Tips for Selling Your RV

Suggestions for a smooth sale process.

Don Cohen Don Cohen  |  11.16.2018

The best time for thinking about selling an RV is before you buy one. These are expensive investments and unlike an appreciating asset, it’s more about how you preserve the diminished value of inevitable depreciation.

Buying a well-made RV backed by a strong company and dealer network is a good start.  Choosing a sensible floorplan and tasteful interior will also help hold value.  A good case in point is that with our last Navion, we ordered it with the overhead bunk above the cab. Even though it was only going to be the two of us, we knew that having that extra bed would ensure a wider group of buyers when we went to sell or trade.

If you’re buying your first RV, it’s very possible it won’t be your last.  Over time you may decide to upgrade or change styles. And, more than likely, will probably work a trade-in with a dealer.  However, there are times that you may choose to sell outright and when you do, here are some of the things you’ll want to know.

Helpful Selling Tips

Consider Timing

One of the first things you should consider is timing.  While different for everyone, the factors that go into a selling decision should take into account the age of the unit, mileage, time of year, geography, equity and/or loan balance, and market interest. “Sweet spots” of salability come and go. And with each revolution, there is a decline in value.  In my case, I had a three-year-old rig with a little over 40,000 miles. In the case of a Mercedes Sprinter with an engine duty life of 400,000 miles, the mileage was less a deducting factor than if this were a Class C with a gas engine.  And while my mileage was higher than average for a three-year-old rig, we had many upgrades. So for a lot of upgrades, you could buy on a brand new model, we would ultimately sell for $20,000-$30,000 dollars less.

I also knew that spring is when the majority of the market starts thinking about buying RVs with dreams of a summer getaway driving their interest.  I also knew that Sprinter-based motorhomes are in high demand, so my potential buyer might very well be out of the market area.

Know How Much to Sell For

There are several ways of selling your RV:  (1) to a private party, (2) to a dealer or broker, or (3) by consignment to a dealer or broker.  

Just like cars, RVs have a wholesale and retail value.  If you sell or consign to a dealer or a broker, the number they’re going to be looking at is the wholesale value with the expectation that they’ll make money in the reselling markup.  Unlike cars, the retail to wholesale spread for RVs can vary greatly as there are a lot more variables in valuation.  Not only is it a question of mileage, but also of wear and tear and configuration and accessories.

In the automotive world, there are guides such as the NADA and Kelly Blue Book to help determine the price of a car.  But what savvy car brokers and dealers do is look at the industry wholesale auctions which provide the truest, real-time, wholesale market price of a car.  But alas, there’s no equivalent for RVs, so consumers need to really dig deep to understand the true resale value of their unit.

If you’re planning to take the direct private party approach in selling your RV, your first stop should be visiting RVT.com.  Here you can use multiple criteria to search for your similar model and see what it’s selling for.  If you have a 2015 model, search for a couple of years older and newer to see where comparable listings are at. However, years don’t always tell the story.  For instance, there was a big model change between Navions in 2015. The prices you’ll see will essentially all be retail whether or not they’re from a private party or a dealer.  That will give you a good sense of where you compare.

When I was starting to think about selling our Navion, I used RVT to give me a sense of what my top number would be.  I then called my dealer and asked the salesperson I had worked with when I bought the Navion what he would buy it for to establish a floor.  Knowing my rig, he was also very helpful in suggesting a good “opening price” should I list it myself.

Consider Trade-In

If you are planning to buy another motorhome, then depending on the state you live in, it may be more advantageous to simply trade-in your rig, as sales tax is calculated on the difference.  Getting a wholesale value for your motorhome may be a wash in paying higher sales tax on an entire purchase.  It’s also a lot more convenient.

A few years ago when we got our second Navion, we sold our old one to friends.  We actually ran that transaction through our dealer for a $300 handling fee which streamlined clerical steps and, as a trade-in transaction, minimized my sales tax bill.

As we’re switching over to a new Winnebago diesel pusher later in the year, and thinking about the prime selling season, I decided that the higher value of a private sale more than offset the sales tax trade-in difference.

