Posts Tagged ‘snowbird’

Boomers first RVMany boomers may have doubts about their nest eggs, but at least one symbol of retirement prosperity is rolling along quite nicely, thank you very much. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association says that it expects sales of RVs and motorhomes to reach 307,000 units in 2013, which would make this the industry’s best year since 2007. For the year to date, shipments to dealers are up 13% over last year’s levels, the association reported in its most recent sales update.

The mega-camper business all but collapsed during the last recession, thanks to the combination of economic upheaval and high gas prices, with sales falling 58% from 2006 to 2009. Shriveling credit markets played a role, too, with many lenders being unwilling to finance RV and motorhome purchases even as they freed up money for car loans in general.

A spokesman for Thor, the company that makes Airstream and other popular RV brands,reports buyers can now “get financing pretty easily up to about $150,000.” Interest rates on RVs start at around 4.4%, compared with under 3% for the typical auto loan.

RV salespeople say that retiring “snowbird” boomers are their biggest customer group; the trade group doesn’t publish specific age breakdowns, but its literature suggests that ownership rates are highest among those between age 55 and 75. Speaking of snowbird stereotypes, the archetypal motorhome, in which the driver’s cabin and the living quarters are all on the same chassis accounts for only about 12% of RV sales. “Travel trailers” that get towed behind another vehicle, like the Airstream, make up the majority of the market. Some of those are quite modest, but price tags on the most luxurious models can top $90,000.

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There already have been sightings of vehicles with out-of-state license plates from places like Washington, Oregon and other northern climes.

They herald the start of the annual winter season, when thousands of people from up north migrate to Yuma to bask in the sunshine, preferring shuffleboard for their activity of choice over shoveling snow.

Last winter, slightly more than 80,000 winter visitors descended on Yuma. That’s fewer than in some years but still a big temporary increase to Yuma’s population and an infusion of an estimated $600 million to the local economy, Jon Heidrich told the audience at Thursday’s Know Yuma Inside and Out.

Heidrich, who owns and operates Shangri-La RV Resort with his family, was one of the speakers for the monthly business forum that focuses on various elements of the local economy.

The typical winter visitor is a retired blue-collar worker or farmer coming to the Southwest to get out of the cold, Heidrich said.

“We fondly refer to them as the Old Guard. They’re happy to get a reasonable place to stay and sunshine.”

But things are changing, he said.

“We’re seeing the front end of the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965. There’s 78 million of them … 35 percent of the U.S. adult population. It’s a huge segment.”

And they’re reaching retirement age by the millions every year. As they do, they want it all, Heidrich said.

“The first thing,” said Mac McCann, director of operations for Palms RV Resort, “is get to know your customer. The ‘boomerbird’ is different from the ‘snowbird’ with their demands and expectations.”

They have every intention of enjoying their retirement, and many of them are getting a head start with long vacations in the cold winter months, he said.

They’re also a more affluent group. McCann noted that last year, 50 percent of the Palms RV residents were in motor homes valued from $150,000 to $2 million.

McCann agreed with Heidrich that the new wave of winter visitors is looking for activities and entertainment. And the resort delivers with a series of concerts by professional entertainers and a jam-packed 26 weeks of 200 diverse events, activities and classes from jewelry design to music lessons and sailing, along with fitness programs and a spa that stays busy all day.

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John Palasek has enjoyed the RV lifestyle for many years. He started with a pop-up camper in 1971 but moved up to bigger and more luxurious recreational vehicles over the years as he traveled the country.

But the snowbird from Maryland recently said goodbye to the open road, though not the vehicle or the recreation, when he bought an RV site not far from Walt Disney World.

Palasek replaced his motor home with a “cottage RV” — a 400-square-foot trailer that’s extra wide and not designed to be moved often — when in February he bought a small lot in Elite Resorts at Citrus Valley, a resort campground in southeast Lake County.

“We still get the RV lifestyle, like seeing different people with different stories,” he said of the decision to rein in his wanderlust and return to the same campground each year. “Plus there’s entertainment on Saturday nights, group dinners, potlucks, games and activities — it’s kind of like a big resort where you can have fun, versus a house where you’re going to watch TV and fall asleep.”

Citrus Valley began selling its RV sites two years ago and has sold about 15 percent of the 305 lots, which start at $55,900 and come with park amenities such as a pool, cable television, Wi-Fi Internet access and planned activities.

“We were motivated by people’s desire to own the lot,” said Eduard Mayer, chairman of Elite Resorts Management. His Salt Springs-based company owns four campgrounds in Florida and has been offering the ownership option at its other resorts for the past five years.

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