It’s been nearly three weeks since the RV we’re buying made it to Douglasville, and almost five weeks since the day we looked at it and signed the agreement to buy it. I guess I expected things would happen a lot faster – kind of like buying a car. I mean, it does have a motor, right?
I did know before looking at the RV that even if we decided to buy it on the spot we wouldn’t drive it home the day we saw it. Besides the fact that neither of us had ever driven a ginormous RV, we planned to have it professionally inspected. Getting it to an inspector – or an inspector to it – would require time and logistical coordination.
Why bother with the expense & hassle of an inspection?
RVs have the complex systems of a house packed into a rolling box atop a big diesel (in our case) engine and drivetrain, plus some things you wouldn’t normally deal with in the course of owning a house or a car (leveling jacks, slides, black water tank). Brian’s smart and pretty handy, but all his RV knowledge to date is theory.
Me? I did change an alternator once, but that was in the very, very dark days of life and done only under duress and with a great deal of swearing. RV mechanicals? Don’t even.
We agreed months ago when we started RV shopping that, with this big a decision, it’s a lot smarter to pay $600 for the scrutiny and wisdom of people who live and breathe actual RVs on a daily basis than to cheap out and hope for the best on a $50,000 deal.
The RV we have an agreement to buy is a 2003 Newmar Dutch Star. Newmar has an excellent reputation for quality and workmanship, and the Dutch Star looked well maintained. Even conscientious RV owners will miss some things, though, so despite its solid reputation and cared-for appearance, we wanted a professional set of eyes to go over all 41+ feet of it.
Lucky us: There’s an expert around the corner
Fortunately for us, Douglasville is home to Integrity RV Service Center, one of the best-regarded RV shops for miles around. In the three or so years Gordon, the seller, has owned the Dutch Star, Integrity has performed most of its maintenance. Gordon planned to have them take care of a few things broken under his watch, plus anything that would be covered under the warranty, before completing the sale.
As soon as we agreed to the terms of the sale, Gordon phoned Integrity to ask about bringing the Dutch Star in. Unfortunately, it would be another two weeks before they could get the coach on their schedule. Like many RV service centers, Integrity’s service bays were booked solid. From what I’ve read of others’ experience, most RV shops are usually booked even further out – more so as you get into a travel season that includes far more people than just the full-time RV crowd.
About three weeks ago I stopped by Integrity to ask about an inspection. I spoke with the owner, Dean, who told me it was a solid coach but that getting it inspected was a smart thing to do.
“I know Gordon’s taken good care of it,” he said. “But when it’s in our shop we only handle what’s on the ticket, and we don’t necessarily see everything. In a pre-purchase inspection, we’ll spend about five hours going over it from front to back. I’m sure we’ll find some things wrong, but I don’t expect it’ll be anything major.”
Dean then told me they’d have to work the inspection in, and it would most likely be the following week before they could get to it. Further delay disappointed me, but we were not doing the deal without the inspection.
A week later, the inspection report arrived in my inbox. As I opened it and scanned the list of “deficiencies” a sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. There were some minor things on the list, but a few items seemed fairly significant to me. Definitely the tires were big money – like $2,500 – $3,000. Gordon told us the coach had new tires when he bought it. As much as we knew from all our reading that we should check the dates on the tires anyway, we forgot.
We first met Gordon to look at the Dutch Star at a storage facility on the northeast side of Atlanta. A bright and beautiful early spring day, it would have made for perfect RV shopping weather if it hadn’t been so damn cold. Gordon walked Brian around the outside of the RV, going over features and flaws, while I ducked inside to check out the interior (where it was warm and cozy).
Our interactions with Gordon had begun amicably enough. When it came time to talk money, though, Brian showed him the book values he’d obtained from David Lester (see How to Buy An RV Without Getting Screwed for info) and Gordon bristled.
“I don’t have to sell this RV,” Gordon said. “And I’m sure as heck not going to give it away,” he added, visibly irritated.
