“Curb appeal” is in the eye of the beholder, so here are some basics to help prepare your current coach for sale before you acquire your next one.
By Mike Scott
Selling your motorhome isn’t all that different from selling your house. Outside of landscaping and a garage, possibly a basement, and maybe an attic, your coach is like a small home. And with some care and attention to detail, a motorhome owner can realize a high resale value on his or her coach, even as it ages.
Everything will sell for a price; it may just not be your price. In today’s competitive market, motorhome owners should develop a sales plan that includes marketing techniques and strategies. Just like a home, sellers need to put their “best face” forward, which includes ways to make the coach as attractive as possible to prospective buyers. The basics are to keep the motorhome clean, add some everyday conveniences, and ensure it is maintained in proper working condition.
“The main things are to keep the coach clean and [know that] buyers will look closely at discolorations or stains in the ceilings or walls,” said Gary Beck, general manager of American Dream Vacations, an RV dealer in Boerne, Texas. “That gets back to making first impressions. People really will see if there are leaks or places where there is noticeable wear and tear.”
Mr. Beck said that any water damage should be cleaned up, and damaged parts should be replaced. “That’s probably the most critical selling point “” that there hasn’t been water damage to a unit or that the potential for future water damage has been virtually eliminated.”
Other common issues are smoke and pet odors and damage. Detroit-area resident and motorhome enthusiast Kevin Delaere said that the carpeting and upholstery in the preowned coach his family purchased was carefully cleaned and noticeably deodorized. The seller also agreed to have a private inspection done and then delivered the inspector’s unbiased report to Mr. Delaere before an offer was made.
“There were a few scratches here and there and some minor repairs we had to do, but there were no surprises,” Mr. Delaere said. “All fluids and filters were changed.”
The more specific strategies to prepare your coach for being sold can be broken down into exterior and interior work.
Make sure all basics are in selling condition. First, be sure to fill the propane tank. This will help ensure that prospective buyers will have no difficulty verifying the refrigerator’s operation, accessing heat, or making sure the water heater works. Few things are more embarrassing to a seller than running out of propane or water during a walk-through.
Mr. Beck said for older coaches, a good coat of wax is a worthwhile investment to help take the oxidation off the exterior finish. A heavy-duty cleaner wax can remove surface scratches, oxidation, and black streaks, restoring the original luster and shine. “Really [prospective buyers] are looking for anything you can’t or don’t want to explain, like a dent or hole or leaking,” Mr. Beck said.
There are other ways to dress up the exterior. These can include such products as awning straps or an awning tie-down strap, available online or at motorhome retail centers. In recent years, reflector shades have become more popular, as they can block out up to 70 percent of the sun’s light and glare. A screen door push bar and grille can be nice additions and help to protect the screen from damage.
To help prevent dirt from being tracked into a motorhome, many owners use panels or liners that lie at the base of a coach’s steps and serve as a portable sidewalk or patio. Those motorhome owners who are thinking about selling their units in the future will likely save money on new carpets and carpet cleaning with these products, because less dirt will be tracked in on a regular basis. These portable sidewalks and patios are also a desired feature that many buyers want to be included in the purchase of a used motorhome.
Safety issues also should be considered a high priority; make sure the coach is equipped with at least one fully charged fire extinguisher and operational vapor detectors. All 12-volt batteries should be fully charged, cleaned, and filled with water. Appliances and units should be connected to the power supply with proper extensions and adapters.
“This helps them feel that the unit was well taken care of and brings a kind of peace of mind,” said Tim Creasy, Camping World Inc. spokesman. “If you can tell a coach was cared for, you can assume that there will be few problems down the line, just like with any car or house.”
An inexpensive way to increase the “curb appeal” of your coach is to install new curtains, fresh upholstery, and new carpet, according to Gary Beck. He said that updating these items can cost the seller as little as $500 and that they will help the unit to appear more modern. “After several years, curtains will be sun-drenched and faded, and since an RV is small compared to a house, there will be a lot of wear on everything you sit or walk on,” he said. “You also don’t want to caulk around the windows, because it looks bad.”
