Finding Homer - Our Experience Buying Our First Motorhome

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Saturday 24 January 2015

Finding Homer - Our Experience Buying Our First Motorhome

Buying our first motorhome was an exciting but also frightening and busy experience.  Some books, magazines and online guides that we had read gave us the impression that there was a straightforward, formulaic process for choosing and then finding the perfect motorhome. They suggested we use their lists of features, think hard about we really wanted and create an image of our perfect motorhome, then go out and find it. But the reality for us had been very different from anything like that. In fact, without really knowing what we were doing, we had adopted a much more intuitive and iterative approach, where trying to work out what was a genuine fair price in this confusing second hand market had been much more important to us than finding the 'perfect' one. In hindsight, almost a year later and having learned so much more about what does and does not work for us, we still feel this was actually a much better approach for people without any motorhome experience, like us, choosing their first.

Whilst there are countless buying guides in books and online which recommend that formulaic approach to choosing your first motorhome, in our opinion these really only apply either when a buyer is looking for a brand new or very expensive used motorhome (so the buyer has a lot of control over different specifications),or where a buyer has a lot of time to wait for the 'perfect' second hand to come to market. However, our experience of buying our first motorhome from the second hand market required a very process.

Buying Guides: When they're useful and when they're not

We felt that having never lived in a motorhome before we couldn't be certain exactly what type of motorhome was going to suit us. Therefore, finding one that was fair price and so minimising the risk of losing too much money if we changed our minds was much more important than agonising over specifics of design etc.  We didn't feel it was realistic to expect to get it 'right' first time. The feeling that we might want to resell and/or choose another motorhome in the near future was further enhanced by the statistics we read on how often people change their motorhomes (on average 3 times to find the 'right one'). Getting a good deal (not the cheapest price, but a fairly priced, reliable, quality motorhome) would hopefully allow us to recoup most of the cost if we did decide to resell it. Plus, we were very aware that in the used vehicle market there was always a chance that there could be unforeseen faults develop shortly after we bought the motorhome and we hoped that by getting a good deal it would, as best we could, minimise this risk of extra costs and feeling 'ripped off'' or that we'd overpaid.

Why getting a good deal on our first motorhome was so important to us

However, the reality of working out whether a used motorhome was a good deal or not was actually not at all straightforward. With so many vehicle and habitation parameters to choose from and different sellers putting different weightings on all of them, there just didn't seem to be any consistency in pricing across the market as a whole. In the end it took a lot of work, standing back and assessing a much broader market segment and comparing new listings to the previous ones which had sold the fastest, to actually develop our intuitive sense of whether a used motorhome was fairly priced at all.

The difficulties of working out the fair market value of a used motorhome

The unseen factors determining the price of a used motorhome

Over time, as we got a better sense of what motorhomes we considered to be good deals and started to be able to choose from among that small group, only then did we feel it was helpful to start placing our own weightings on a few parameters of importance to us. By starting out looking at almost anything, over time we had developed/learned a small number of personal preferences whilst looking at the market as a whole which we'd had much less understanding of before.

Our Dilemma: Balancing price, resale potential and reliability

Our online searching strategy and first motorhome preferences

Looking for a motorhome that was a great deal did have it's drawbacks as well, particularly the speed at which the best deals were snapped up by other buyers. This is one of the major factors that some dealers prey on to try and panic people into signing for motorhomes before they've really had a chance to think about it. We did, initially, find it hard to find a good balance between staying calm but moving quickly when a good deal, which seemed to fit our few design preferences, did appear on the market.

The importance of moving quickly and staying calm

But, when something felt right to us we got on the phone as quickly as we could and arranged to go and see it, even if it meant driving halfway up and down the UK. We learned the hard way that when it came to our viewing experiences, what the advertisement said was often very different to the motorhome we found when we arrived. We also had some run-ins with some very interesting and unsavoury sellers, but also some very kind ones as well.

But, in the end all these were vital learning experiences and all the motorhomes we felt we missed out on, the hours of online searching, refining parameters, research and calls came together unexpectedly on the day we finally chose our first motorhome. Not only were we now in a position to assess it as a good deal when we were notified of the new advertisement (from an automatic alert we had set up), but when we stepped inside it just felt right and on closer inspection the details of the advertisement checked out.  It was close to the top end of our price range but we valued the high quality, the well looked after condition and it was great price for what was on offer, which for us made it a good and the right deal for us. We did pay more than we were expecting for our first motorhome but with a low mileage, good service history and a genuine and helpful seller we felt as confident as we were going to about reliability.  It was also clear to us that if we did change our minds it should be possible to resell and recoup the majority of the cost.  We negotiated with the private seller, agreed on some pre-purchase checks that we wanted to have done and a few weeks later were the proud owners of 'Homer'.

Whilst at the time some of the experiences we had during the buying process were unnecessarily stressful and inconvenient (at an already difficult time for us), had we not had these other experiences we would not have been in the right place to make our ultimate decision. The process we followed might have been worlds away from the systematic approach recommended in the books and buying guides we read, but we felt it allowed us to develop a much deeper understanding of a confusing market and, when we did make our choice, feel much more confident and assured that we had made the right one.

Setting Off from Durham in 'Homer' on May 8th 2014

Other Related Articles:
Forgotten Details: Making sure we could insure our first motorhome
Does the 'perfect' motorhome for us even exist?
Why we didn't buy our first motorhome overseas

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