His words played back in my mind as I read through the inspection report. How could we deal with a seller who already thought an actual market price was too low, and negotiate a fair price given the problems found? Before we’d sealed the deal (I thought), I got the feeling that Gordon thought we were trying to take advantage of him.
We don’t know what Gordon paid for the Dutch Star three years ago, but we do know he bought from a dealership. You won’t necessarily pay more at a dealer – but you will definitely pay more if you don’t question their pricing. The possibility that Gordon overpaid is something we could be sympathetic about. But we couldn’t overpay because he overpaid.
That day in the storage facility parking lot, Brian threw out a number that was thousands more than what we planned to offer, and probably thousands less than what Gordon hoped for. I held my breath. And then Gordon said “OK.”
In an instant we had a deal and I remembered to breathe again. Now, we faced going back to Gordon and telling him we wouldn’t complete the deal without concessions on his part. I say “we,” but it was Brian who contacted Gordon.
Now everyone’s wearing cranky pants
The conversation with Gordon once again became contentious, and Brian’s frustration grew. I felt calm, but feared another round of RV shopping was in our very near future. Brian called Gordon from the shop in between taking care of customers. Brian relayed the gist of their conversation to me in text messages so I knew what was going on, but we needed to talk about this RV.
When Brian was home and we sat down to discuss the impasse, he said “I don’t want to spend $600 for an inspection and then just walk away.”
“But that’s part of the reason why we agreed to get an inspection in the first place,” I reasoned. “So that we could walk away if it wasn’t a good deal for us.”
He knew this, without a doubt. I think he just needed assurance that if we did have to walk we could deal with it.
I said what I’m sure both of us were thinking. “We have to walk away from this deal if we can’t get Gordon to make some concessions. These repairs look like thousands of dollars. I know some aren’t a big deal, but others scare me.”
“I’ll go to Integrity tomorrow morning before I open the shop,” Brian said. “I’ll talk to Dean, see what he has to say about the deficiencies, and we’ll figure it out from there.”
It’s gonna be OK (I think)
By the next evening, Brian had spent time with an Integrity tech going over the list of problems and getting his head around costs, what was actually a big deal, and what he could handle himself. The tech was familiar with our prospective RV, and told Brian that its deficiencies were small potatoes compared to similar coaches they see.
Within another day or so Brian had a conversation with Gordon that went better than their previous talk.
As it stands now we expect Gordon will knock a couple thousand off the selling price, and we’ll take care of a lot of things on our own. The RV is still at Integrity waiting on parts. Gordon is on vacation so no deal is going down this week.
Is expert advice always worth the price?
Brian and I obviously have the benefit of hindsight when weighing benefits vs. money spent with David Lester and on Integrity’s pre-purchase inspection, so the decision looks like a no-brainer. We certainly feel good now about spending $600 and saving thousands, at least.
Even if we have to walk away from the Dutch Star deal, I couldn’t imagine not seeking and heeding expert advice with a decision like purchasing an RV for full-time living. After all, this RV will impact every area of our lives.
Does that mean there’s never a time it’s a bad idea to pay for advice? Of course not. When it comes to RVs, I think most of us will do best erring on the side of caution. In general, though, I might agree you’re wasting money if:
- You’re close-minded when it comes to options expert advice may suggest. (If you’ve “fallen in love,” won’t walk away, and don’t want your eyes opened to what’s in store if you go ahead with the deal.)
- You don’t trust the expertise of the person providing the advice. (Probably obvious, but if this is the case don’t hire him/her in the first place.)
- What’s at stake isn’t as big a deal as the cost of the advice. (Buying a super-cheap RV you expect to strip to its bones and redo, and you have the expertise to judge for yourself that it’s worth the investment.)
What do you think?
Are we being too cautious? Have you ever paid for advice and had it end badly anyway? Or, if you’re willing to admit it, did you decide not to get an expert opinion and wind up regretting it? Please consider sharing your thoughts below.