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Used RVs, like this one at Maine Vintage Campers in Alfred, and new RVs at RV dealers are hard to find during the pandemic. Ben McCanna / Staff Photographer
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For two months, Mary and Mike Monck of Waterville searched for an RV to take their newly adopted 12-year-old daughter on a family road trip.
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But with demand for RVs — new and used — at historic levels, the Moncks were frustrated. RV dealerships had empty or nonexistent stock or RVs that just didn’t fit the family’s needs. Some of the used RVs they saw at private sellers were overpriced and in poor shape, with rotting or spongy walls. One even had a hole under the bed.
So when they spotted an ad for a used RV last week that looked promising, they wasted no time checking it out. That evening, she put a down payment on a 29-foot trailer with a private bunk bed for her daughter and a bedroom with a queen bed for mom and dad. Two days later they drove her home in the back of their big SUV.
“People are really jacking up the price,” Mary Monck said of her research. “My husband really liked a 2016 RV priced at $19,000. But we can get a brand new one the same size for $21,000. But new ones sell out so fast.”
The RV market — a term that includes large trailers that can be towed like RVs that fit in a truck bed — has been red-hot since the start of the pandemic, and it’s showing no signs of abating this year. Manufacturers shipped a record 430,000 RVs to dealerships in 2020, according to the RV Industry Association. The first quarter of 2021 set another record with 148,507 sent, a 10% increase from the previous record in the first quarter of 2018, according to the association.
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At the J & M Camper and Marine in Augusta, owner Jeff Stoddard said the demand for new and used RVs is unlike anything he has ever seen and the dealership has been in his family for 54 years.
“Business is very good. It would be much better if we could deliver the product,” Stoddard said.
Two new RVs arrived on his lot earlier this month and sold within three hours. This has been the norm.
“It’s been like this since last May,” he said. “Although (the) pace is definitely up from last year.”
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Jim McCadden, owner of Maine Vintage Campers, measures lumber for a 1970 Avion camper he is currently customizing for a client. The used RV market has exploded during the pandemic. These RVs are hard to find, often overpriced and selling at a lightning pace. Ben McCanna / Staff Photographer
New RVs generally range from $8,000 to $20,000 for the smallest pop-up style to around $20.00 to $50,000 for a traditional towed travel trailer. RVs can also cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million for the most luxurious travel trailers or Class A RVs.
Maine is a small slice of the RV market, with 2,238 shipped here in 2020. Still, that’s a 20 percent increase from 2019, said Monika Geraci, a spokeswoman for the RV Industry Association.
Geraci said much of the high demand comes from people who want to vacation safely during the pandemic, avoid hotels and airlines, and “rediscover the great outdoors.”
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The RV Industry Association does not have data on used RV sales, but other data indicate that used inventory is unusually low. Geraci said a recent survey by the association showed first-time RV buyers — typically about 25% of the market — topped 55-80% last year. This meant that dealerships received far fewer trade-ins for used RVs.
And those that do get traded don’t stay long on the dealer’s lots. Craig Goddard, the general manager of Scotts Recreation in Turner, said the dealer received a used RV in an early May trade that sold in 22 minutes.
“There was one here and we sold it to that customer before we even canceled it,” he said. “I’ve been working here for 10 years. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Refurbished 1962 Open Road Camper on Maine Vintage Campers Sells for $13,000 Maine Vintage Campers owner Jim McCadden said he discovered the camper while snowmobiling and made a deal to buy it from its owners. It was later used as a chicken coop. Ben McCanna / Staff Photographer
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Molly Staples of Rod’s Cycle and RV in Madison calls the market “crazy.” Sales of all types of RVs are up 85%, she said.
‘At this point we have waiting lists for almost all species,’ added Erica Spiller of the Call of the Wild RV Center in Oxford.
Several Maine RV dealers said they get less used models in trade-ins because people can sell their used RV faster in a private sale.
Mainers looking for used motorhomes say lightning private sales taking place through social media sites have now driven up prices. Mainers buys used RVs of all types online: from teardrop models and small vintage RVs to 20- to 30-foot towable RVs and trailers that have a private bedroom and bunk beds.
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Serena Walker of Biddeford has dreamed of owning a small vintage camper for a decade. He and his wife take their five children, as well as their grandchildren, to a tent on the Central Coast each summer. Walker decided that a vintage RV would make a great kitchen and base camp, while the entire clan slept in tents.
Jim McCadden, owner of Maine Vintage Campers, quit his job at a lumberyard to find, repair and sell entire used RVs in his Alfred shop. Here he’s installing cabinet doors on a 1970 Avion motor home that he customized for a client. His business grew 40% last year. Ben McCanna / Staff Photographer
Over the past year, however, his dream has become unattainable due to soaring prices for vintage RVs, he said.
“They seem to cost several hundred dollars more now than I used to see. Sometimes they were easily double the price,” Walker said.
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Pamela Sawyer of Brooks is alarmed by the exorbitant prices private sellers are fetching for used RVs.
“I find it disgusting,” she said. “I think some people are taking advantage of people’s fears, just like with housing right now. There’s a lot of fear because COVID hasn’t finished its first course. People don’t want to be locked in their homes.”
Jim McCadden quit his job at a lumber yard in 2018 to turn his passion of buying, restoring and selling vintage RVs into a business. At the time, he said, many people thought he was crazy. But last year, business at Alfred’s Maine Vintage Campers grew 40 percent, McCadden said.
“It’s been very unique with everything that’s been going on. I knew the interest in vintage RVs would be there. It’s actually been very, very good for me,” McCadden said.
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While the demand for RVs has increased over the past year, the industry has seen growth for decades. RV owners are up 26% from 10 years ago and 62% from 20 years ago, according to the RV Industry Association, with RVs now in 11.2 million households.
In 2016, Doug and Carole Bruns were given the chance to leave Portland, hit the road, and live full-time in an RV. They rented their house for a year, bought an Airstream trailer and traveled the country for 17 months.
They then bought a small house in Maryland to be near their grandchildren. But next month they’re going out again, this time in a van – and their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are going with them in another camper.
Doug Bruns said the difference between the number of people traveling by RV or RV now and those who did in 2016 is dramatic.
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“It was great,” he said. “I definitely felt like the fuse was lit, but I think the pandemic was the lit fuse that got to the tinderbox.”
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