For the last 7 years, we spent most of our summers, and at least one spring break, in Europe, due to the fact that the kids were stationed in Germany. Jetsetting and traveling by trains and ferries all around Europe was something I never dreamed about doing. I took several years of French in high school and always planned to visit Paris, but I never planned to make repeated trips to Europe. I certainly never planned on getting apartments for extended stays in places like Paris, Rome, London, and Amsterdam. I won’t lie ~ it was awesome ~ fun, educational, and EXPENSIVE!
Now that the kids are firmly back on American soil, and have purchased a house in Little Rock, we decided to try traveling a different way. My husband always comments on how I prefer to get suites or apartments that have kitchenettes so I can make at least some of our food. He also points out that I never want the maids invading my space and that I leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on for our whole stay. When we get into a hotel room, I usually have my own pillow. Then I start by unpacking our ice chest, loading the hotel fridge, and remaking the bed. Add the fact that I really, really hate flying, and well, a motorhome seemed like a no-brainer. We are not campers, but the idea of a rolling hotel with a kitchen appealed to us.
What kind? Hmmmm …class A – too big and scary to drive. Class B – way too small for comfort. Class C – big enough for comfort for a few days and drives like a truck. I think Goldilocks would have approved of our decision.
A new class C having the options we wanted started around $60-70k. WOWZA! Ok, so I started the search for that elusive, older, one owner, low mileage Class C that had the options we wanted.
The Budget and The Laundry List of Must Haves
Automatic, self-contained, couch, dinette, kitchen, generator for boondocking in a parking lot on cross country trips to see the kids, an awning, and preferably a separate bedroom in the back of the RV. We also really liked the split bath. It must have low miles, preferably one owner, a perfect car fax report and in excellent overall condition. The budget was between $10k and 20k, depending upon the age, mileage, options, etc. Exactly what everyone else looking, is looking for. We finally found exactly that, but not without some trials and tribulations. It seemed like every time I called on one that looked to be what we were looking for (and I called on many) in our price range – it was already sold, often to a dealer. I’m not using many names of people involved in this story in order to protect the privacy of people I liked, as well as the privacy of those I didn’t.
Our Winnebago Itasca Spirit
We started on Craigslist. It did make for some interesting day trips. Warning!!! Skip the rest of this paragraph if you are squeamish or a germophobe!!! My advice to the sellers of the very 1st one we drove all the way to south Sac to look at – is that if you are asking $13k for your 15 year old motorhome, perhaps you should make sure there is not urine in the toilet. Another tip – do not leave used feminine hygiene products on night stands. I was already in the car – dousing myself in alcohol wet wipes, as my parents and husband figured out that it had leaked in the over cab area and the generator wouldn’t start.
After that we moved on to dealerships. For the most part – they were clean and well maintained. Most of the ones we looked at were also priced well above the NADA RV price (like a Kelly blue book site for RVs) – sometimes even double that price. We went to dealers all over Sacramento and Davis. We saw some nice ones, but nothing that really ever felt like a comfortable temporary home in our price range. Some dealerships were better that others. We liked American Motorhomes in Sacramento and America River RV in Davis.
Hmmm… OK, so back to Craigslist. This part is to warn others about some of the pitfalls of dealing with flakey, less than honest, and downright unscrupluous sellers. This part is about a few we didn’t buy. They all may, or may not be, still for sale.
