I want to talk about second homes, second homes with wheels. The RV industry would have you believe that a motor home or “fifth wheel” trailer is superior to your basic beach house, by virtue of the fact that it can go anywhere. It’s an enticing branding strategy, I’ll give you that, but does it make real economic sense?
“The real exciting part that most people don't realize with an RV, you're going to probably borrow money to pay for it and that is all tax-deductible just like a second home -- it qualifies as a second home. So that helps offset what you might lose in depreciation -- and that depends on how fast your turn it over, of course,” says Richard Coon, President of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
The idea and the practice in the RV set is to trade up, the faster the better. That is fuelling an industry that has grown 58% in the last quarter-century, to $14 billion annually. Eight million American households now own at least one RV -- that’s one in 12 vehicle-owning households.
I met up with Mr. Coon at the Florida RV show in Tampa. I, along with 45,000 others, was checking out the latest and greatest in the industry. From $5000 “camper trailers” to $800,000 luxury motor homes, I saw granite kitchens, self-lowering plasmas, king-sized beds and royalty-worthy commodes. The salesmen touted hardwood floors, on-board garages, fireplaces! They may as well have been real estate agents.
While Baby Boomers are the so-called “sweet spot” of the industry, the under-35 set is the fastest growing demographic for RVs. That means hard work for the manufacturers, who have to entice the young and coddle the more “mature” at the same time.
“Baby Boomers are much more demanding, we see that in every kind of consumer product, and it's not OK to build it like we built it in the past. You have to be more innovative with the features, the benefits that you offer the consumer, and you have to meet an increasingly high quality standard,” said Dickey Riegel, Group President of Thor Industries Inc., which makes the popular Airstream, among others.
I have to say: he’s right. I’ve never actually considered a motor home or a trailer (I grew up in Manhattan), but the neon-interior Airstream “Bambi” was just adorable enough to make me take a second look (my Jewish mother is having a migraine as we speak). For a second, I pictured myself parked at the edge of the Rockies at sunset, sipping a pink Cosmo to match the backlit pink cabinets of my mod little pod.
But then I thought about a house at the beach, appreciating wildly as I drank that same Cosmo. I guess I’m just a pragmatist, a real estate girl at heart -- the kind of real estate that doesn’t move.
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