You stare at the computer screen, credit card at the ready, waiting for that magic moment when the reservations window opens. But it is not tickets to “Hamilton” or backstage passes to a Rolling Stones concert that you seek. No, what you need is a warm-weather campsite, and whether it is Arizona or Florida, Texas or California, if you aren’t at the head of the line, you just might spend next winter shoveling snow.
One of the benefits of owning a motorhome is the ability to escape the elements. But securing a site in a desirable climate can be challenging, as any snowbird can attest. That is one reason many campers are opting to buy their own little piece of paradise.
“Most of our owners come in as renters first,” explains Carl Shwobel, a board member of the Bluewater Key Property Owners’ Association. “They buy because they want to keep coming back.”
That was true for Clay and Patti Griffin of North Carolina, who stayed for 10 days and fell in love with the five-star resort. But when they went to book the following year, all the spots were full.
“I said, ‘How can I get in?’ and they said, ‘Buy a lot,’ so we did,” Clay says.
Owning certainly takes away the annual stress of finding a campsite, but is it a smart move? The answer may surprise you.
If you spend several months each year camping in the same region, purchasing a deeded lot could make good financial sense. With average in-season monthly sites ranging between $2,000 and $3,800 in popular destinations, the amount spent on renting over time could equal or even exceed the cost of purchasing the same lot. And, according to owners we spoke with, you can further improve your bottom line by renting out your site when you aren’t there.
“Our lot really pays for itself,” notes Sue Shwobel, Carl’s wife.
Even more encouraging, RV lots appreciate in value and have proven to meet and even exceed the growth of stocks or traditional home purchases, averaging a 15 percent return on investment.
Money isn’t the only reason to buy. Convenience and community are other factors to consider. A deeded lot not only provides a guaranteed site for your motorhome, but most resorts also allow structures for permanent storage of larger items like grills, lawn furniture and recreational equipment, so rather than pack and repack all of your toys, they’ll be there waiting for you when you arrive. Depending on the park, owners can go even further. Take the Griffins’ tiki hut, which includes a full-sized refrigerator, hardwood cabinetry, comfortable L-shaped seating, a complete entertainment center, and even an outdoor shower. “It has all the comforts of a second home,” says Patti, who jokes, “When we’re here, we really only go in the RV to sleep!”
And much like any neighborhood, owner-based resorts foster a sense of community, something that appealed to Elle and Richard Bonewitz of West Virginia when they purchased their lot at Cypress Trail RV Resort in Fort Myers, Florida.
“The second day we were there we were invited to a party,” Elle says with a smile. “Everyone was just so friendly.”
As wonderful as resort ownership can be, all resorts — like all motorhomes — are not created equal. Finding the right park, just like finding the right motorhome, means doing your homework. Before you sign on the dotted line, there are several factors to consider.
Like any real estate purchase, where your deeded lot is located is the most important factor in its value. When Larry Jones, another Bluewater Key owner, first visited the park decades ago, his dad was renting a campsite. The “resort” had just opened, and the lots were nothing but bare coral, selling for $60,000 apiece.
“That was when you could buy a house for $40,000. He thought the price was outrageous,” Larry laughs. “Now I wish he’d bought 10 of them.”
No wonder — one of those same lots just sold for $1.5 million. While that kind of appreciation isn’t common, this resort had all the elements of a prime location: year-round usability; waterfront and water access; proximity to tourist attractions, shopping, dining and entertainment; and a wide range of recreational activities.
A swimming pool and a clubhouse are the bare minimum you should expect from an RV resort. Look for additional amenities like a dog park, fitness center, tennis courts, shuffleboard and pickleball courts, and a spa. For waterfront resorts, consider those with community docks or boat ramps and beach access. Also inquire about space set aside for owners’ trailered boats, toy haulers and dinghy vehicles.
3. Lot Development
The basic lot normally comes furnished with a concrete pad and utility hookups, but chances are you will want to do more with your property. All deeded lots within the resort must adhere to a set of covenants that specifies the types of structures that can be built on lots and the building materials that can be used. The covenants may also include rules for landscaping, lighting and irrigation systems. Be sure your vision for your lot’s future fits within the resort’s guidelines.
You’ll want to comparison shop. An undeveloped lot in a resort community may be as little as $25,000, though the average in high-demand areas is $120,000 and up. But the price of the lot isn’t the only cost to consider. Recurring expenses and fees can greatly increase your monthly payments. Look at:
Educate yourself on local taxes, including real estate and personal property taxes. In some states, boats and recreational vehicles can be assessed an annual tax based on their value if they are “perched” in the state for a specified number of months. On the flip side, if you plan to reside on your lot six months or more each year, you may want to consider declaring residency there, especially in states with little or no income tax.
Property Owners Association (POA)/ Homeowners Association Dues (HOA)
These can run from $50-$500 a month, and cheapest isn’t always best. These fees fund maintenance and upkeep on the resort; the more amenities, the higher they should be. Too low and necessary work may not be done, resulting in a bigger bill and higher costs later.
Water and Sewer
Are these costs included in the POA/HOA fees? If, instead, they are provided by the municipality to each lot, this could be a large monthly bill.
