When you are selling or buying an RV or travel trailer, it is good to know how much it is worth whether it be through Kelly Blue Book or some other source. I have been in the insurance industry for years and have often had to figure out the value of recreational vehicles for total loss purposes. Therefore, I can help you out on the best ways to discover the approximate value of an RV.
Kelly Blue Book no longer publishes values on RVs or travel trailers. However, a similar site called NADA (National Auto Dealers Association) does provide market values. Otherwise, you can search for comparables using RV trader or the like to find out the approximate value.
My goal for this article is to help you become a better-informed buyer or seller who will be better prepared for negotiating a fair price for a new or used RV. Let’s get to it.
Factors That Contribute to an RV’s Value
With so many different makes and models available to buyers, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to price an RV. I’ll show you how to get a fair market value next, but here are a few factors that must be considered.
- Age- This is the biggest factor. Newer units, 3 years and newer, will attract particular buyers. Older units say 10 years or older will be people looking for a great deal. So consider the type of buyer you are facing when deciding whether to sell or not.
- Class- As you can expect, A or C class models will fetch a higher price than a travel trailer. However, travel trailers do not have to worry about mileage eating up their values. A 20-year-old travel trailer will tend to be less depreciated, as long as it’s in good condition, no matter how much it was used. RVs with an engine can have high mileage drag the price way down, regardless of the maintenance record.
- Condition– This is a big factor. Most people are not looking for a “fixer-upper”. They want something ready to use that doesn’t smell like last week’s laundry. If you are selling, please take the time to do a thorough cleaning and inexpensive routine maintenance and/or upholstery repairs.
Now that you know the main factors that affect value, I will show you a tried and true method of determining an accurate fair market value for an RV.
The Best Way to Figure out the Value of an RV or Travel Trailer
I have had to come up with a fair market value on hundreds, if not thousands, or cars, trucks, RVs, you name it. The tried and true way to do it is to use multiple sources, but heavily weight it towards actual comparables found in your market area. Here is a step-by-step process to find the value of any RV.
1. Check the NADA value
This is usually the best place to start to get an approximate value. I always first go to NADA to get a baseline on the value of any vehicle or RV. In fact, this is the source that the vast majority of dealers use to set the prices of their inventory.
However, there are regional differences based on supply and demand that dictate adjusting the price based on where you are buying or selling it. That’s where finding comparables come in. But first, let’s go through the basics of how to use the NADA website.
- Go to https://www.nadaguides.com/RVs/Manufacturers to get started. Choose the model of your RV.
- Select the year and model.
- Enter your zip code. This part is a bit misleading. Entering the zip code doesn’t really adjust prices based on regional differences. Instead, it just helps them advertise better to you. Go figure. You can read the disclaimer above and it says just that. “Enter your ZIP code to view pricing and values. Your ZIP code helps us find local deals and highlight other available offers.“
- Enter the mileage, if applicable.
- On the same page as the mileage, input any and all options that you have on your RV. Take your time with this, it has a huge impact on the bottom-line value. You may want to pull out your RV’s spec sheet while you do this step.
- Once done with mileage and options, click continue to see the suggested value.
You will notice it gives you both a low retail and the average retail. Basically, this just allows you to make adjustments to the price based on condition.
If the unit is in fair condition and has some maintenance issues, err more toward the low retail side. If the unit has been well-maintained and is in generally good working order, err toward the average retail side. And if you have hardly used the unit and it is in immaculate, like-new condition, you can figure that it will be worth more than average retail.
For example, if low retail is $18,000 and an average retail is $22,000, then you can expect a like-new model to be worth around $26,000. Of course, you have to also think about the age. The further you go back in time, the more condition matters. For an RV less than 8 or so years old, average retail will be more toward the top end. However, if it is 20 years old and is in immaculate shape, the value would often be considered way higher than average retail.
Once you figure out the NADA value, write it down. We will use that amount later.
2. Check the RV Trader Price Checker
RV trader’s price checker is a tool that can either be really good or really misleading. That is because it relies on actual units for sale around the country or even the world. That means that the newer the model, the more accurate your search is likely to be. However, if you are looking for something old or rarer, you will have a hard time getting an accurate price.
Even so, don’t completely discount this tool. For more popular models it can be really useful as part of your research. Just be sure to discount searches than have a limited “listings matched” on the pricing screen, as shown below.
Once again, write the amount down for later use.
3. Find 3 Solid Comparables
For this step, take your time and use good judgment in selecting 3 comparable RVs to the one you are trying to get a value for. Try to stay within 250 miles of your region to get the most accurate fair market value for the area you reside in.
Go to rvtrader.com again and conduct your search. Follow these steps:
- Click “Advanced Search” under the “Find” button
- For location choose 250 miles and enter your zip code. If you have an uncommon model then it’s okay to go with 400 miles. On rare occasions, you may need to choose the nationwide option.
- Choose your make, model, and trim.
- Choose the year. Sometimes you will have to do a range. I recommend keeping it to 3 model years. For example, if you have a 2008 you would choose 2007 to 2009. For rarer models, you could go 2006 to 2010. Older RVs will depreciate a bit slower, so this won’t nullify the quality of the value too much. Just never choose a range of more than 3 years if the unit is 5-10 years old. If its 5 years old or newer, you have to choose the exact year.
- Add in mileage. Don’t put in any other information below mileage, as it usually makes you come up with very few, if not 0, search results. Click “See matches”.
- Scroll down the list and pick the 3 units that most closely match what you are buying or selling. If they all seem to be comparable, pick 3 in the middle of the range. Try to refrain from min-maxing. In other words, don’t pick the 3 most expensive as a seller and the 3 cheapest as a buyer. The other party will call you out on this and it may sour the deal. This is called a “fair market value” for a reason.