1. I found this beautiful 20 year old Gulf Stream that had 9k miles for $12k in Carmichael. After several phone tags on a Saturday with a gentleman named Tony – we set up a meeting to look at it after he and his family attended church on Sunday. We were to meet them at their house. When we arrived at the given address, we found ourselves in the parking lot of a barbershop. When we asked about it, they told us they only lived a block away, and that friends owned the barbershop, and they had permission to park there as they didn’t really have space to park it at their home. Tony, the gentleman we spoke with on the phone was not present – just his two roommates, which immediately made us a little wary. We soon found out that we couldn’t check anything out because there was no where for a power hookup as the barbershop was closed on Sundays. We suggested maybe driving it to their house to plug it in, but they declined and said they couldn’t give us a reason. Odd. The motorhome itself did not disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful, inside and out, and indeed looked like new. It had beautiful, plush, deep teal cushions that looked like they had never been sat upon. The stove, microwave oven, and shower had never been used as they still had the original stickers and paper manuals taped inside. As we looked at the motorhome the interaction got stranger. The female half of the couple showing it kept calling Tony, our original contact, to answer our questions. The story was that the motorhome belonged to Tony’s dad, but his dad had developed Alzheimers shortly after the purchase and never really got to use it, so it sat for almost 20 years unused. Tony was selling it, because they needed money for his dad’s care. Tony was very busy all the time and couldn’t meet us because he was a good god-fearing church going man and dedicated all his time to his church. I lost count of the times this Alzheimers/church story was repeated. During our inspection, we couldn’t start the generator. We suggested the battery needed charged. Come to find out the battery compartment was locked. We couldn’t even turn on a light. Then we were told that it didn’t matter that she had no key, so we could look at the battery, as Tony had the battery out charging it up. We couldn’t check out anything on the coach. Even though the motorhome started right up, with the one key she had, she refused to let us drive it because the registration was out of date. Who agrees to pay $12k for any used vehicle that they can not test drive? As we were looking through the motorhome, Marc found the license plate under the seat, which we thought to be very odd. Her excuse was it fell off and they just hadn’t put it back on yet. He snapped a picture of the license, so he could run a carfax later. While we were looking, the girl took several phone calls – supposedly fending off other buyers. After the third one, she said if we liked it, we’d need to put a deposit down right away, or she would have to show it to others. She said she’d need at least a $1000 deposit. While she and Marc discussed why that was not happening, until we could check things out, even though we were very interested – I found the registration and snapped a photo. Marc told her if she could bring the motorhome and Tony to DMV the next day – with a charged battery, we would check it out, and if everything worked as they said, we would give them cash as we transferred the title. She then called Tony and he said that he too busy so that was impossible, but he could hold it for a while for $500, instead of $1000, until he had time. Really? Someone offers you the 12k cash you are asking for, for your item, but you don’t have time? Odd again. We loved it, but we wished them well and walked away. Shortly after we left, the girl called us and said she would text us the address on Wednesday, the next time Tony was available, to California RV and dealership (no such dealership exists that we have been able to find) and if everything checked out – we could give her a deposit there. We made it clear, we would never give her a deposit, but if we came and everything worked, we would pay cash at DMV while we transferred the title. We never heard from her again. But…the motorhome still shows up for sale on Sacramento Craigslist from time to time, with the same phone number. If you call, (no texting) they tell you how much interest they have in it, so you if you come to look at it, you will need a deposit. Marc, using the registration pic I snapped, and the license photo he snapped – ran a carfax and we researched the title. There had indeed only been one owner and the 9k miles had been put on the RV in the first two years of its life. Then the registration lapsed for over a decade. According to our research, the real owner lives in Placerville, bought the motorhome new 20 years ago and he is now 45 years old. Meaning, if their story was true, he got Alzheimers at age 25, and allowed this RV to sit for 20 years? We tried to call and speak to the registered owner, because we were actually still interested in the RV, but his phone was disconnected. We suspect this is a deposit scam, and they are just using an RV they have access to, (or maybe one of them actually owns it?) and if they get deposit $ from someone, they and the motorhome will disappear. Or maybe everything they said was true, and someone will give them a deposit and close the deal. I’ve also heard that pigs can fly.
The Gulf Stream
2. Another older class C – this time a Jamboree in Yuba City for $8k that we actually never looked at in person. I called and was told it was sold. Two days later, it appears on Craigslist again. I figure deal fell through – I call again and get voicemail. I leave a message, reminding him that I called before, and am still interested, but never get a return call. Ad disappears, I figure he did sell it after all. Several days later, a new listing with the same motorhome and phone number appears. I started thinking maybe the guy didn’t want to deal with a woman. I show ad to Marc when he gets in from a job in San Francisco. Marc calls. Guy says it is still for sale and it just passed smog. He tells Marc he has plans the next morning, but will call after noon and set up a time for us to look at it, probably around 2 or 3. We wait until after 2. He doesn’t call. Marc calls, leaves message. Never heard from the dude, but he did update the ad 3 days later with more information. We didn’t call. We chalked it up to just another Craigslist confused super flake.
