Make your motorhome work for you by renting it out when you’re not using it!
Unless you are retired, footloose and fancy-free, you probably can’t use your motorhome as often as you’d like — and you’re not alone. Many RVs are only used a few times a year, while the rest of their days are spent in driveways, garages and storage lots. Meanwhile, RV rentals have exploded in popularity, fueled by those wishing to avoid airline travel due to recent events, potential owners who want to “try before they buy,” vacationers who like to travel with their pets, and anyone in search of the unique RV lifestyle we all love. Add to that a recent Wall Street Journal report saying RVs are now viewed as the safest mode of vacation travel, and you understand why renting out your motorhome could be a lucrative proposition. But is it for everyone?
According to Jeff Cavins, cofounder and CEO of Outdoorsy, the answer is no.
“There are two types of owners. You have the ones who say, ‘No way I’d ever rent out my RV to anyone,’ and that’s fine,” he explains. “Then you have the others who say, ‘It sits here 90% of the time — why not rent?’ What flips the switch for them is when they see how much they can make.”
Outdoorsy, a global platform with more than a million users across 14 countries, is one of a new generation of peer-to-peer rental agencies operating online to connect owners with prospective renters. Just as platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo revolutionized bricks and sticks rentals, so, too, have these agencies changed the way people rent RVs. The agency provides the advertising, framework, and online mechanism for bookings and payments, while owners set the rental cost and fees and handle the outfitting and maintenance. The agency gets a percentage of the profits, and you get the agency’s support. And yes, it is a lucrative opportunity; the average RV owner earns about $40,000 per year, though there are single RV owners of luxury motorhomes who make as much as $175,000 a year; even those who choose to rent for only a few months can make a side income of $10,000–$15,000. But while there are obvious parallels between renting out your motorhome and renting out your beachfront condo, there are also significant dissimilarities.
“In both cases, owners’ biggest fear is that their property will be damaged,” says Jon Gray. Former head of HomeAway and current CEO of RVshare, a platform listing more than 100,000 units, his perspective spans both industries. He points out the obvious difference between rental homes and motorhomes: Motorhomes move.
“You can’t steal a house, but you can steal an RV.”
Gray and Cavins both stress how peer-to-peer agencies seek to mitigate this increased risk for damage or loss by verifying renter identities, providing insurance coverage and roadside assistance as part of the rental process, and educating owners on best practices for renting their motorhomes.
One example of proactive risk management is Outdoorsy’s platform use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), in addition to an extensive research of an individual’s driving history, to screen potential renters. Through facial recognition and other forms of identification, Outdoorsy’s AI-driven software analyzes factors like shopping behaviors, ratings on other platforms such as Uber and Turo, and account creation to isolate potentially fraudulent or unreliable renters. Whether it’s a DUI or a trashed hotel room, the program uses past behavior to weed out bad apples before they sign up to rent your motorhome.
Still, accidents happen. The owners I spoke with all agreed that a thorough pre-rental walk-through goes a long way toward preventing problems from misuse. Whether you make up laminated cards with photos and simple, clear instructions, or provide short how-to video clips on operating your motorhome’s systems, don’t rely on the client’s memory of what you said — make sure they have a reference to consult once they’re out on the road.
“We have a copy of the owner’s manual in the motorhome, and we keep another one at home. That way, the renters can call if they have a question, and they can be on the same page as we talk them through it,” says Gay Eastman, who with husband, Tom, rents out their 2015 Winnebago Trend. She says they’ve had “a few little dings here and there,” but all were minor. Otherwise, she says, “It’s fun to be able to help people plan for their vacation and make it great for them. I enjoy seeing how much fun they have using the motorhome.”
The sentiment is echoed by Tawnia King, who rents out a 2019 custom Dodge campervan lovingly nicknamed Big Frida. “All of my experiences have been awesome, except one where there was damage that wasn’t reported. I love meeting all the people who are so excited to go on an ‘adVANture’ … and always report having a blast on return,” she says. “As for that one bad experience, Outdoorsy’s insurance worked with me, and it was taken care of. And I learned a few things from the experience that will make me a better RV owner.”
While the pleasure of meeting new people and watching them fall in love with RVing is a common theme among owners, why they decided to rent varies. For King, it was the path to affording her custom build-out of Big Frida; for the Eastmans, it was more financially advantageous to rent than sell when the addition of two new puppies to their family necessitated a move up to a bigger Class C. Others, like Lynnell Green-Keyes, choose to put travel on the back-burner so they can enjoy time with grandchildren, and like the idea of having something to keep them busy on the side.
“I always wanted a bed-and-breakfast, but I don’t like to cook,” Green-Keyes laughs. Her Four Winds Class C was sitting in a storage lot “baking in the sun” when she woke up one morning and decided to rent it out. Now in her second year, she’s on renter No. 34, her RV so popular she barely has a two-day turnaround between bookings. “It’s one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done. I don’t do it for the money; I do it because I have something to offer.”
And that sense of providing a service creates a bond between owners, who often refer to themselves as hosts. Through Facebook groups and blogs, they have created a community where they share tips, give advice and even help each other with bookings. It is an effective support system. Many who started renting their single personal motorhome now list a fleet of two or three or 10. They are modern entrepreneurs who have traded in a 9–5 job for what they say is a more rewarding career, both financially and emotionally.
If renting out your motorhome sounds intriguing, here are some steps you can take:
Assess Your RV
The smaller, the better. Class B’s are the first choice of the under-40 crowd, who make up a large and growing percentage of RV renters. Class C’s are popular with young families and those traveling with pets. Both are easy to drive. But there are renters for all types of motorhomes, as long as they are clean and well-maintained. King suggests going on rental platforms and browsing listings of motorhomes similar to yours. What amenities do they offer? How are their reviews? How does your motorhome match up?
Consider Your Location
If you live in an area with year-round camping, that’s perfect! Being near a metropolitan area will give you a wider potential renter base, but if you live close to popular tourist sites and within a short drive to a major airport, you can draw from outside your area.
What is Your Motivation?
Money isn’t everything. If you use your rig a lot, you don’t want to give up spur-of-the-moment trips, or you cringe at the thought of someone else behind the wheel, renting may not be for you. But if your motorhome spends some time parked and you like the idea of sharing the RV lifestyle with others, renting could be a good fit. Be sure you have the time to give your fledgling business the time it deserves, whether that’s cleaning and waxing between bookings or answering emails. The most successful owners are those that RVshare’s Gray describes as having “a deep sense of caring about their renters.” From a well-stocked galley and luxury linens to answering that 11 p.m. phone call, it’s the little things that drive high ratings.
Do the Research
Before you list, compare platforms. Find out the percentage of each rental that goes to the agency (usually 20%–25%, but it can vary based on number of bookings and the number of units listed), and whether it’s based on the rental alone or includes optional fees. Research the agency’s insurance and roadside assistance policies, and its screening procedures for renters. Learn what resources, tools and supports the agency offers. If you have any questions, call and ask. Get online and connect with other RV owners.
When it comes to renting, the best advice comes from Tawnia King: “Trust your gut. Remember, it’s your rig.”
For More Information
Outdoorsy, 877-723-7232, www.outdoorsy.com
RVshare, 888-482-0234, www.rvshare.com