Snow Birds Opting to Buy, Not Rent, RV Sites
Mogens Hermansen is what you’d call a working Snow Bird.
He lives in Memphis, Tenn., but spends much of the winter enjoying the sunshine in southern Alabama.
But unlike most Snow Birds, Hermansen and his wife don’t have to worry about trying to reserve a site for their 45-foot Beaver motorhome. They own an RV site at Bella Terra RV Resort in Foley, Ala. (Learn more about Bella Terra in today's Featured Video.)
“It’s our home away from home,” said Hermanson, 59, a full-time operations manager for a global packaging company.
In fact, their RV site at Bella Terra is not their only home away from home. The Hermansens also own a site at Traverse Bay RV Resort in Acme, Mich., where they like to enjoy the summer months.
The Hermansens are part of a growing number of RVers who are purchasing RV sites at upscale RV resorts across the country.
“This segment of the industry is generating increasing attention from consumers,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) in Larkspur, Colo.
While most campgrounds, RV parks and resorts rent their sites by the night, week or month, there are growing numbers of parks that have started selling their sites, particularly Sunbelt parks that cater to Snow Birds.
Nationally, more than 25,000 RV sites at nearly 200 RV parks and resorts are privately owned, according to David Gorin, a longtime campground industry consultant and principal of MacLean, Va.-based David Gorin & Associates.
That’s still a fraction of the market, when one considers that there are more than 8,000 private campgrounds and RV parks nationwide. But it is a significant trend, and an attractive investment option for working professionals, empty nesters and retirees who want to spend all or part of the winter in the Sunbelt, said Gorin, who also owns Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla., which offers RV sites for sale.
While prices for RV sites vary from roughly $50,000 to $250,000 or more, depending on the park’s location and amenities, the numbers make sense for Snow Birds who plan to spend extended periods of time in the Sunbelt.
“If someone comes down and spends $3,000 or $4,000 a year every winter in Florida, and let’s say they come down five years, they have already invested $20,000 in Florida,” said Eduard Mayer, president and CEO of Elite Resorts Management Inc., which has developed several RV resorts in Florida that sell their sites. On the other hand, many consumers do not want to commit themselves to a single location, which is why most people rent RV sites, Profaizer said.
Most RV resorts that sell their sites also set up rental pools, which enable RV site owners to generate income from their campsite when they’re away. The resorts take a percentage of the rental income to cover their management services.
The economics of modern RV resort development are also leading growing numbers of private park developers to build upscale resorts that sell their sites. “When you consider the cost of land in attractive locations, the cost of design, engineering, permitting and construction costs, it’s almost impossible to justify building a new park for a rental market only,” Gorin said.
And while the downturn in the economy has taken a toll on RV site sales, some RVers have found that they can purchase RV sites through their Individual Investment Accounts (IRAs) and 401K plans, said Tripp Keber, COO of Bella Terra Resort, which recently announced plans to begin building its second phase. “With the income that can be realized through our rental management program and the lot’s appreciation, this represents a great investment,” Keber said.
Many RV enthusiasts also like the upscale nature of RV parks and resorts that sell their sites as well as the convenience of owning their own site.
“The advantage of owning our own site is we can come and go as we please,” said Emile LaChance, an Ontario, Canada, resident who recently purchased a site at Silver Palms RV Village in Okeechobee, Fla. “If you’re renting a site,” he added, “you’ve got to be on a schedule.”
Looking to the future, Gorin said the concept of owning an RV site will continue to grow in popularity, especially in highly attractive vacation destinations and in resort locations within a two-hour drive of major cities. Gorin added that the development of new, upscale RV parks and resorts that sell their sites will also create a new supply of modern RV sites for the rental market.