Once you have gone through the process and found 3 good comparables, write down the 3 amounts.
Note: You may have to tweak the variables or expand the search area to get enough results. Just go through the process a couple of times until you get enough results. If you can only seem to find 1 or two results, no matter what, it’s okay. It just means it’s an uncommon model and you will need to rely more heavily on the NADA. Reasonable buyers/sellers will understand this normally.
If you find 0 comparables, it’s okay. Just document that fact and move on. If you find 1 or 2 only, that’s fine. we can move on with that info as well.
4. Plug in the Numbers to Get Your Value
Now the moment of truth. This step will allow you to figure out the value of an RV similarly to how many insurance companies do it.
Just use this formula: Add together the NADA Value, RV Checker Value, Comp1 Value, Comp 2 Value, and Comp 3 Value then divide them by 5. You will then have your base fair market value.
Once you have that number, you may need to deduct for any reconditioning cost that might be associated with getting the unit in proper working order. Or, you can just leave it as is. Also, if there is any special equipment on the RV, you can add for that as well.
There’s no limit to what you can negotiate with the other party, but this value will at least be a strong starting point for negotiations.
I recommend that you print out all of the data that you collected while going through this process. This will strengthen your position and make negotiating much easier.
How to Prepare an RV for Sale
If you want to get top dollar when selling or trading in your RV, you will want to make an effort to address any imperfections. If there is something major wrong with it, it may not be worth the time and expense to fix it. However, there is usually a laundry list of small, inexpensive things you can do to increase the resell value of the camper.
- Clean the RV- This is the easiest. However, you’d be surprised how often people will show their RV that is still covered in rubbish, has dirt and grime and is just generally in a nasty state. I recommend just picking up a detailing kit, like this one found on Amazon. If you are not a big fan of manual labor, just hire someone at a reasonable price to do the cleaning for you. Don’t forget to detail the interior too.
- Address any upholstery issues– This includes a sagging awning, unsightly nicks in the side panels, a frayed carpet, and more. These repairs can be done surprisingly cheaply by a local upholstery shop. Investing $250 to make these small repairs could add $1,000 or more to the value and make it sell faster.
- “Stage” the RV– Similarly to selling a residential property, it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Make the place look inviting by adding some decor. Buy a strong-smelling Yankee candle or air freshener. Baked apple pie scent will set the mood nicely.
- Sell at the right time of year– While this doesn’t actually prepare the RV, it will still have a big impact on your success and the price you get. The best time to sell is right after the holidays sometime in early to mid-spring. This is the prime time market season and, due to demand, it is likely to be more of a seller’s market.
How to Negotiate a Used RV Purchase
Negotiating the price of an RV is really important. I mean, who doesn’t like a deal? The problem is, that it isn’t as easy as it looks. I grew up on a car lot and can instantly spot a good negotiator just by their body language.
Here are a 5 tips to help you become a better negotiator:
- Pay Cash– Or at least have financing squared away before you even start looking. Being able to pay in folding money is a powerful negotiating tool.
- Leave your heart and ego at home– When you are a teenager, it’s easy to fall in love with the first girl or boy you meet who shows you some interest. The same thing is true in RV buying. Just because you have your heart set on living the RV lifestyle ASAP, you really need to take your time and be overly critical about what you are buying. There are a lot of RVs in the sea, being able to walk away is an important skill to have. Speaking of which, walking away is another great tool to use.
- Start walking away– If things aren’t going well and the seller won’t budge on his or her price, just say thanks and start walking away. You’d be amazed at how often they will suddenly become inspired to lower their price.
- Ask about the maintenance record– This is a great way to break down a greedy seller. It not only shows that you are a serious buyer who won’t be easy to manipulate, it may also make them willing to come down on their price significantly. If they can’t produce maintenance records, then there’s a good chance there may be some issues. You could say something like, “How do I know I’m not getting a lemon? I may need to have someone look this over.” Sometimes they will call your bluff, but most of the time they will just expand their willingness to give you a better deal.
- Come prepared– Print off a few comparables from rvtrader.com and take them with you. If their offering price is way out in left field, you can pull out the comps and say something like, “I am looking to pay wholesale, you are asking more than (or the same as) what the dealers are asking.” Then you can pull out the paper and show the proof. By the way, you should be looking to pay at least 20% less than the dealer comps.
I hope this article has helped you learn how to find the value of your RV or travel trailer. Keep in mind that this can work for anything, including vehicles or trucks. If there is a marketplace that sells whatever item you are trying to sell, you can figure out the fair market value.
Please be sure to post any questions or comments, I’d love to help anytime!
Recommended RV Products
- RV Exterior Detailing Kit– You’d be amazed how big of a difference just cleaning and waxing your RV can make. A spotless shining unit will sell much better (and for a better price) than a dingy stain-covered grime bucket.
- RV Repair and Maintenance Manual– Want to do the repairs yourself? This book is great for DIY.
Do campers hold their value? Campers do not hold their value like real estate. In fact, the depreciation rate is more akin to that of automobiles. Of course, this can be mitigated with good maintenance and more careful use.
Which RVs have the best resale value? All RVs depreciate, and typically fairly rapidly. Therefore, an RV is really never an investment and there are too many variables in play to give a definitive answer. However, good maintenance will improve the resale value of any recreational vehicle.
How fast do campers depreciate? An RV will typically depreciate about 8% to 15% per year, depending on the model, type, and frequency of use.
What is the best month to buy an RV? The best months to buy an RV are usually during the holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not many people are selling 3rd party at this time so you can expect to get a better deal with the low demand.
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