A fan of this here blog who recently had the wisdom to purchase my exciting-breathtaking-on the edge of your seat ebook about moving to the Florida Keys asked me a few questions regarding owning a rv lot here in the Keys. So for the benefit of all, let me give out some answers on said subject.
If I ain’t living on a boat, chances are pretty good that I will be living in a rv. I had a few in my times. Everything from motorhomes to park models and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the lifestyle. Minimal, compact, mobile, and affordable. It’s a lot better than owning a house or dealing with leases on apartments. And I’ve lived in a bunch of different rv parks around Florida, including a couple here in the Keys. Rv living is a lot like boat living just without that whole trying to keep your home afloat thingy. But the question that was asked was in regards to one aspect of rv living…namely, owning your own rv lot, which is something else I have done. So let’s get into it.
Quite a few rv resorts have gone the way of the condo business model. In other words, build an rv resort, and then sell off the individual lots, just like you would if it were a building with apartment units. People come in, buy the lots, and then have access to all the amenities and services of that resort. They also have a vote in the homeowners association regarding the rules and regulations for the resort. All the same as a condominium association. And more importantly, they have a place to put their rv at anytime of the year or if the rules allow, rent their lot out to make some money. Despite the downsides of the HOA and all the petty bullshit that comes with that, rv ownership presents some pretty good advantages, especially here in the Keys.
For one, when you buy an rv lot, you get…an rv lot. Meaning someplace flat and solid to park your rv on. It will have hookups to sewer, water, and power, and depending on the resort, maybe cable and land phone for those of you still living in 20th century. Most rv lots have no structures on them although there are exceptions which I will discuss later. So instead of owning a house that requires upkeep, maintenance, and can be damaged in a storm, all you have is a plot of land. And short of the whole island sinking into the sea, that land will be there all the time. All you have to worry about is taking care of your rv.
Because there is no structure on the lot, your property taxes will be less, and you won’t have to have property insurance. Just insurance on your rv.
Depending on the resort, you may have the option to add something other than an rv on your lot. In some cases, it may be possible to put up a more permanent rv like a park model. A park model is a larger rv designed to be moved onto a lot and left there. Because it’s a rv, and you are on a rv lot, you can easily put up a park model without going through all the bureaucratic red tape that the Monroe County government puts on new building. As long as your rv meets the code requirements for the county and the rv resort, it’s pretty easy to have a more permanent home than something on wheels.
And there is strength in numbers. A few hundred lot owners in a rv resort stands a better chance of standing up to any government intrusion or some developer wanting to tear the place down and build time shares.
But, as you may have guessed, there are some downsides too.
Rv lots in the Keys are not very cheap, depending on the resort. Some can run as high as an ordinary house if the resort is fancy enough or if you want to be on the water. Let me give you two examples:
In 2002 I bought a lot at a resort on Cudjoe Key at Venture Out. It was along the fence to the road going out to US 1. (Fact: Road is named, “Spanish Main Drive”. True story!). I paid $45,000 for the lot. A year later, I sold it for $92,000. I’ll get into why I sold it later. But I did double my money in one year and had I held it for another 2 years I could have doubled it again.
A relative of mine also bought a lot there but in the early 1980’s. That’s how I found out about the place. His was a waterfront lot which he paid the princely sum of $35,000. He put up a park model on it and only used it in the winter time. He sold it, due to health issues about 5 years ago for $375,000. Not a bad investment over the long or short term.
Anyways, lots are high down here although in some of the less fancy resorts I’ve seen them go for well under $100,000.
Like any real estate purchase, you will probably need to get a mortgage. They are available but sometimes with restrictions. I had some issues with mine when I bought the lot. The bank, who financed almost all the mortgages for the resort said I was approved and then some pissant worker bee discovered that the lot had no structure and decided they wouldn’t finance the property. A rather heated discussion over the phone and the threat of legal action got their asses straightened out and the mortgage went through.
Like any condo association, you will also be paying condo dues and maintenance fees. This is money used to keep the property up, repairs to the infrastructure, and special assessments for certain projects. In my case, I got hit with a $2500 bill for new sewer lines. And I understand that sewer no longer fits the requirements of the big Keys wide sewer project and all the residents will be hit up again for more money.
