First of all, we looked back on our past experiences with RV's and made a list of wants and don't wants and then listed them in categories of must have, would like to have, and do not want, and so on... These lists become invaluable when shopping for your perfect RV. If you are new to the RV world, sit down with seasoned RVer's and find out what they have learned.
For instance, after our 3rd RV, we knew we must have at least one slide. Two would wonderful but a slide in the salon (livingroom) area, was a must. We also wanted electric/hydraulic levelers, basement storage (the large bay doors on the bottom of the coach in which to store all your things), Day/Night shades, central heat and air, generator and a backup camera.
Things that really didn't matter to us but would be nice, were thermal paned windows (Nice if you plan to RV in the winter months), tinted windows, separate room for the toilet, carpet or wood floors, free standing dining table vs. booth seating, double fridge and so on.
Things that we did not want period, were cloth or folding doors to the bathroom and bedroom areas; venetian, horizontal or vertical blinds, and things like this. Once you've spent time in an RV, these things really become an issue or they don't. But, you learn what you like, what you don't and what doesn't matter one way or another.
Second, we looked at new vs. used. New is fun because nobody has been there before you, its fresh, it's under warranty, and often, it's state-of-the-art. While these are very valid reasons to buy new, the one drawback is that when you drive your new coach, 5th wheel, trailer or camper off the lot, that nasty thing called depreciation sets in and you take the hit when you go to trade in or sell. Granted, this is not always a bad thing since certain brands (Airstream, Marathon, etc.) have slow depreciation. So it's really up to you on how you want to handle this. We chose used for two reasons; one, the price is right and generally more negotiable. Many older RVer's buy new and then find themselves unable to travel so you CAN find a cream-puff out there that has low miles and/or minimal usage for a very reasonable price.
One thing I have noticed about most RVer's, they either are meticulous in caring for their RV or they aren't. The ones who aren't are not hard to spot.
The second reason we chose used, is because we trust our dealer. We've done business with them for years and they take in trades, go through them and fix all the problems then give you a quality used coach or trailer. Shop around and get all the details in writing!
Here is our own journey - We spent 3 months on vacation in the RV Mecca of the world (the Pacific Northwest) and looked at many different coaches and compared brands, floor plans, and engine size (454 gas or go with Diesel). With that under our belt, we came home and shopped local since our state prices were much lower than prices in the Pacific Northwest.
- Day 1- Went to our lender, told them what we wanted to do and got pre-approved for a set amount. Then we went to our favorite dealer (where we take our current RV in for repairs). Looked at what they had and talked price, mileage, generator hours, etc.
- Day 2- looked up the same RV online (Dealer website) - We found that if we bought it online, we would get a better deal. So instead of writing in to apply for it online (since we already have pre-approval), we took the figure in and asked what they could do for us. We looked at the coach again and went home to talk.
- Day 3- did other things but talked about the coach and shopped around on Craig's list, other dealers in the next town and beyond.
- Day 4- came back to the dealer, drove both coaches available, talked about trade-in's and visited our lender about the one we thought would fit our needs.
- Day 5- Visited with the dealer and negotiated a deal, worked out what things they would fix, detailing of the coach and working on the minor engine problems (turned out it was just low on power steering fluid). With our paperwork in hand, we left satisfied that we had done our homework.
- Day 6- (tomorrow!) We will meet with the lender, draw up the paperwork, pay the dealer and take possession of the coach. Party! Well, not quite yet. There is still a lot of work to do! Unload the trade-in coach and load the new one. Go through a "lets learn all about your new coach!" session and THEN we can party.
- Day 7- a small short road trip to get used to our home-on-wheels before the big trip in the spring.
The best advice, take your time, do your homework, make your lists, and be prepared to negotiate. It appears that we did our deal pretty fast, and really, we did. However, we had already shopped around for 3 months in the Pacific Northwest and had looked at all the dealers near our home here during that time as well. So in all honestly, we spent around 5 months looking.