The RV world was once populated mostly by vacationers who rented spots at modest, woodsy campgrounds, according to a report in the April 15 edition of The New York Times.
Today, some RV owners are buying — rather than renting — places to park their vehicles, sometimes with amenities like concierge and room service and full-time tennis instructors.
Many of these parks are more akin to resorts than campgrounds, with manicured lawns and waterfalls, security guards, golf courses, tennis courts, health spas, live entertainment, yoga classes and coffee shops. The price for a parking spot may run from $75,000 to $750,000.
High-end RVs, priced from $175,000 to $2 million, have become the fastest-growing segment of the industry, although they still account for just a small slice of the overall market,
The most recent available data shows that sales of such vehicles grew 19.8% from 2002 to 2003, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Ten years ago, most of the biggest RVs were around 30 feet long; today they are 45 feet. Some of these rigs, which have quieter diesel engines, have high-speed Internet, satellite television, washing machines, gas fireplaces, hardwood floors and built-in garages for canoes and motorcycles.
As sales of luxury vehicles climb, one RV maker, the Monaco Coach Corp., wants to use the driver-owned parks as a way to increase demand for its products. Monaco, of Coburg, Ore., created a division to develop RV parks and has two under way — in Indio, Calif., and Las Vegas, with RV pads selling for $160,000 to $330,000 each. The Indio resort has a restaurant, room service and private docks for electric motorboats, and uses the name Outdoor Resorts, which it licenses from a company that has a park right across the street.
That company, Outdoor Resorts of America, is selling spots for $82,000 to $275,000 at its own park, called Outdoor Resort Indio. Buyers, screened to ensure that their RVs are no shorter than 45 feet, get unlimited golf privileges and access to full-time tennis and golf instructors; water aerobics classes; a health spa with body wraps and hair and nails services; and a lodge for bingo and dances. Robert Schoellhorn, a former pharmaceutical executive, owns Outdoor Resorts of America as well as Marathon Coach, another RV maker based in Coburg.
The Times reported that Outdoor Resorts of America is building similar parks in California, Oregon, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri. “There is more money out there, and people want a bit of a different vacation,” said Robert Schoellhorn Jr., the company’s vice president.
Less expensive options still exist. A resort called Whispering Aspen, which opened last summer in Fairplay, Colo., is appealing to a more low-key buyer, with its RV pads priced at $50,000 and $60,000. It offers more traditional RV activities like fishing and hiking, but it also is building a 9,000-square-foot lodge with a spa, Internet room, pools, hot tubs and a nine-hole putting green.
Thomas M. Lutes, the marketing director of Whispering Aspen, said that many people bought because they had trouble finding parking spots at campgrounds during the holidays and the summer. Some places are simply too crowded; others limit a visitor’s stay to perhaps a couple of weeks, and some RV enthusiasts want to stay longer. In addition, many older campgrounds are not equipped with the concrete pads needed to handle the larger, pricier RVs, which weigh as much as 45,000 pounds.
Sometimes buying a lot “is the only way to get that camping experience,” said Linda Profaizer of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). “Down in the Keys in Florida, it’s very difficult to find a place to go camping.”
More park owners, seeing land prices soar in many vacation hot spots, are selling instead of renting individual RV pads to consumers as a way to reap the financial rewards of their properties without selling the entire park outright.
Still, for buyers, putting thousands of dollars into a spot at an RV park may be risky, said Jim Miller, an investment adviser in Columbiana, Ohio. Before buying, he said, owners should make sure they are committed enough to the RV life to keep the property several years and that they want to keep returning several times a year.
According to the Times, resale value will be determined by resort amenities, upkeep and other RV neighbors — things that may be out of the owner’s control. It probably won’t help that so many new spots are coming on the market. There are also homeowner association regulations about what can be done with a lot. “The RV you can sell, but the lot you’re not going to be able to sell to someone who wants to build a house,” Mr. Miller said.
Individual owners must pay property taxes, some utilities and homeowner association fees that may range from $100 to $400 a month and cover water and sewer services, trash pickup and maintenance of the common areas. At many resorts, buyers can rent their lots to visitors when they are not there, through the resort’s management company. The company may typically get 40% of the daily rental charges, which can run $20 to $100 a night. Individual owners must report income for tax purposes.