RV Love: How We Found Our Home on Wheels

Different people consider buying a motorhome or camper for a variety of reasons. Some purchase an RV as the ultimate toy for road trips and vacations. Some invest in one to use for guest accommodations or a rental space outside of their home. We were looking for a full-time home.

For years, my husband, Jonathan traveled for work and since I worked as a freelance writer and editor, I would accompany him. This meant that up to six months out of the year, we were paying house payments and utilities for a home we weren’t living in. While at the same time, we were spending money on lodging in hotel rooms and eating out. We were basically doubling our expenses. Investing in a motorhome just made the most sense. This is our story.

The Idea

It was February. We were staying at a hotel in Kansas City, MO when Jonathan first posed the idea to me. I’ll admit; I was more than a bit apprehensive. I knew absolutely nothing about motorhomes besides one, unpleasant two-month stay in a small 1985 Winnebago camper in Washington. This seemed like a huge leap, but over time, he wore me down.

In reality, when we started looking at actual floor plans of different models — and he assured me that my 100-percent approval would be required before we settled on one — I actually started getting a bit excited. I was tired of living part of every year in a variety of motel rooms. I was ready to have my own space.

Of course, that meant that we needed to put the rest of our belongings in storage because there was no way we could fit it all into a motorhome, no matter how big it was. It would be a middle ground, smaller than our house, but much larger than one room. It was a compromise that we were ready to make.

The Search for a Broker

The first step was to find a reputable broker. Since the first step is to pay a non-refundable deposit for their service, it was important that we be able to trust them.

Review By Reputation

We checked out a couple companies on scamalert.com (which is no longer in business) and found that many had less than awesome reputations. In fact, one broker, who required a 2500-dollar deposit, is now out of business and currently facing charges of fraud. Others were known for sending photos of brand new units that they would find online that didn’t accurately represent the actual motorhomes they were selling. After a bit of searching, we found Larry with Dream Finders RV.

We weren’t going to make any definite decisions until we were able to meet with him.

Review By Inspection

Fortunately, at that point, we had relocated to Minnesota and Larry lived near Minneapolis. We made an appointment to meet with him and, when it was determined that we liked him and he agreed to represent us, we paid the 1000-dollar, non-refundable retainer. The meeting went well and we were on our way to getting our home.

The Search for an RV

Thank goodness for the Internet and Larry! We gave him our wish list of “must haves” and “would like to haves,” and he started his search. In the meantime, not satisfied to sit idly by, we continued conducting our own search. The plan was that if we found something before he did, he would do whatever necessary to contact the owner and broker the deal.

Size and Features

Since this was primarily intended to be our home, we wanted to ensure that it would be big enough for long-term use, and have all of the comforts of a home. A rig with four slide-outs would turn a motorhome into somewhat of an apartment with a full-sized living space and bedroom. Additionally, we required a reliable generator and adequate bank of batteries so we wouldn’t be bound to shore power every time we parked.

Since we planned to do a lot of cooking, rather than eating out, we wanted a residential-sized refrigerator — preferably stainless steel — and a full stove range with an oven. After our experience in the tiny camper, we saw a full-sized shower as an absolute must and an additional half-bath would be a nice bonus. Lastly, we really wanted a washer and dryer to remove the need for regular Laundromat visits. Although it may sound lofty, we were determined to find something that met all of our needs.

Engines

The second major need was a strong enough engine to not only easily get our vehicle from place to place, but pull our 24-foot cargo trailer with ease, as well. With long drives over occasionally mountainous terrain, it was imperative that the engine of our RV be powerful and reliable. With a diesel RV, we would be able to put in three times the miles that we would with a motorhome with a gas engine. Plus, the time between servicing would be longer. It was obvious that a diesel pusher was what we would likely need and we considered both Cat and Mercedes to be good options. Ultimately, after some serious research, Jonathan settled on Mercedes. The company is tried and true, plus it owns Freightliner. It was easily apparent that there are a greater number of Freightliner dealerships and repair shops than Cat, which makes them easier to find and get to when necessary.

Manufacturers and Price

When discussing what type of RV to choose, we focused on style and reputation. Tiffins and Monaco/Holidays both caught our eye for those reasons. Also, used models from these manufacturers reputedly depreciated more slowly than others and were available for a comparatively reasonable price. So, we narrowed our search primarily to those.

Success?

In July, we found a Tiffin Phaeton that we fell in love with. Larry began the process of clearing the owner to ensure that she was willing to work with us, as we began liquidating resources to cover the down payment and organizing our possessions for relocation.

We were so excited. It had almost everything we were looking for. It was a triple-slide—not quad—with a full sofa and loveseat.

