duties 😉 When we bought our motorhome nearly 13 years ago we made a spreadsheet…. had columns for what was important and the various makes and models. So we narrowed our choices down real fast and it came down to 2. Even then, once we saw our Lazy Daze there was no question. I had to laugh a bit when Maureen decided to put the dump duties off on Paul… my husband currently has a broken ankle and doesn’t get around well…. she might want to factor in doing unpleasant duties or even doing the driving, hook-up, etc. when necessary. I guess we asked all our questions many years ago… the big thing is that you think them through and answer them honestly.
Hi Sharon, Of course you’re right. When two people are out, one can lose their ability to do their “chores”. And for that reason both need to be prepared to do everything, even if they never have to! Good point. I agree also that thinking it through is key to enjoying the experience in your RV.
All great points! Before purchasing our 5th wheel, and we are still “Dreamers” we shopped and shopped and researched extensively. It became our weekend entertainment visiting dealers.
We too had the spreadsheet and reading full timer blogs also helped Our 1st RV was a TT toy hauler as we brought our Honda Goldwing with us and our two fur babies. While we enjoyed the TT, after a while we decided we wanted more living space and something that towed easier/smoother so we opted for a 5th wheel.
One important thing we discovered was that we were able to save extensive dollars by purchasing our brand new 5th wheel out of the state of Florida. We purchased it from an RV Dealer in Michigan via their online store after many phone calls back and forth and we saved tons. My partner took 4 days off work to drive to Michigan and pick it up – that was in 2009 and we got everything we wanted and more and we are still in love with our 2009 Heartland Big Horn 3600RL. It pays to shop around.
Hi Susan, Thanks for sharing your experience. I wonder if there is a spreadsheet online available to those in the “choosing an RV” stage?
A deteriating house left us With a choice of expensive remoldeling or an RV. We chose a 30ft clacc c as an investment for relocating when we retire. Two years of living in an RV park with no regrets just looking ahead .
Hi Tommy, I wonder if the recession saw a dramatic increase in RV ownership and use as an alternative to a stick home?
Other considerations which have emerged over the last few years are the increasing costs of fuel, maintenance and the tremendous depreciation which almost any type of RV seems to incur these days.
My wife and I are some of those dreamers. Wanting to sell the home and spend as much time travelling as possible. Does anyone know of a published list that would help us since we are really unsure of which way would be best to go. Also, does anyone know of a website that might be dedicated to coach owners who are tired of the road and wanting to trade for a home. We are open to a trade if someone wants to retire at the lake in a gated community with boating/fishing/clubhouse w/pool, tennis and our own golf course.
Here’s a thought Maureen. Depending upon the skills the pair of you have you may want to consider forming a limited company or corporation. By this means you maybe you could hire yourselves out as subcontractors. You could pay your earning into the corp and then write off all the costs of running the RV and the depreciation.
There’s no law in the US that says an outfit has to be run at a profit but if it does you can take it as salary, dividends or tax free as a return of loans to start the company.
Hi Norm, I will surely pass along your thoughts and comments to Maureen. Interesting idea about being a business. Do you know folks that this is working for?
Hi Randy, What a concept. Trade a motorhome for a house. Where is the house? I hope that someone can give you a lead.
Yes Levonne I do know people who do actually do it. The people I know personally are auctioneers. race car afficiandos and sound equipment vendors. Many bands use them too.
With the depreciation and costs of running a big RV these days it’s a very practical way to do it these days. Just make sure you don’t pay through the nose for a company or corporation. Choose a state without annual filing fees etc. And use the KISS (keep it simple system) and pick the state carefully (Florida or Montana are good) where you register the RV,
It’s not as simple as you think Randy & Nell. I used to try now and again. Everything has to fit together. The The main problems I have found are:
1) RV owners most often owe more on their RVs than they’re worth.
2) Houses are most often worth more than the would be swappers’ RVs and they can’t come up with the difference.
3) They don’t want to live where the house is.
4) I didn’t want their RV.
5) Banks, regardless of what they say, do not want to lend on houses and RVs unless the would be borrower is so well off he doesn’t have to borrow and is doing so just to offset the interest for tax purposes against his/her income. In any event they’re EXTREMELY reluctant to lend on an RV more than 10 year old or with more than 100k on it.
RVs on Craigslist sometimes has people looking to swap for real estate etc. Craigslist adverts have the advantage of being location specific.
On balance I think the easiest path is to sell one’s house for what one can get and then buy the RV one is comfortable with but have it inspected first. Bear in mind that one will have expenses and when you sell it one WILL get a lot less for it.