Mr. Delaere said that new appliances and furniture made a big difference in the unit he and his family purchased. “That’s a significant savings when you have those accessories included in the package and they are in good working condition,” he said. “It didn’t sell us completely [on that unit], but it stood out over others we saw.”
No level of new accessories will completely hide the smell of lingering tobacco smoke or the residue of pet dander. David Stoney, owner of Stoney’s RV with locations in Cambridge and Norwich, Ohio, said that no matter how thoroughly an RV is detailed before sale, lingering smoke odor can be nearly impossible to eliminate. He suggested having professional carpet cleaners go over the entire interior of any used motorhomes that may have experienced pet or smoke damage. In many cases, new carpeting will be necessary, particularly if potential buyers are likely to have allergies.
“This isn’t something that a regular vacuum cleaner will be able to fix,” he said.
A variety of manufacturers have developed products to enhance the inside look of an RV without a significant investment. An oak finish hardtop counter extension can modernize the look of your kitchen area, and a new refrigerator with a high-quality fan will add to the functionality of a used motorhome.
For $100 or less, one can add a sofa server/table combination that will improve the practicality of a unit while maintaining class. Designer arm covers can help make old furnishings appear new. Updated lighting also is an attractive feature for coach buyers. Fluorescent lights deliver twice the brightness of an incandescent light with half the electricity, while 12-volt interior brass lighting fixtures can accent any motorhome decor.
And don’t forget some of the basics that will not only make a difference when selling a house but will punch up the interior of an RV, too. These basics include new wall paneling and new or carefully cleaned carpets and floor rugs. New bathroom toilets can be a relatively simple installation, and cracked mirrors can be replaced with new ones for just a handful of dollars.
“Some new carpets, new paint [colors], and more modern fabrics can make a big difference,” Mr. Beck said.
Note of Caution
In recent years, motorhome sellers across the United States have been scammed by counterfeit cashier’s checks. Cathy Hale, public information manager for the marketing subcommittee of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, said that sellers should be wary of any buyers willing to purchase a vehicle sight unseen using a cashier’s check. Ms. Hale also said that all cashier’s checks should be drawn at a local bank and that all the buyer’s information should be verified. Sellers can even ask for references to be sure that a person is representing themselves legitimately. Sellers should not accept or cash a check written for more than the purchase price. Do not assume a check is legitimate because a bank has cashed it. In a check overpayment scam, the buyer may write the check for a greater amount and then ask the seller to wire them the difference. The seller later finds out that the check was counterfeit and he or she becomes responsible for the entire amount.
This problem is more widespread than most RVers realize, with possibly millions of dollars having been stolen from sellers in recent years. Information about avoiding scams and rip-offs is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site “” www.ftc.gov.
Getting Accurate Value
Two sources of information on the value of a used unit are Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com) and N.A.D.A. Guides (www.nadaguides.com). In the case of N.A.D.A., the company’s Web site allows visitors to estimate the value of a used vehicle of any kind, including motorhomes, based on the year, make and model, features, geographic location, and condition. RV values from 1990 to 2006 are covered on the site. Those interested in values for an older RV, back to 1975, must contact the N.A.D.A. research department at (714) 556-8511. The cost is $30 prepaid.
Kelley Blue Book does not have motorhome values posted on its Web site. These publications often can be found at libraries and credit unions. Or a single copy of a book can be ordered by calling the company’s customer service department at (800) BLUE-BOOK (258-3266).
Both guides estimate the value of a unit selling to a private party or to a dealer. The Web sites also have helpful tips for buyers and sellers including information on proper maintenance, appraisals, and safety and road preparedness. Complimentary VIN checks are also available. Searching the classifieds and the Internet are additional ways to gather information about selling prices of preowned motorhomes.
Where to Sell
Sellers can gain access to plenty of coach buyers through both online and print classifieds in Family Motor Coaching magazine and on its Web site (www.fmca.com). Other popular online classified sites are www.rvtraderonline.com, www.rvsales.com, and www.rvsearch.com. Combined, they comprise some of the most comprehensive online listings of preowned motorhome units.
