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A Place to Park Your R.V. (Golf Privileges Included)

Category: RV News
Source: The New York Times
Publish Date: Saturday, April 15, 2006
Summary: A new way to retire in style.

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By JENNIFER ALSEVER
Published: April 15, 2006

FORGET the fancy retirement condo in Florida. Mo and Lin Moser traded their Denver home for a $1 million recreational vehicle and four places to park it - spots worth $80,000 to $500,000 each ? at several high-end R.V. parks around the country.

The R.V. world was once populated mostly by vacationers who rented spots at modest, woodsy campgrounds. Today, some R.V. owners are buying - rather than renting - places to park their vehicles, sometimes with amenities like concierge and room service and full-time tennis instructors.

Many of these parks are more akin to resorts than campgrounds, with manicured lawns and waterfalls, security guards, golf courses, tennis courts, health spas, live entertainment, yoga classes and coffee shops. The price for a parking spot may run from $75,000 to $750,000.

"Baby boomers are coming in, and they are looking for more," said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of R.V. Parks and Campgrounds, in Falls Church, Va. "They want to be entertained. And they need a place to park their big rigs."

High-end R.V.'s, priced from $175,000 to $2 million, have become the fastest-growing segment of the industry, although they still account for just a small slice of the overall market. The most recent available data shows that sales of such vehicles grew 19.8 percent from 2002 to 2003, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

Ten years ago, most of the biggest R.V.'s were around 30 feet long; today they are 45 feet. Some of these rigs, which have quieter diesel engines, have high-speed Internet, satellite television, washing machines, gas fireplaces, hardwood floors and built-in garages for canoes and motorcycles.

The Mosers didn't cut corners on their R.V., which has marble floors and six television sets - including one that pops out of the exterior for outdoor channel surfing. "It's about as high-end as you can get," Mr. Moser said. "It's got all the luxuries of a pretty nice home."

The Mosers bought two R.V. properties in Breckenridge, Colo., one in Palm Springs, Calif., and one in Newport, Ore., but they are far from just investments. Rather, the couple wanted to buy what Mr. Moser called "the R.V. lifestyle," and the convenience of having several home sites where they know other people. "It's the friendships, the camaraderie," said Mr. Moser, 70, a retired real estate developer. "There is always someone to visit and chat with."

One of the couple's future nesting spots will be at Desert Shores Resorts in Palm Springs, where a 7,000-square-foot R.V. pad and a private "casita" are under construction. By the end of the year, they hope to enjoy the casita- a small building with a private garage, full kitchen, bathroom, closets and living space, as well as a private patio and a private swimming pool.

As sales of luxury vehicles climb, one R.V. maker, the Monaco Coach Corporation, wants to use the driver-owned parks as a way to increase demand for its products. Monaco, of Coburg, Ore., created a division to develop R.V. parks and has two under way ? in Indio, Calif., and Las Vegas, with R.V. pads selling for $160,000 to $330,000 each. The Indio resort has a restaurant, room service and private docks for electric motorboats, and uses the name Outdoor Resorts, which it licenses from a company that has a park right across the street.

That company, Outdoor Resorts of America, is selling spots for $82,000 to $275,000 at its own park, called Outdoor Resort Indio. Buyers, screened to ensure that their R.V.'s are no shorter than 45 feet, get unlimited golf privileges and access to full-time tennis and golf instructors; water aerobics classes; a health spa with body wraps and hair and nails services; and a lodge for bingo and dances. Robert Schoellhorn, a former pharmaceutical executive, owns Outdoor Resorts of America as well as Marathon Coach, another R.V. maker based in Coburg.

Outdoor Resorts of America is building similar parks in California, Oregon, Florida, North Carolina and Missouri. "There is more money out there, and people want a bit of a different vacation," said Robert Schoellhorn Jr., the son of Mr. Schoellhorn and the company's vice president.

Less expensive options still exist. A resort called Whispering Aspen, which opened last summer in Fairplay, Colo., is appealing to a more low-key buyer, with its R.V. pads priced at $50,000 and $60,000. It offers more traditional R.V. activities like fishing and hiking, but it also is building a 9,000-square-foot lodge with a spa, Internet room, pools, hot tubs and a nine-hole putting green.

Thomas M. Lutes, the marketing director of Whispering Aspen, said that many people bought because they had trouble finding parking spots at campgrounds during the holidays and the summer. Some places are simply too crowded; others limit a visitor's stay to perhaps a couple of weeks, and some R.V. enthusiasts want to stay longer. In addition, many older campgrounds are not equipped with the concrete pads needed to handle the larger, pricier R.V.'s, which weigh as much as 45,000 pounds.

Sometimes buying a lot "is the only way to get that camping experience," said Ms. Profaizer of the R.V. park association. "Down in the Keys in Florida, it's very difficult to find a place to go camping."

More park owners, seeing land prices soar in many vacation hot spots, are selling instead of renting individual R.V. pads to consumers as a way to reap the financial rewards of their properties without selling the entire park outright.

Still, for buyers, putting thousands of dollars into a spot at an R.V. park may be risky, said Jim Miller, an investment adviser in Columbiana, Ohio. Before buying, he said, owners should make sure they are committed enough to the R.V. life to keep the property several years and that they want to keep returning several times a year.

Resale value will be determined by resort amenities, upkeep and other R.V. neighbors — things that may be out of the owner's control. It probably won't help that so many new spots are coming on the market. There are also homeowner association regulations about what can be done with a lot. "The R.V. you can sell, but the lot you're not going to be able to sell to someone who wants to build a house," Mr. Miller said.

Individual owners must pay property taxes, some utilities and homeowner association fees that may range from $100 to $400 a month and cover water and sewer services, trash pickup and maintenance of the common areas. At many resorts, buyers can rent their lots to visitors when they are not there, through the resort's management company. The company may typically get 40 percent of the daily rental charges, which can run $20 to $100 a night. Individual owners must report income for tax purposes.

SOME people join the R.V. brigade without fully retiring. Three years ago, Fred and Betsy Williamson, both in their 50's, grew weary of their corporate jobs, shed many of their belongings and sold their Phoenix home for $170,000. Then they bought a 40-foot R.V. for the same price — as well as a $92,000 lot at the Tiger Run Resort in Breckenridge.

The two now work at the municipal bus department and in a medical center during the winters in Breckenridge, where they enjoy the resort's hot tubs, swimming pools and lodge. In the summer they rent their lot for three weeks a month, at $50 a night, and keep 60 percent of the revenue, with the management company receiving the rest. During those periods, they stay at other R.V. parks and find jobs nearby. Mr. Williamson said the rental income helped to offset the $190 monthly dues, $70 monthly electricity bills and $1,200 in annual property taxes.

"We have no regrets," he said. "We've got a mobile cabin. We can go just about anyplace and stay for a while."


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