We have a class A and yes it is too big to drive around and get into most camp grounds – but that has never been an issue since we live on the construction site that Bobby is currently working…so my list was short – internet and a washer & dryer! This behemoth we have fit the bill! We will be in the market some day – we want a drivable home when we retire 😉
Hi Robyn, It really is about how we plan to use our RV. What size is yours?
Thanks for your financial insights, Norm. Our planning has been postponed by requirements of family caregiving right now but I believe making an RV a “tool” of our employment is quite practical!
Hey Maureen! Thanks for checking in! Our conversation has stimulated lots of interest and good information sharing.
Good points Norm about trading a coach for a house.
Levonne – it is 40 ft…- the job offer was something we had to take immediately and so we bought the first RV (we were looking at over 24 ft with a washer & dryer) that we could afford. We found an old Komfort that was being liquidated as part of a divorce settlement and bought it.
It was a luxury model in it’s day – just new enough to have a more stable drive train …good at that size 😉 but not a deisel pusher
Everything worked – large two door refrigerator, icemaker, walk around queen size bed, two closets and a stack washer/dryer, two air conditioners, furnace, thermostat…we have since done some major renovation.
Being on construction sites the first thing to go was the carpet. We replaced with Pergo it has great bendability – important in a frame that twists and we installed a tankless water heater…electricity is something we have no shortage of. We go without propane for most of the summer months – in CA and we BBQ most evenings
If I were looking for one now – I would get a larger bathroom – something like the john on a boat where the entire room is the shower would be ideal. Looking into making the change – but the enclosure is difficult to locate. May have to get it custom fabricated 😉
Our first fifth-wheel was a smaller Komfort and it was great. Sturdy and comfortable. I hear you about the larger shower room. When they are enclosed with a hard surround, one can feel even smaller. That’s why we took the doors out of ours and put a shower curtain in. Feels roomier. Good luck in finding that feature. I love BBQ season. When RVing, the best and easiest meals are cooked on the grill. Last night it was a tri-tip and baked potato on the Weber grill. If we had cooked our vegetable, it would have gone on there too. Thanks for the information Robyn. Where are you in California?
Right now we are finishing a project in Oxnard…but we will be moving to Huntington Beach by the end of the month…
Well we did it, we sold our home and are now living in our 29ft. four winds full time as of dec. 1st. we are still tweeking things and its getting there. my husbands job will be sending us to parts unknown, although we have heard that Washington DC is a possibility at the end of feb. . now mind you we are Floridians and so are our 2 tiny Chihuahuas. that part of it is a little scary. any comments on how to handle bathroom time for them in snow and cold. well anyway we hope everyone has a happy, healthy, new year. HAPPY TRAILS TO ALL
Congratulations Karen and Ron! I guess your two fur babies are going to have to learn to be really quick! I’ve noticed that dogs seem to know this fact based on their reading of the environment. Good luck though and let us know how it goes.
Well, we have been camping since 1955–tried all types from tents to Motorhomes. Take time looking, New is good,but they sometimes have all kinds of problems. Travel trailers & 5th wheel’s are cheeper to maintain. Motorhomes new or used –usually have some type of problem to take care of befor each trip. Used motor homes if taken care of, [ you can tell by looking] I think are best. Usually less money to buy, and just as nice as new.We have had 4 new 5 Used M/H’s and don’t remember how many travel trailers. Liked them all. it depends on your budget and what you want to do. We love the 35ft class a motor homes best. Milege is as good in a 35 ft as a 20 ft M/h. the more options, the better. Good Luck, whatever you decide.
Glen & Jackie
Apropos the depreciation on RVs/trailers. Since I’ve been watching RV prices I’ve noticed that there is one exception to falling values and that is the older Airstream trailers. They’re the ones that are made of aluminum and look like the fuselage of an airliner.
They’re becoming a niche market and there are websites/forums devoted to them. Here’s a popular one: http://www.airforums.com/forums/
There’s been TV programs about them. Once they get to about 30 years old they seem to go up in value. Well maintained ones fetch more every year. There’s a considerable number of people buying old one’s to restore too. I’m not sure if the story is apocryphal but I heard of an East Coast couple who bought one, refurbished it somewhat including polishing and lacquering it, took a leisurely vacation trip to the west coast where they sold it for four times what they had in it.
Hi Norm, we covered an airstream reno last October on the blog, it looks like this one turned out really well, but was a rather large undertaking.