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How To Purchase From A Private RV Seller

Man is looking at his cell phone, implied that he is scrolling RV listings from private sellers

Buying a used RV can be a very exciting time and with places like RV trader, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or Craigslist, you can search for that perfect RV near and far. That said, when you purchase an RV from a private seller, that excitement can couple with stress and anxiety. With a drivable RV, you could jump on a plane and fly anywhere in the USA to get that perfect RV and drive it home, even making it a fun trip on the way back. With a towable RV or truck camper, you are most likely driving both directions with your tow vehicle which might limit how far you are willing to go to get it, but it still can be a great adventure.

Before you take off across town or across the country though, what steps should you take to make sure the process is as smooth as possible and you are getting exactly what you hoped for?

Finding A Private RV Seller

I’ve personally bought multiple vehicles, motorcycles, and RVs all over the US and in all cases. Buying an RV from a private seller really takes the right seller to make it a smooth process. It’s definitely extra work on the buyer to purchase something sight unseen, but it could totally be worth it to get that perfect RV that you are looking for.

While you as the buyer may be willing to put in this extra work, the seller has a little extra work on their part, too, such as taking extra pictures and videos to make you feel comfortable that they are representing it accurately. There are also the logistics of accommodating your timeline with their availability on when you can make the trip to purchase it.

At some point in the process, you may have to make a judgment call if the seller is truly willing to work with you to make the process as smooth as possible. Some sellers are simply not interested in the extra work and hassle of dealing with an out-of-town buyer and this is something to establish upfront if at all possible.

As you go through the process, if you start getting the feeling that the seller is not interested in putting in the effort to make you feel comfortable, then it might be time to walk away. The seller could be doing you a favor also and perhaps they know they aren’t representing the RV in its true condition and are nervous about you showing up after investing so much time and effort and being disappointed. While it’s hard, try to keep yourself from being so emotionally invested that you can’t walk away when everything is telling you it’s not the right deal.

You will want plenty of photos from the private seller of their RV

Working With A Private RV Seller

As a buyer, you have found what you feel is the perfect RV and now you are establishing communication and starting a business relationship with the seller. The next two steps are the most important for me to feel comfortable with an out of town purchase and that is talking to the seller on the phone and seeing lots of pictures and videos to establish the condition of the RV, but it depends on the seller which direction I might go first and I may not get both depending on the seller. 

Make The Phone Call

If the seller is not as familiar with using technology, then it might be better to talk on the phone first and start establishing a business relationship that way. Most times I find once you get the seller on the phone, they are happy to share all kinds of information with you. The idea is to keep them talking because the more they talk, oftentimes the more information and stories they’ll share with you and in the process sharing how well they took care of the RV. Listen for things that may be a red flag for you. Be sure to take some notes so you can refer back to them after the call.

Going this route and establishing direct phone communication with the seller it usually puts you at the top of their list as a buyer vs someone that only texts or emails them. During this conversation, you can let them know you are interested, but you need some more pictures and videos to feel comfortable to travel the distance to purchase it. 

Ask For Extra Pictures And Videos

If the seller is pretty tech-savvy or you aren’t a person that likes to talk on the phone then my next step is to get more pictures and videos from the seller. In most cases, the ad has just enough pictures to get your interest, but usually far from enough to make an educated decision that there aren’t any surprises lurking in the corners you can’t see.

I usually ask the seller, if you were coming to see this RV in person for the first time, what things would you like to see? I ask them to show me the imperfections and issues even if they feel they aren’t a big deal to them. The seller’s job here is to make you feel as comfortable as possible with the condition and that hopefully, you won’t find any surprises upon your arrival. I usually try to encourage the seller to put together an album of pictures (iCloud on Apple, Google photos on Android), and then share that link with me. It’s even better if they are willing to take one or several walk-around videos and point out places that may be less than perfect. It’s much harder to hide things in a video and as the camera moves, you might catch something in a changing light the picture would have missed. This is usually where it becomes clear if the seller is truly willing to go through this process for you. 

Verify The Title Information

One important piece of information you also need to verify before you make the trip is does the seller have the title in their hand and is it in their name? This is a good time to get the seller to send you a copy of the title, both front and back so you can take a look at it. The most important thing is this verifies the seller has the title and knows where it is. It also allows you to verify the make/model and other pertinent information about the RV.

Some other title things to look for is if this is a replacement title or possibly a rebuilt/salvage title? Is the title in more than one person’s name and do they need to be there also or is it in a business name? Does that seller’s state require a notary signature for both parties at the time of sale? If there is a Lien and a bank holds the title, then obviously that process should be discussed, but banks handle title transfers all the time. Just make sure everything about the title is verified before you make the trip. 

Getting an independent inspection is useful when buying an RV from a private seller

Do You Want An Inspection?

