Baltimore Sun

‘It used to be just retired folks’

Full-time residents in RV parks are getting younger

- By Ella McCarthy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Thomas Hoff was tired of living in a regular old house.

He was fascinated with “tiny living,” and often dreamed of moving into a recreation­al vehicle.

When his roommates moved out of his Gardner Lake house in Johnson County in 2018, he saw his opportunit­y. He has been living in RVs ever since.

“I took it on a few trips but I’ve just been basically living the tiny house life,” Hoff said. “I love it.”

Hoff is part of a growing group of millennial­s who are ditching their traditiona­l homes and exploring RV living.

“It used to just be retired folks,” said Mark Atkinson, general manager and co-owner of Walnut Grove RV Park, in Merriam, Kansas, where Hoff has been living. “Now, it’s becoming the working class.”

Of the 11.2 million RV-owning households, the median age of owners is 54 years old, according to Monika Geraci, a spokeswoma­n for the RV Industry Associatio­n.

“When we then surveyed people who had bought

RVs for the first time in 2020, that median age dropped to 41,” Geraci said. “In 2021, that median age dropped to 33.”

Though only 1.5% of owners live in their RVs full time, many park managers such as Atkinson have seen this trend to younger residents.

“The age of the people that are going full time are just getting younger,” Atkinson said. “A lot of the people that can work out of the home are deciding to live in an RV, and that way they can travel and go anywhere.”

Hoff, 40, has a lawn business, which he runs from his RV at Walnut Grove.

The reason he switched from a permanent residence was in part because of a bad experience.

“I had bedbugs,” he said. “Once you have them, you can’t get good sleep because you’re afraid they’re going to attack you in the middle of the night.

... I had to throw away all

my furniture and all my clothes and start over from scratch.”

“Now, if I end up with bedbugs, I can just turn off the AC and it’ll go up to 120 degrees in that thing and it’ll get rid of all the bedbugs,” he said.

Another reason he made the switch, one more common among full-time RV residents, is the freedom.

“I wanted to be able to have a way to bug out if I have to,” Hoff said. “I can go anywhere I want and set up and have the same lifestyle.”

Hoff began his journey living in a small camper.

“I lived in that for a year and it just wasn’t enough room,” Hoff said. “You need

a certain amount of space (for it) to actually feel like a house.”

So, he bought an RV. “I have a full-size closet, full-size bed, full-size bathroom,” Hoff said.

He moved into the Walnut Grove RV Park shortly after purchasing the larger unit.

Carla Brewer, who owns Wagon Wheel Mobile Park with her husband in the East Bottoms, has seen the change as well.

Residents are getting “much younger,” Brewer said. “A lot of our people are people that work here during the week and go home on the weekends.”

The full-time residents there work a variety of jobs, Brewer said.

“We’ve got property managers, we’ve got a couple of engineers, ... just all kinds of levels of employment,” Brewer said.

Younger families are drawn to area parks like Walnut Grove.

“A lot of the people that stay here on a longer term, bring the whole family,” Atkinson said. “They can all be together and still do these jobs . ... One person may be the one that moves, like a travel nurse, whose spouse does some kind of computer work where they can stay in that unit and work.”

One family who recently moved out of Walnut Grove RV Park had their kids attend the local school district.

“Generally, I’ll have maybe one couple that does have kids in the school area,” Atkinson said. “Most of the people that are just stopping by to visit and then leave, they’re homeschool­ed because they don’t stay in one place very long.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Atkinson did not see a significan­t change among long-term residents.

RV owners have been trending younger for some time, Geraci said.

“What the pandemic did was supercharg­e the interest in RVing,” she said. “The freedom to travel and controllin­g your environmen­t was very important during the pandemic, but has always been a thing with RVing.”

Though full-time RV living has captivated a new generation, the costs can be steep — sometimes more than living in a permanent house.

To stay at Walnut Grove RV Park full time, rent is almost $1,000 a month, Atkinson said.

“You’d be making two house payments because of buying the trailer as well,” he said.

The cost of an RV can be anything from around $6,000 to over $1 million, Geraci said. The most common units purchased range from about $30,000 to $60,000.

“I’ve seen people go from this to an apartment to get cheaper rates, because then they can sell their unit,” Atkinson said.

At Wagon Wheel Mobile Park, renting a lot for an RV is significan­tly less expensive at $350 per month.

Brewer finds that many of her residents “are looking for affordable housing and they can do a trailer payment or a lot payment for less than what they can do rent for.”

The growing interest in the lifestyle has made purchasing an RV a promising investment for some.

Hoff said he bought his used RV at around $80,000. Now, it may be worth even more than its original price.

With people “wanting to move and get into the RV lifestyle, they’re on back order for several years,” Hoff said. “One that’s like mine, a 2018, it’s in high demand . ... I found out I could sell it for about $20,000 more than what I actually paid for it.”

Due to the increase in demand, Hoff might sell his “RV for a profit and take that profit and use that as a down payment to buy a reasonably priced property,” he said.

 ?? LUKE JOHNSON/THE KANSAS CITY STAR PHOTOS ?? Thomas Hoff stands in his RV at Walnut Grove RV Park in Merriam, Kansas.
LUKE JOHNSON/THE KANSAS CITY STAR PHOTOS Thomas Hoff stands in his RV at Walnut Grove RV Park in Merriam, Kansas.
 ?? ?? Walnut Grove RV Park on June 25 in Merriam, Kansas.
Walnut Grove RV Park on June 25 in Merriam, Kansas.

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