It had the booth-style dining area that we wanted and, although it did not have a residential-sized stainless steel refrigerator, it had a countertop extension that nearly doubled the cooking prep space.

It seemed nearly perfect.

Disappointment

Unfortunately, there was a catch. The owner had begun having second thoughts. She was located in Ohio and, for some reason, was apprehensive about us planning to be full-timers. She preferred to sell to someone who lived closer to her (I can only imagine that was so, in case something went wrong, she could easily repossess). Regardless, it was going to delay the process exponentially for Larry to talk her into it and we suspected that a snag that early in the process was an indication of future problems to come.

With disappointment, but a belief that the Phaeton just wasn’t meant to be for us, we continued looking. I think Larry was as upset as we were, and he was more resolved than ever to find the perfect home for us.

Their Loss is Our Gain

Our broker was determined to keep his word to all of his clients. He told us he would have us in an RV before winter, and he told Craig that his RV payments were a thing of the past. Several months earlier, while we were still in the research stage, Larry had paired another couple with a buyer. They were nearing retirement and the idea of maintaining monthly payments on an RV they were ready to give up was daunting at best. Through Dream Finder, they were able to turn over their keys and the mortgage payment to a man in Texas. Unfortunately, their relief — and his enjoyment — was short-lived. Within a short period of time, the man lost his job. He was unable to keep up the payments and was looking for a way out.

Seeing an opportunity to make everyone happy, Larry called us. With our deadline approaching, we looked up the model online and requested photos of the actual unit. It wasn’t a brand that we had been considering and there were a few things that we had on our “wish list” that this RV didn’t fulfill, so we were a bit apprehensive about the situation. We found a lot of favorable reviews of that particular make from other owners and decided that we could live without or modify most of the other things we wanted down the road. Therefore, although he sent us pictures, we basically bought it “sight unseen” with the understanding that if we had problems within a month we could return it.

Success!

After paying the rest of the down payment and getting the paperwork signed and notarized, we went to the dealership where our newly purchased coach was being inspected and prepped. We did a quick walk-through of the living/dining space. The bedroom area was inaccessible because the slides outs were retracted in preparation for our drive. It was only when we parked it that I was able to truly appreciate what we had.

We had purchased a 42-foot 4-inch long, triple-slide Gulf Stream Tourmaster T40B with a Mercedes engine and a Cummins generator. Although we had intended to get a quad-slide, this would provide plenty of space when the slides are out. The 7-foot 6-inch ceiling height adds to the spacious feeling and most people on first sight mention how large it feels. The exterior design is Sonoma Red and the interior is called Panama Joe. Here is an example.

The captain’s chairs both swivel to become part of the living space seating, and the one on the passenger’s side even reclines. Additionally, along with one of the two TVs in the coach, the cockpit includes a surround sound stereo, DVD player, and ample cabinets.

The living space features a full, pullout sofa, which is great for overnight guests.

This model originally came with a loveseat, but it had been removed; the original owner decided to use it in his boat, but I like what we did better anyway. I found this bench seat for about 140-dollars on overstock.com. It provides seating, as well as additional storage for extra blankets and pillows.

The kitchen has a double basin sink, a residential-sized refrigerator (which the Tiffin did not have), a three-burner range and oven, and a microwave/convection oven.

Just past the kitchen is a pullout pantry, a utility closet with a stacked washer and dryer, plus a half bath.

The bedroom houses a queen-sized bed, a large wardrobe with drawers and a second television, which we replaced with a more modern unit.

We also replaced the hinged mattress that it included with our pillow-topped one. It makes closing the bedroom slides a 2-person job, but it is much more comfortable. We also replaced the bedding.

The spacious rear bathroom has plenty of counter space, a “real” toilet (RV owners will know what I mean), and what was generously referred to as a garden tub. It is not what I would consider a “tub” of any kind, but it is pretty roomy for a motorhome and has seats or ledges for (I guess) relaxing or setting out many bath products. It originally provided four towel rods, but we added another one.

In Conclusion

When researching different RV makes, you are bound to find lots of opinions both for and against each of them from owners, as well as dealers. Truth be told, people tend to develop those opinions from their personal preferences and experiences.So, even though we have three slide-outs instead of four, our residential fridge is black instead of stainless steel, and our generator doesn’t slide out (making it more inconvenient and, therefore, more expensive to have a technician look at it), we couldn’t be happier.

Plus, although the manual, which we found online, —was a little vague in some areas, we started a Facebook group to give and receive support from other Tourmaster owners. This has allowed us to learn about the maintenance of our RV and make minor, and sometimes not so minor repairs and replacements, needed mostly due to user error. We have had many adventures as we continue to travel in and enjoy our home.

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