Yuba City Jamboree
3. The last one was actually in Wheatland, a stone’s throw from the Wheatland Ranch house. After a quick trip to Arkansas to visit the kids, we got back to the San Francisco condo about midnight Saturday night. The fact that we were away is why we didn’t see the ad that posted on Friday evening, until Sunday. It was for a Toyota class C mini for $11k with low miles and was listed by owner. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but we thought it might be a great starter and from our research, we knew they were in high demand. The price was right, and we knew we’d enjoy the great gas mileage. So, we called. We were told that we were speaking to the owner of the Wheatland dealership and that the motorhome was actually at the dealership on HWY 65. We agreed to meet in 30 minutes – the soonest he could get there. Again, we ended up meeting someone else other than the person we spoke with on the phone. This person (supposedly the owner’s brother that worked at the dealership as a salesman) did not know anything about the motorhome and was not able to answer any of our questions. When we asked for a key to one of the locked compartments, he told us that the rest of the keys were in the office and he didn’t have keys to the office. We began to wonder if this was another scam. Who proclaims to work at a dealership, but has no keys to the place? Then he told us that he had someone else coming to look at it, but his brother said we had the right of 1st refusal, since we were there 1st. We wanted to test drive it, but it had no gas and the guy showing it said he had no way to buy gas – no money on him he said. We took it to Chevron next door and we put $5 of gas in it ourselves just so we could drive it out to Dairy Road to see what it drove like if you put it on the highway. An East Indian gentleman showed up while we were at the gas station and started talking to our salesman. I knew I had met the man somewhere before, but couldn’t quite place him. He explained that he was interested in the motorhome. I explained that we just put gas in it and were test driving it as we were very interested. He looked annoyed, but indicated he would go wait at the dealership. When we got back from the test drive, we decided we were still very interested and called my sister, Deb and her husband, Tim – very experienced RVers to show us how/if some things worked – since the kid showing it didn’t seem to know anything and was unable to answer any of our questions. They arrived in about 5 minutes, as they were at my parents’ house by the high school. They spent 10 minutes checking things out. Tim on the outside and Debbie on the inside. I told the kid showing it that we were fairly certain, but needed a few minutes to discuss their findings. While they helped us check out the RV, the so-called Wheatland dealership salesman ignored us, and began a heated discussion with the other gentleman by his car. This had all taken less than an hour from the time we originally arrived on the lot. As we were in the process of exiting the RV, with the plan to tell him that we’d give him his asking price – he rudely and rather loudly banged on the side of the motorhome and announced, “Everybody out – this gentleman is giving me 10.5 cash right now, he is buying it. It is his now, GET OUT!” When we protested, and said we were going to give him his 11k asking price – he said that it was too late as his dad (huh, when did his dad enter the picture?) wanted him to sell it to the other guy because he was a dealer and they do a lot of business with him and he wouldn’t be able to get us the title for at least two weeks anyway – even if we wanted to buy it today. Huh? Then he said, “If you don’t have $11k cash on you right now, you weren’t ready to buy anyway. Besides, we will get more business from this guy.” Say what? Who carries around $11k cash on a Sunday night? What happened to the right to 1st refusal that you and your brother assured us of? What dealer/salesman speaks to a potential future customer like that? We were not quite sure what was happening, but we had seen RVs sold at dealers while we were looking and never witnessed anything like this. Once at American Motorhomes (see Lester, super nice guy) we entered an RV, and the dealer told us right away that it was on hold while the people that wanted it wen t to the atm to get their deposit. We weren’t quite sure what was happening at Wheatland RV, but we did know this was not how it usually worked at a dealership. My sister and my brother-in-law were equally shocked. They had never seen anything like it, at a dealership, or with a private owner. After several heated phone conversations with the dude that proclaims to be the owner, my only response to anyone reading this ~ is this ~ IF you are dealing with the Wheatland RV dealership – and I’d highly suggest you don’t, good luck with that. As far as I am concerned, they have NO BUSINESS being in business in Wheatland. They say they are local and want to serve local people, but that is hogwash. They are rude, not truthful, and very unprofessional. The impatient man that bought the RV was in fact, the dealer from B&L RV. After we left, Marc and I remembered meeting him briefly on one of our dealership outings. The Toyota mini in question showed up on his lot 2 days later for $17,950. I don’t mind dealers making a profit, it is what they do. I do mind the way the rude, unprofessional way the dealers from Wheatland and B&L chose to behave. I’d steer clear of both.