Rv resorts can vary in style, amenities, and comfort. Some are little more than a cleared lot with grassy lots, unpaved roads, and a beat up old boat ramp for water access. Others are 5 star resorts allowing only the fancy big diesel pusher luxury motor homes in. As for the one I owned at Venture Out, it was somewhat in the middle to higher end. The resort is pretty large with over 640 lots. All the lots are paved with nice wide streets, plenty of landscaping, a nice boat ramp, pool, tennis court, store, post office, community center, bath houses, and laundry facilities. At mm 23 it sits half way between Marathon and Key West. It’s gated with 24 hour guards so it’s secure. During the winter months when all the snowbirds are in there are daily activities like bingo, movies, and such. Access to the water is on the Atlantic side and you are a short distance from Looe Key reef and other good diving and fishing spots. There is an onsite realtor, (Trisha, nice girl, very helpful and knows what she is doing) in case you want to buy, sell, or rent your lot. VO has limits on what you can bring in for an rv. 26 feet is the minimum size. No tents or micro campers here. Over all, a pretty nice place to do some serious rv living.
I did have a chance to live in a lesser resort for a few months up in Marathon. Key Resort was it’s name. When it had a working website I noticed it had rv lots on the cheaper end so when I had a chance to live there for a while I jumped on it. And I was glad I did. The “resort” is little more than a couple strips of land along a canal with small gravel lots, narrow streets, and not much else. The owners of the other lots were extremely unfriendly and the manager was one of those idiots with the entire new testament papering the walls of his office. A very fat, foul man, who never spoke kindly about anyone and when one renter died, had the audacity to joke about sending the body back north strapped to the top of a pick up truck…something he said in front of the dead guy’s girlfriend. If that’s what passes for christian values, y’all need to find yourselves another diety. Anyways, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I was disappointed because the location of the park was right next door to the Publix and you could get around by bike all over the island. Would be a nice place it had a complete turnover of owners and management.
Most resorts though, tend to be pretty friendly. Many are retirement only, meaning you have to be over 55 to live there. While not a true retirement resort, Venture Out was mostly retirees. The locals call it, “Dentures Out”. These resorts tend to be a little nice, cleaner, quieter, and more secure. But, retirees can be a pain in the ass. Too much time on their hands so they snoop into everything. Many only live here in the winter months and have no idea of what it means to live in the Keys. Too them it’s just a place with nice weather and not enough shopping.
So, I owned a lot. Sold it in one year and doubled my money. Why did I sell so quick and would I buy another rv lot?
Ten years after the fact, I still cannot explain why I sold the place, other than the obvious money end. When I found the lot for sale I was doing well. Owned the house in Orlando, making good money, but I knew that the job was going to end soon. I was fed up with the house and was ready to move to the Keys. I bought the lot, put the house up for sale, sold most of my crap, and when the house sold, quit Harley, found a motor home, and headed for the islands. I got a job in Marathon that paid well and all seemed right with the world. But six months in, something was not right. I quit the job when some middle manager came down from the corporate lair in Miami and decided I needed to go back to Miami for more special training. He was rather surprised when I explained how physically possible it actually would be to shove his clipboard up his ass, and walked out. I figgered I could pick up another job later on but I was living off the proceeds of the house sale so I wasn’t in a hurry. But there was something else. I wasn’t happy living there. I cannot explain why, but the longer I stayed, the more I wanted to sell and leave. Maybe it was boredom, or something else, I have no idea what, but finally I asked Trisha what my lot would go for. When she said double I said sell. And it did, within a month. I packed up and moved back to Orlando. And yes, I kicked my ass for doing so.
It was one of those classic, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone things.” I knew I had made a mistake when I left and beat myself up for a few years over the decision to sell the lot. I thought I would never get back down here but finally it did happen and it all worked out. Had I kept the lot, most likely it would have been paid for by now but again, for some reason, I wasn’t happy there. The resort was fine, one of the better places I have lived in over the years, but… I ask myself now, would, if circumstances worked out, would I buy another lot there if I had the cash to do so? Maybe, maybe not. I’m way more comfortable living here now than the first time I came down. I know my way around much better, know a few people, and have more of that island attitude instilled in me. I suspect if I had the means, it would be nice to own a lot again just so I have someplace to come back to if I did some travel. On the other hand I may just as well go find a dock to buy. Same principal as an rv lot, just a slip in a marina that you own, also known as a dockominium. More than likely though, I’ll just try to avoid owning stuff. I have no heirs so if I did buy a place, the government would get it when I’m gone, if I decide to go that is. As things are, it has all worked out for the best. Maybe I needed that return to Orlando for a few years to really prove that living in the Keys is where I wanted to be. Now here I am, living on a sailboat in Key West, plodding along with my own little deal, and enjoying myself.
So is owning a rv lot for you? Hard to say. If you want to own property in the Keys and not be saddled with the high costs of maintaining a building and worrying everytime a storm passes through, then yes, a rv lot may be exactly what you are looking for. From an investment point of view, it may be a smart move. Buy a lot, rent it out when you are not using it, and when you are ready, you have a place in the islands all set to go. If I was to own property again, I’d take a rv lot, or slip, over a house or condo apartment anytime.
Here are some links to get you started: