When The Buying Guides Are Useful and When They're Not

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Saturday 24 January 2015

When The Buying Guides Are Useful and When They're Not

Having now lived in a motorhome for almost a year we feel we have a very clear sense of what we like and dislike in our motorhome. We've also been lucky enough to see countless other makes, models and designs during our adventure and even been invited in to some of them so we have developed a pretty good sense of what we would be looking for if we ever decided to change to a different motorhome. However, a year ago as complete motorhome novices looking for our first, we initially turned to the multitude of books and online buying guides which outlined a straightforward, systematic approach to deciding on what we wanted in our first motorhome. However, with hindsight and reflecting on the actual buying process we went through, we now feel that some of these guides really only apply at the very highest budget ranges and particularly for new/custom built motorhomes. Our experience of buying our first motorhome in the used market was really a very different process which took a very different iterative and intuitive approach.

Motorhomes are a luxury item and as such the market assumes that you should be willing to pay more for a feature that you particularly want. Since motorhomes are not a necessity item, the market also assumes that you have time to spend deciding on which motorhome is the right 'one' for you. As such, there are countless lists of features to consider in buying guides, online forums and in many motorhoming magazines; guides for deciding what the 'perfect' motorhome for somebody looks like, what size it should be, which internal layout is right for them etc.  These guides encourage a process involving lots of visits to dealerships or motorhome shows to go inside many different models and get a sense of how they feel and what works for you.  For people who have a lot of time to make their mind up and/or a large budget range, this kind of buying formula for finding the right first motorhome is perhaps very useful.

For example, I'm sure that working through a list of options is no doubt incredibly important and valuable if you are buying a brand new (or order a custom built) motorhome, where, like any new home or car, you do end up paying a premium to choose the colour of the cushions, blinds and carpet and have any other customisations and extras you want added. (I should add that as we weren't in the fortunate position to entertain the idea of buying a new motorhome this is only our opinion).

Even if you are looking at dealerships for almost new motorhomes that are only a few years old then it is probably still possible to negotiate for customisations to be made. Plus, with a bigger budget range there are likely to be far more second options that meet your criteria. Either way, the same more conventional, systematic process might still be adopted.

Also like many other 'new' items, the fastest depreciation is with the first owner and within the first few years.  So if you have a budget of say £40,000 upwards and are looking for a first motorhome, you want to get it right and these guides, written by experienced motorhomers, then become very useful to help you consider what you want from a motorhome and highlight things you might not have thought of if you have never owned one before yourself.  Although the process they recommend can take up a lot of time, energy and potentially a lot of expense as well if it helps you get 'the' motorhome for you and saves you making a costly mistake, then its probably very worth it. Particularly as statistics suggest that without careful consideration, the average motorhomer changes their motorhome three times before finding one they finally settle on.

However, in our opinion the market for new/high-budget motorhomes is massively different from the market for less expensive used motorhomes and as such they require very different searching strategies. Even though many used motorhoming guides imply that the process is similar, that was not our experience at all and it wasn't simply that we had less time to search having changed our plans to a motorhome tour shortly before we wanted to set off.

For us, with a limited budget and no control over what was actually available in the market at the time we were looking, this process just didn't make sense as we started out. We did try, at first, making a narrow list of what we guessed we might want (with no actual experience of motorhomes) but this only led to a tiny handful of (or in some cases zero) search results in the classified listings and no sense of the overall market.

For us, with no knowledge and sense of the market for used motorhomes and how they were being valued, starting out with a narrow list of requirements just didn't work. In our opinion this is not a sensible way to start looking for a first used motorhome. Instead we adopted a very different approach.  We started out with a very broad overview of the market, considering almost any motorhome while we learned to develop an intuitive sense of what was and was not fairly priced.  Over time we were then able to narrow down and add a few more specific preferences of our own but this came later.

It might be a lot of work becoming well informed about the second hand motorhome market, however with a relatively small (or medium) sized budget we felt it was really the only way to get a fair price on the first motorhome we bought with the added advantage that we learned a lot about motorhomes along the way.

That's not to say we didn't use the buying guides at all as a starting point for our thought process, although some were better than others. The one that we found particularly useful was "The Motorhome Buyers Guide" by James Brown. Although it followed the conventional systematic approach of deciding what you want before looking it still contained a lot of explanations for things we didn't yet know about motorhomes (as novices), what to look out for, negotiation strategies, legalities, plus it had the most comprehensive viewing checklist that we found and was incredibly useful when we reached the viewings stage.

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