<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RV Selling Tips Revisited
Little Log


by Tom Gonser (07/15)

During the nearly two-decades we’ve published RVers Online, which contains literally hundreds of articles and editorials, no article has been more popular than “How to Sell your RV” . It was first written more than a decade ago, but has been updated by the author through the years. Because it is a completely non-commercial and unbiased tutorial, it has been immensely popular with our readers. When we recently decided to downsize our 35’ diesel pusher, we read it again with a fresh interest. And after a successful private sale experience, we thought it appropriate to create a sequel to the original article to deal freshly with the current options for RVers when selling a used RV.

Sooner or later the time comes to sell or trade in your RV. We reached that point with our 2007 Alpine diesel pusher when we concluded that we were using our RV less frequently, and for trips no longer accurately described as “extended RV travel”. An occasional cruise or trip to Hawaii had found its way onto our schedule; and occasionally we found it convenient to find a rental property for a few weeks or a months at some favorite destination. We still valued RV travel; but our future RV travels would likely be shorter in terms of both time and distance. These are some of the classic symptoms that stimulate thoughts of “downsizing”.

With decades of RVing experience we had few qualms about how to identify, evaluate, and purchase a new smaller unit to replace our aging Alpine. However the real dilemma was how to go about selling that older unit in order to initiate the process. It seems more than casually prudent to realize the cash value of the outgoing unit before submitting to the temptations of a new, albeit smaller unit. What to do? The choices are limited: (i) trade-in the RV as part of the new vehicle purchase; (ii) consign the RV to a business that specializes in selling used RVs; or (iii) pursue a private sale. These are three very different options — let’s explore each…

Trade in the RV: This is both the easiest and most expensive solution. The trade-in option is entirely hassle free. You simply drive the unit to the dealer and sign away the title. You avoid all of the time, effort and stress of having to completely clean, polish, shine and do minor fixes so the unit will show well. You do not have to sort through and select the various ways to advertise your RV for sale. You don’t need to deal with prospective purchasers who may or may not be able to provide you with a cash purchase price, but would instead offer something in trade or want you to finance some portion of the purchase price. And you don’t need to haggle over the price. But that's precisely the downside of this option: your price is whatever the dealer will allow you as a trade-in value on the next RV you’re purchasing. In a trade-in your RV will be valued according to “wholesale value”. There’s a published number for that too — but you won’t find it easily on the internet, such as the “NADA Price Guide”. The latter will take into consideration all of the options you have on your RV, and provide you with a “high retail” and “low retail” number. The “wholesale” book value is by comparison a rather ruthless calculation that will inevitably come in far below the “low retail” value you can more easily find online. The wholesale figure will likely to be virtually oblivious to those special (and costly) improvements you’ve made to the unit you’re trading in. And it most surely will be depressingly far below your sense of “fair value” for the RV you would like to sell. To compound the dilemma, a dealer will take into consideration his or her existing inventory of used RVs, and may value your trade-in at some percentage (e.g. 70-90%) of its wholesale value. As a practical matter you may well never “see” this “real” number, because with a trade-in there will be an allowance for the value of your used RV that is subtracted from the MSRP of the new unit you’d like to purchase. You’ll “see” the difference money involved in the proposed purchase. You may infer from that figure that your RV is being valued “reasonably”, but in all probability that’s because the dealer will inevitably be providing a discount from MSRP that tends to suggest you’re getting an acceptable price for your trade in. But unless you press the issue you may never know exactly how your used RV was actually valued in terms of its trade-in value.

Consignment: In theory this can have most of the advantages of going the trade-in route, while holding out the potential for realizing a higher dollar value. You do not have to worry about advertising your unit for private sale. You do not have to deal personally with those that may be interested in purchasing it. You do not need to be concerned with how the purchase is financed or whether the buyer wants to trade something in. And of course you can “name your own price”. In this case the “price” is often not what the RV will actually sell for, but rather how much you will receive from a consignment sale. The excess over this number goes to the consignment seller. Much will depend on the written agreement you have regarding the terms and conditions of consignment. And you’d better be prepared to read it carefully before you sign on the dotted line. In most cases you will agree to accept a certain amount upon sale, and promise to sign the necessary documentation to transfer title if a sale is made that will net you the promised amount. The consignment seller will make its profit from the excess over the amount you’ve agreed to accept upon sale.

Don’t be surprised if, once you’ve initiated the process, you’re presented with a proposed sale that will net you less (possibly far less) than the amount which you originally specified as acceptable to you. Of course you don’t have to sell at a lower price, but the chances are pretty good you’ll give it serious thought. Those who specialize in consignment sales naturally want sales to happen — because they only make profits when RVs are actually sold. Having your RV on their lot, with the added responsibility of keeping it in “show” condition, costs them dollars which they need to recover in addition to their profit. So once they have your RV on their lot understandably their self-interest is in getting the RV sold — and not necessarily in getting “your price” for it. If an offer to purchase your RV would only net a small profit to the consignment seller, they will likely turn it down unless you agree to accept a lesser sum. The chances are quite good that you’ll really never know exactly what the real selling price was unless your consignment agreement specifies that you’ll be provided with documentation of that fact.
But there’s more to consider here as well. Will your RV be maintained in a clean condition that will enhance its chances for a favorable sale? Will the consignment seller invest in significant and effective paid advertising to attract purchasers? And what if a potential purchaser conditions an offer on your paying for certain repairs or enhancements — thus effectively reducing what you’ll realize from the sale? What’s described here are simply known “risks” to the consignment option. There are of course highly reputable and trustworthy businesses that specialize in RV consignment. In fact, based on more than 20 years experience with persons involved in one such organization, Premier in Junction City, Oregon, we came very close to pursuing that option ourselves — just based on the professional relationship we’d enjoyed over the past 20 years with one of the principals, Susan Graham. And their offering is exceptional. They deal primarily with higher end coaches. They store them in a huge indoor showroom, and literally “stage” each unit in a manner that makes them incredibly inviting to potential purchasers. And they use a variety of online resources to advertise nationally. This handling is likely to attract the highest possible selling price. Unfortunately this is likely more the exception than the rule. However if one goes into the consignment arrangement knowledgeably, with a clear understanding of the process, and a high degree of confidence with the persons handling the transaction it can offer offer a viable choice to the final option we’ll discuss next…

Private Sale: If you’re willing to take on the burden of selling your own RV, you’ll at least know you’re pursuing the option that is likely to get you the highest dollar value. But you’re also pursuing the course of action that will demand the most of your time, energy, creativity, and patience. Our website article on “How to Sell Your RV” (www.rversonline.org/RVSellingTips.html), which we’ve updated several times, covers the basics in some detail. But there are a few points in today’s environment that require a bit of elaboration.

First, establishing the right selling prices is unquestionably the key point. RVers have difficulty in accepting reality in that they tend to believe their RV is worth more than it actually is. Thus they attach what is, in the marketplace, an unrealistically high value to it. And instead of gaining a sale, they gain the passage of time without one. And be assured the RV is not getting any more valuable as the clock continues to tick. This is not an exact science. There are many resources out there that shed light on the value of a used RV. Perhaps the best known of these is the NADA RV price guide. However that will provide you with a theoretical “high retail” and “low retail” value. In all probability even the lower of these numbers will still be above a price that will attract attention. While you can “see” the prices asked for RVs similar to yours on websites such as RVT.com (which we actually used), this does not tell you what the eventually negotiated selling price of these RVs really was. You can also check eBay and see what offering prices are, what what sorts of bids are posted.

Ideally you would as easily be able to find the “wholesale price” online, but as described above that can be quite elusive. Very likely the best you can do is to attempt to determine what “price” would likely be considered “fair value” to either a buyer or seller, realizing that “fair value” can be quite different viewed from the perspective of a prospective buyer than even a motivated seller. Once you’ve established a price, using as much objective information as you can find, you will need to advertise your unit for sale. As detailed in our earlier article, there are many large websites with high value traffic from potential buyers that offer this service. We used one of them, RVT.com, to test the waters with a limited duration free trial ad. We were limited to a text description and to five photos. We knew the power of video would greatly enhance our prospects, and it took less than an hour to put together a short video (about 60 seconds) that showed the key features of our coach. It allowed us, for instance, not just to say “smart bed”, but to show the large storage spaces on either side of the coach automatically opening/closing. Since we couldn’t put a video in our trial ad, we put it on YouTube and simply put a text link to it in our limited free add offered by RVT.com. In the first day after posting we saw nearly 50 views of the video we’d posted at the YouTube site. And a day later the RV was sold and we immediately removed the free trial ad with RVT.com

Clearly it takes a degree of pure luck to find not only a willing buyer, but one who lives close enough geographically to easily come see the coach. And one that is both financially qualified as a cash buyer and does not condition an offer on some sort of trade. When we posted the ad we ran into another challenging question that with hindsight we believe was critical: whether to characterize the price as “negotiable” or “firm”. Since we had established what we considered a “fair” price, we chose “firm”, as we wanted to express our own confidence in the fact our asking price reflected fair value for our RV. We subsequently checked with RVT.com and they do not have any statistical studies that are relevant here. However it seems clear that a bona fide “fair value” price where a seller indicates the price is firm is more likely to attract follow up inquiries than an asking price that appears “high”, even if designated “negotiable”. While this is admittedly speculative, we think it deserves special note here. We also learned from our follow up discussions with RVT that far too many users of their product provide incomplete descriptions — e.g. the number of slides, floor plan, model number, manufacturer — or serious misspellings of relevant information. And they confirm that above all else it’s the reasonableness of the asking price that is absolutely the most crucial factor in attracting potential buyers.

Conclusion: Our recent experience in selling a used RV provided us with information we thought helpful to supplement our earlier article. We knew when we began shopping for a new and more compact RV (more about that in a subsequent article) very likely the worst option we had was to do a straight-across trade in. It would have been by far the easiest of solutions, but we can now see with absolute certainty that there would have been a very significant number of dollars left on the table. Therefore our decision was to dabble very briefly in the world of online private sales, with what we thought was a uniquely acceptable fall-back position should we then pursue a consignment sale. In the process of evaluating our options for selling our RV we observed a number of teaching points that we thought helpful to share here as a supplement to our earlier-published article The online firm price we established had to be low enough to be inviting and credible; but high enough so that when we opted to go the consignment route we would not be significantly undercutting the price that the consignment seller could reasonably ask. Surely the right solution for any individual seller will vary according to geography, willingness to do make some or all of the effort, and probably more than anything else, pure good fortune. But we hope these observations can be both constructive and useful to our readers.