About.com camping expert David Sweet said a seller should take into account how much he or she wants to spend on updating a used unit before putting it up for sale. The motorhome also must meet the buyer’s most basic needs. In addition, Mr. Sweet said there are plenty of other advertising options available. Print and classified ads still work well, he said. But today the Internet is often one of the first places that buyers will visit.
Online or print advertisements should include a complete description of your coach. The ad should list the year, make, model, length, width, and body style of your vehicle. Include as many details as possible, among them information about interior and exterior accessories. When accurate, be sure to include phrases such as “original owner” and “low miles.” These statements are attractive to potential buyers and help distinguish your motorhome from others. In those advertisements, sellers should state the price of the vehicle to prequalify callers. Depending on how you feel about the price you set, you may also want to add terms like “or best offer,” “firm,” or “must sell.”
And whenever possible, it is important to include a photo of your coach. With the growth in online auction sites on a local and national level, it has become common knowledge that listings with pictures “” particularly for high-priced items such as automobiles and motorhomes “” sell for more and sell more frequently. Indeed, a picture says a thousand words when it comes to selling a used recreation vehicle.
Of course, another option is simply to place an RV in a highly visible area where travelers and local residents will see it on a regular basis. If you don’t live in a high-traffic area, you may want to find such a location to display your motorhome. Consider asking friends who live in or own businesses in high-traffic areas and who might be willing to let you park your coach on their lot for a certain length of time to allow you to market on their property. Regardless of where you park it, make sure you’ve received permission to do so.
Completing the Sale
Once you’ve found a buyer for your motorhome, be sure these two items are included in the sale:
Bill of sale. Use a sales agreement that describes your vehicle and spells out the sales price. State that the buyer is purchasing the vehicle “as is,” with no warranties, and always keep a signed copy for your records.
Transfer the title. If you still owe money on your motorhome, you’ll need to pay the balance in full before the lienholder will release the title. Meet your buyer at the bank and complete the sales transaction there. And to release you from any possible liability, inform your state’s department of motor vehicles in writing that your vehicle has been sold.
Like selling a house or other automobile, selling an RV can be complicated. Most likely it won’t happen overnight and might take weeks or even months to finalize a sale, so don’t place a down payment in the hands of your new coach’s dealer until you have cash in hand. But the more appealing your vehicle “” and you personally “” are to prospective buyers, the greater the chances are you will get what you want for your used motorhome without having to carve into your profit margin.
Selling Your Motorhome: A Checklist
- Have a copy of the title readily available.
- Payment should be verified from a legitimate source to ensure that a cashier’s check is valid.
- Have a fully charged fire extinguisher in place.
- Be certain the ground fault is working properly.
- Check that the smoke detector is in good working condition (replace batteries).
- Have at least two sets of keys for all locks.
- Have maintenance records available.
- Check that the monitor panel is working correctly.
- Connect all appliances to proper extensions and adapters.
- Properly inflate tires.
- Fill propane tank.
- Fill water tank with fresh water.
- Touch up and paint all rusty areas around steps, frame, and hitch assembly.
- Be sure the 12-volt batteries are fully charged, clean, and filled with water.
- Check and repair all screens, doors, windows, and roof vents.
- Check and repair any water leaks.
- Replace all light bulbs that aren’t working.
- Be sure various appliances are working.
- Change oil in the generator and start it about 30 minutes before showing your motorhome to a customer.
- Paint and cover any exposed propane tanks.
- Cover an exposed spare tire on the rear of the motorhome.
- Lubricate all locks with dry graphite.
- Open all slides, drapes, and windows to increase the appearance of spaciousness in the unit.
- Clean the refrigerator and place two boxes of baking soda inside to eliminate odors.
- Touch up and paint all rusty areas.
- Remove personal items from the coach, especially any attached to the walls.
- Clean the interior of the motorhome, including smoke or pet odors.
- Clean the exterior of the motorhome.
- Change or clean bed sheets, mattress covers, or blankets.