Pick the Right Listing Platforms

If you do decide to go the private sale route, using RVT.com will allow you to reach a national market (RVtrader.com is another popular site, but does require a fee).  Take the time to get good photos of your motorhome and carefully consider how you write the listing.  If there are some key features or upgrades worth pointing out, do so in your descriptive copy.

And while RVT has the highest visibility, don’t rule out alternative channels for advertising — and most of them are free.  There’s Craigslist, special interest forums that you may already be a member of, and of course, Facebook.  One friend tapped into a Facebook group of people traveling to dog shows to find a buyer.  That was brilliant!

Create a Great Listing

For me, the best response came from the RVT listing.  Beyond interior shots, I included photos of the Navion at various destinations.  I also shaped the copy to be more owner-to-owner sounding instead of the traditional laundry list of specs that dealers tend to use.  I then set the listing for contact through a blind e-mail address which filtered out non-serious inquiries.

Pro tips: Write your ad copy out ahead of time.  Be brutal in editing it down to be concise – you don’t have to explain every feature.  Point out key features, but don’t over-hype with flowery language.  Think carefully what’s important to buyers (sometimes what’s important to you is less important to someone else).  Stage for good photos. Smartphone quality is absolutely good enough as long as the shot is well lit. The panoramic feature of many smartphones is a great way to shoot a wide angle interior.  Arrange your pictures in sequence from the exterior to interior and number the files sequentially to keep track.

Find a Buyer You Can Trust

Within a couple of weeks, I had flushed out one very interested local buyer and one from across the country.  Ultimately, the out-of-town buyer took the pole position and then we entered into a phase that everyone has to feel their own way through trust.  The buyer wanted to make sure he was getting a well-maintained and reliable motorhome.  I wanted to make sure the check cleared. Fairly early on, we had agreed on a price. And then, through telephone calls, e-mails and texts, I was able to answer specific questions on the rig.  In getting to know the buyer, where he lived, and where he worked, I became much more comfortable with his trustworthiness.  As a measure of that trust, I agreed to hold the rig with no deposit and the buyer booked a flight to Denver.

As we worked through questions about VIN number, insurance, and license plates, my confidence continued to increase.  The plan was that he would fly into Denver, we’d fully go through the rig and do a test drive.  If everything was satisfactory, he’d hand me a bank check.  

Because of good planning by both buyer and seller, everything went very smoothly. And as we eagerly contemplate our next new coach, I’m already thinking about possible exit strategies in a few years.  Even though it’s all about fun, a little business-like planning sure doesn’t hurt.


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4 Comments

  1. Don Cohen Posted on 12.13.2018

    Offering a paid-for-by-owner inspection probably wouldn’t improve saleability as, without any formal inspection standards, a buyer really wouldn’t know if the report was valid. As a negotiating point, you could offer to discount the cost of an inspection if they ultimately purchased the coach.

  2. Traylor Posted on 11.17.2018

    The best time to sell anything is when you don’t have to. Patience is the key, and being able to wait for the right buyer is the only way to be sure you’ll get the price you want. If the industry average price is $50,000, then your starting price should be $75,000 or more. Price-wise, if you start with a high price, you may just get a high offer, if you’re patient and the right buyer comes along. If you start low, you’ll surely get a low number. I’ve used this strategy before, and got way over the retail average and what the dealer experts told me I could expect. Wrong! ;)

  3. Carpe RVing Posted on 11.17.2018

    Thanks, Don, for such a detailed article, it’s the best I’ve seen out there from all my resources! Though we’re at least a year out on selling our 2015.5 VUE, I have it bookmarked for future reference.

    Wondering, would a paid-for by owner inspection be something to consider as a marketing tool?

    Thanks,
    Tom & Lisa
    p.s. New to Denver and we use Sprinter of Littleton but still need to find a local dealer/repair shop you use (leary of the online reviews and would appreciate personal input).

  4. Carla Posted on 11.17.2018

    We also flew out of state to buy a rig and after test driving we went to the owners bank. I was hand carrying the bank check. We sat down with a bank representative who notarized their bill of sale and transfer documents. There are cameras at banks so the sellers felt reassured about the legitimacy of our check.