Is this included in your monthly fee, or is it a separate cost? Are you responsible for the upkeep of your own lot?
Cable and Internet
Are these included in your monthly POA/HOA fee, or are they optional, pay-as-you go services?
Who determines the rate for your lot, and what percentage of that rental income goes to the POA/HOA or management company? Rental management fees can be as low as 10 percent or as high as 25 percent, which can drastically affect profitability.
Ask if the POA/HOA is currently involved in any ongoing legal disputes. If so, all owners could be responsible for the cost.
Rules and Regulations
Are there restrictions on who you can allow to use your site when you aren’t there (friends, family)? For age-restricted over-55 parks, are there rules limiting the length of time your children/grandchildren can visit? Are there limits on the age or type of RV allowed in the park? (This could affect rental income later.)
When considering resale value, bigger is always better. If you’re purchasing in a park with pet-segregated lots, get one. Even if you don’t have a furry friend, experts say these are more desirable to buyers. You may also want to avoid lots designated for a particular type of RV. This limits your rental opportunities and could be a problem if you ever decide to downsize from your Class A to a Class B or Class C. Waterfront or water view lots are most popular, as are end lots and those that back up against natural borders. As a rule, the fewer visible neighbors, the better. Look at potential problems like drainage. If you have a choice between a preowned developed lot and a bare pad, factor the cost of permits, materials and construction into your assessment. The developed lot could be the better deal.
Buying an RV lot is a serious investment, but it can pay off in more than just dollars and cents. You’ll have the convenience of a second home, the amenities of a vacation resort and the community of a small-town neighborhood, all while still having the flexibility to travel. And, of course, when winter comes, you won’t be shoveling snow.
There’s an RV park for everyone! Here’s a quick look at some luxury resorts:
Heritage Motorcoach Resort & Marina, Orange Beach
Resort amenities include a private marina connected to the Gulf of Mexico via Bayou St. John, private white-sand beach, a pool and hot tub on the water, clubhouse, and fitness and laundry centers. Available improved lots with 12-by-25-foot coach houses (some with marina slips) range in price beginning at $250,000. Rental rates from $70 and up per night, depending on location and amenities; 800-730-7032, https://heritageorangebeach.com
Havasu RV Resort, Lake Havasu City
Resort amenities include two heated pools and spas, a nine-hole chip-and-putt golf course, exercise room, activity center, horseshoe pits and laundry facilities. Available lots range from $57,000 with minimal improvements to $219,000 with casita. Rental rates vary depending on property and improvements; 928-764-2020, https://havasurvresort.com
Bluewater Key RV Resort, Key West
Resort amenities include water access, swimming pool and clubhouse. Available improved lots range from $475,000-$875,000. In-season rental rates from $145-$215 a night; 305-745-2494, https://bluewaterkey.com
Cypress Trail RV Resort, Fort Myers
Resort amenities include a clubhouse; heated pool and spa; tennis, bocce, pickleball and shuffleboard courts; two large lakes; dog park; and certified nature trails. Casitas are available and lots start at $74,500. Rental rates vary depending on season and property;
Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort, Webster
Resort amenities include a clubhouse, fitness center, heated swimming pool and outdoor pool, hot tub and sauna, dog park, laundry and mail facilities. Available deeded lots range from $42,000, with landscaping improvements and a concrete pad, to $119,000 with a finished Grande Suite. Rental rates run from $57 a night to $875 a month; 352-569-1169, http://floridagrande.com
Wilderness RV Resort at Silver Springs
Resort amenities include a social hall and resort lodge, pool, hot tub, fitness center, laundry facility, dog park and private fishing pond. Available deeded lots range from $49,900-$99,000 depending on size (5,000 to 7,000 square feet) and location, and include the concrete pad and a shed. Rental rates start at $47 a night and $735 a month; 352-625-6200, www.wildernessrvparkestates.com
Crossing Creeks RV Resort & Spa, Blairsville
Resort amenities include access to the North Georgia Mountains and the Coosa and Anderson creeks, clubhouse, heated pool and spa, dry sauna, steam and massage rooms, and gym. Available lots start in the $50,000s. Rental rates vary depending on season and property; 706-835-1111, www.crossingcreeksrvresort.com
Gulf Waters Beachfront RV Resort, Mustang Island
Resort amenities include beach access, heated swimming pool, hot tub, clubhouse and laundry facilities. Available improved lots with sheds and landscaping from $140,000-$195,000. Rental rates range from $57-$75 per night; 877-893-6497, http://gulfwatersrvresorttx.com
Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Alabama; 866-417-2416, www.bellaterrarvresort.com
Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort, South Carolina; 843-593-9762, www.hhimotorcoachresort.com
Motorcoach Country Club, Indio, California; 888-277-0789, www.motorcoachcountryclub.com
Outdoor Resort Palm Springs, California; 800-843-3131, http://orps.com
Silver Palms RV Resort, Okeechobee, Florida; 863-532-7043, www.silverpalmsrv.com
Sun RV Resorts, 888-886-2477, www.sunrvresorts.com
The Great Outdoors RV Resort, Titusville, Florida; 800-621-2267, www.tgoresort.com