Renovation,  RV Living

Our $15k RV Renovation Nightmare: What We Wish We Knew

The RV renovation dream

Everyone LOVES a good before and after pic, amiright?

RV renovations are taking over IG feeds as the tiny home movement continues to gain in popularity.

So when we looked at our $15,000 budget for an RV to make our home, we knew that a renovation was the way to go.  After all, if we could get a beat-up RV for under $7k, we would still have a sizable renovation budget and would soon be living the RV life of our dreams in a beautiful custom RV.

Or so we thought. 

RV master bedroom renovation
Before and after of our RV master bedroom.

 

We can fix anything

When looking for an RV with our budget and goals in mind, we decided to try and get into an RV as cheaply as possible to maximize our renovation budget.  After all, Austin is construction and has MAD SKILLS, so we figured we could fix anything.

 

So, when we found our 40 ft bunkhouse fifth wheel for $6500 we thought we had hit the jackpot!  All the appliances worked, the furnace and A/Cs worked, and after removing all the blue carpet and furniture, we would be free to make it our home.   And we knew that we could fix anything, so we opted NOT to get an inspection.

 

We knew there was some water damage in the bathroom, but we also knew that we could fix anything, so we got to the work of tearing it out.  When we got into the wall, we discovered the damage was MUCH more substantial than we had originally realized.  Undeterred, we tore out all the rotted wood and nasty insulation, replaced the wall and attempted to re-laminate.    It didn’t look perfect, but it was dry and clean so we were satisfied.

We spent 4 months and every cent of our budget to *almost* finish the renovation (“we can add the trim and final finishes later”) and we moved in!

Working out the “kinks”

We loved our little home-on-wheels, but things started going wrong almost immediately.  From a leaking toilet flushing into our storage to a faulty fuse box, our dream quickly started feeling like a nightmare.

But, we kept going, holding on to all the encouragement from other RVers, reminding us that the beginning is always rough as we were “working out the kinks.”  See more about all the “kinks” we had to work out just in our first week in our video below.

 

Once again, we were not deterred.  We fixed all the things, and Austin started dreading getting phone calls from me at work.  “I hate to have to tell you this…” I would start.  “Could you come home early and take care of this…?”  We were burning the candle at both ends, so to speak, and we were all getting physically sick from the stress.

The breaking point

When we discovered a new crack on the exterior of our rig just under our master bed slideout, we knew it was time to call in a professional.  We had patched a crack under that same slideout already, so now we were concerned that there may be structural damage or something more going on.

 

Maybe we couldn’t fix EVERYTHING.  Or maybe we could, but we were just too tired to do it.

 

So, we called our insurance agent.  Surely, they would be able to help us get this covered.  After all, we have great insurance.   We knew they had covered water damage for others, so sure this would be covered.  The kicker?  We found out they only valued our rig at $8000.  How could that be?  We were in it $15,000 already!

 

Our agent tried to get the value increased to reflect the money we had put into the renovation.  Problem was, even though we repaired the water damage, the delamination was still evident, and the adjusters didn’t think our rig was worth any more than $8k.

 

But the real blow came when we were told that if the damage is due to lack of maintenance, it wouldn’t be covered by insurance.  Ouch.  We had only owned the RV for 6 months, and all of that time was winter when you can’t properly maintain the seals and the roof.  We were at the mercy of the previous owner’s lack of care for our rig.

Our RV bathroom renovation
Before and after of our bathroom.

The Estimate

After two repair shops flat out REFUSED to give us an estimate, stating the “repairs were too extensive”, our insurance agent was able to get Camping World to look at our rig and give us a proper estimate.

 

I use the word “proper” generously.

 

They looked it over, ignoring our requests to focus on the cracking in the master slideout (NOT the delamination in the back which we had already “repaired”).  The estimate came out to $17,000 and we were told the cause was lack of proper maintenance.

 

We even got two conflicting verbal reports from Camping World.  The service manager told us our rig wasn’t safe to drive due to possible structural damage.  The tech who completed the estimate told us that it was fine to drive because they couldn’t verify if the cracking was structural or just water damage!

 

By now, we knew we were at a total loss.  All the time and money we put in and our rig was essentially worthless.

What we wish we had done differently

At this point, we were wishing we had a time machine so we could go back and get a newer rig with fewer issues.  In the process of renovating, we realized that fixing up a rig was not how we wanted to spend our time as a family.  And chasing ongoing issues surely wasn’t the freedom we were hoping RV living would provide.

 

But, we don’t have a time machine, but we do have a very expensive learning experience.  Hopefully, you can learn from our mistakes!  Here is our list of 5 things we would recommend to anyone purchasing a used RV for renovation:

  1. Get an inspection before purchase.  This would have clued us into the issues that we would have been facing so that we could make an educated decision about whether or not we really could fix anything.
  2. Reseal the roof and exterior prior to tackling the inside.  Chasing down leaks as you go isn’t fun, and tearing into newly painted (or built) walls doesn’t really make sense either.
  3. Know the value of your rig.  We had no idea that we were “upside down” in the value of our rig.  We had more money into it than we would ever have been able to get from insurance (if something had happened that insurance WOULD cover).
  4. If you see water damage, walk away.  Water damage is more extensive than what meets the eye and more difficult to repair than we thought.
  5. Consider if a renovation is how you want to spend your time and money.  We value our time together more than we value a “pretty” or custom RV interior.

 

If you are considering an RV renovation- good for you!  Renovating an RV can be a fun way to get a beautiful custom RV for full or part-time use.  But before you start a renovation, be sure to do your research and learn from the mistakes of others (like us!)


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Related to RV Renovation

We spent a lot of time “working out the kinks” in our first week of full-time RV life.  Check it out:

 

2 Comments

  • Jenn

    Did you get another RV or do you still have that one? Just wondering what additional experience you’ll add to your book since you admittedly didn’t do such a great job on the first go round.

    • Jenny

      Jenn- absolutely! We did purchase another rig. And 2 purchases and one failed renovation doesn’t exactly make us “experts”! But we learned a TON in the process of doing everything the WRONG way and now we are also seeking out advice from others including industry experts as we write the book. Thanks for the question!

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