The Toyota Mini at B&L
After the Wheatland experience, I decided I was going to take a break from looking. It was too time consuming and frustrating. Besides Marc had a busy week in the city, and if I found anything, I was on my own. But…by Tuesday afternoon, right after school, I was looking again! The perfect motorhome – checked every single box on the list – was listed in Lincoln. $11k for a 97 Winnebago with 31k miles with the floor plan we wanted. I called, got the husband, told him I was a little scared to come alone. He informed me that he wasn’t even home yet, and wouldn’t be for a while, but he would check with his wife. A few minutes later, she called me and said I was welcome to come look at it, but she didn’t know how much help she would be, as she knew nothing about it, except the story. She explained that it had belonged to her husband’s parents, they bought it new in 97, and it was their pride and joy. They named it “Itsy” and kept it garaged. The husband’s dad got too sick to travel, and after it sat for almost a decade, he decided that someone should enjoy it and tried to pass it on to the kids. She decided after one outing to Donner Lake, RVing was not for her. Their garage was not big enough for it and they were paying to store it outside and after a year, they noticed it started showing wear. She told her husband, if they sold the motorhome, they could afford the classic car he wanted, and they could travel to classic car shows and stay in hotels. They decided to put “Itsy” up for sale and hoped to find an older couple that would take care of it. They were also hoping that would soften the blow of them not really wanting to keep it. They knew the father was afraid a dealer would buy it from them and hundreds of people would be tramping through, destroying what he had babied for almost 20 years. As we were chatting, she heard Honey barking at birds in the background. She asked me if I had a dog. I said yes. She said, well…bring your dog, if that will make you feel safer coming alone. So, I packed up Honey and we went to look. She giggled when she saw our 10lb toy poodle, “That’s your protection?” Honey acted like she had known this lady her whole life and jumped right in her lap as we walked into the RV and sat down on the couch. Anyone that knows us, knows that this is not Honey’s nature. She likes to warm up to people. Sometimes, it takes days, weeks, months even. Laugh if you want, but I took this as a good sign. We walked thru the motorhome and looked at things. I loved it. It felt like home right away. By the time her husband got home, the wife and I were chatting like old friends, but not before a little drama. We had checked out the microwave, opened cabinets, tested the water pump, and the tail lights, but we were both lost beyond that. While we chatted and waited in the motorhome in the driveway for her husband to arrive – the dealer from B&L RV (as he identified himself) called her. She politely told him that she was with a lady that was a potential buyer and she would get back to him, that we were waiting for her husband to get home. She hung up with a shocked look and told me that he was very abrupt and told her to tell the lady to hurry up because he was an important business man from Sacramento and that he had cash and was too busy for games. While we chatted, he called 3 more times in the next 20 minutes. She kept brushing him off. The 3rd time she put him on speakerphone. He was rude and condescending and started demanding her address. “You give me your address right now, I have cash and am ready to buy. I’ll pay more than the woman there. Tell her to leave. Your RV is worth more than she can pay. I talked to your husband, I told him I was coming there. You stupid women have no place doing business. You shouldn’t even be doing this, this is a man’s place. This is my business, tell me your address!” She hung up on him.
Once her husband arrived home, she looked at him and informed him that even if I didn’t buy it, he could, under no circumstances, sell it to the dealer from B&L RV – no matter how much he offered because he had called repeatedly and was very rude to her, not to mention how much that may upset his dad. The husband agreed. He was already annoyed because the guy had called him demanding their address. He had told him that he was not letting a strange man go to his house while his wife was home alone with their kids, and the guy got rude with him too.
The husband was able to show me the things we didn’t know how to work. The roof had just been resealed, never leaked, his dad had done it just as a precaution. It had brand new tires, and everything on the coach and in the cab looked new. The shower nor the oven had even been used. He had all the original manuals and receipts in sheet protectors in the original big blue Winnebago binder, as well as the sticker page from the window the day his dad bought it. I agreed to their asking price that was in line with the NADA RV list price.
The following process protected us both, and I highly recommend doing it this way, if you buy from a private seller. The next day, he got it smogged and brought all the needed paperwork. We met at BofA where he was able to watch me get a cashier’s check in his name. Then we went to AAA and he transferred the title to me and I handed him the cashier’s check. Love doing DMV stuff at AAA, so simple, so fast.
Because they knew my husband was out of town working, and my parents were on vacation, this lovely couple even helped me get the RV home to Wheatland. The husband even backed it into our RV parking. He asked if he could snap a picture to show his dad what a nice new home “Itsy” had. Of course, I encouraged him to do so. Honey posed. I took one too.
Our “new to us” rolling hotel room is a 97 Winnebago Itasca Spirit with a split bath and a rear walk around queen bed. It is a little like a time capsule. The TV is a 13″ box style with a VCR. The cab stereo and the outdoor stereo both have cassette players. The cabinets and cushions look almost like a new retro themed Winnebago we viewed at a dealership. Everything old is new again. One thing I learned in this process is that every motorhome has a story. Taking the time to listen to a stay at home mom that home-schooled her two girls, and was concerned about her father-in-law, helped me find ours.
View from the back of the coach. Love the couch.
View from the front of the coach. Nice, large double door fridge. Gets super cold.
You can walk all the way around the queen sized bed, and there are closets and drawers on each side, as well as storage under the bed. The factory bedding, while not horrible, is already stored away
Love the split bath. The shower stall has never been used, still has the original sticker.
While we are traveling, Honey’s seat will be belted in at the dinette so she can look out.
The driver’s seat adjusts perfectly, no pillows needed for my short legs.
If you bought a motorhome, or are currently looking – please feel free to share your experience and/or tips in the comments. We can all learn from each other.
I already replaced the box style TV that came in Itsy with a flat screen from our master bath that just happened to have the perfect dimensions. I mean it looks like it came in the RV from the factory perfect. I plan to write a blog post at some point down the road about the TV used, the hardware, and process. I used a $12 swing arm from Amazon – I love that I can swing it out and see it from the kitchen. I think it lightened our load by 100 lbs! Just kidding – but that old 13 inch was HEAVY!