Once you have decided to move forward with a purchase, the next step is to decide if you want to pay for an RV inspection or have a friend in the area that could check it out in person. This will probably depend a lot on how much you are spending on the RV. If it’s a lower-priced RV and you are okay with what the seller has presented and you feel comfortable in your judgment from the information you have received to this point, then you might be willing to just trust the condition based on that. If it’s a much more expensive RV, it is usually very beneficial to have it professionally inspected by an RV inspector.

If you are brand new to RVs, an inspection can be a very good piece of mind since you may not be familiar with things to look for. 

Putting In An Offer with A Private Seller

Now that you have decided you want to purchase the RV, it’s time to make an offer and down payment to hold it. While negotiations are usually better in person for an RV closer to you, when you are traveling a considerable distance to purchase an RV, you should have the price established and agreed on beforehand.

I like to do all negotiations over the phone vs in text/email. Once you and the seller agree on the price, expect that is the price you will pay, and don’t try to show up and negotiate more unless the seller drastically misrepresented the RV or a major flaw is uncovered and you are willing to leave without it. This is why it’s so important to establish the condition before you agree to purchase the RV.

If everything went correct, there should be no surprises when you show up in person to purchase the RV. 

Putting Down A Deposit

In order to put a deposit down, my preferred method is using an online payment method such as PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, or direct bank transfer. You should have established a relationship with the seller that you are comfortable sending them a 5-10% down payment to show you are serious about purchasing the RV and they should remove it from the market, not accepting any other offers. Both parties should consider this an official deal and it’s a good idea to have an “agreement to purchase” written up over email that both parties agree to.

While some sellers might tell you they don’t need a deposit, that puts you in a position that it’s only their word holding it for you. It’s a lot rarer to have a seller try to accept another offer if you have sent them money ahead of time and they have agreed to that purchase and down payment. 

Between the time you send the deposit and physically go to purchase the RV, keep the conversation with the seller open so that they have no doubt you are coming to get this RV. If you put a deposit down, but later change your mind (not based on a condition that changes on the RV), you should not ask for your deposit back. The seller took the RV off the market and it’s not their fault something on your side changed or you changed your mind.

If the seller damages the RV or something happens to the condition of the RV between your deposit and when you go to get it, then the seller should absolutely give your deposit back. At this point, they are no longer selling it in the condition they originally shared with you and should be more than willing to refund the deposit.

It’s perfectly okay to go over this with the seller to make sure you are both on the same page on these scenarios.

Picking Up Your New RV

The final step is going to pick up the RV and pay for it in full. If this is a significantly large purchase, then most likely you’ll be completing the transaction at a financial institution, maybe even involving a loan. There should be little risk involved in this when completed in person at a bank with both parties present. If it’s a private party sale for a smaller amount, you have some options.

While cash is usually the preferred way for in-person transactions, there are definitely some risks you should be aware of before traveling a long distance with a large sum of cash, especially if you are flying. Carrying a large amount of cash and getting stopped by the police for any reason opens you up to the possibility of civil asset forfeiture. There’s some scary stories out there of civil forfeiture and laws generally aren’t on the consumer’s side. You are also at more risk for theft or loss carrying cash.

Using some sort of electronic payment form would be much more preferred and safer for both parties. This could be meeting at a bank to do a direct bank to bank EFT, a wire transfer, or getting a cashier’s check drawn up on the spot at that bank. On lower amounts, paying over an electronic service such as PayPal/Venmo may be possible, but understand there are some limits ($4999 weekly on Venmo) so you should look into that ahead of time. These transactions would be done in person as friends/family with no purchase protection since that is the safest for the seller. Consider this basically a cash transfer in person and as soon as you submit that transfer, that money is in the seller’s hands. 

Driving Or Transporting Your New RV Home

Congratulations, you just bought your new RV! Whether this is your first RV or you are a veteran, there are a few final pieces to make sure you have in place before that trip home.

If you purchased this RV outright in full, you should have the signed title from the seller and a bill of sale with their full name, address, date of sale, sale price on it. This basically becomes your legal proof of ownership for your drive home. If there was a lien paid off most likely you’ll have to have the title mailed to you.

Before you make the trip, you should alert your insurance company you are purchasing a new RV. They can have it ready to add to an existing policy as soon as you notify them or activate a new policy.

Depending on your state, you may also need to look into having a temporary license plate for the drive home.

Now that the purchase is complete, you can go on to enjoy your drive home and the numerous adventures you’ll take in your RV!

Author

Dan Heming | SKP #140945

Dan and his wife, Sarah, and have been full-time since August 2017. They have had 4 RVs (two 5th wheels and two truck campers) in that time and currently own a 2005 Alpenlite Valhalla 29RK 5th wheel and 2013 Arctic Fox 992 Truck Camper and Two Ram 3500 dually trucks so they can transport both at the same time. They generally travel with both so that they can use the truck camper as a mobile office and small RV to get away for quick trips. 

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