Is Property Ownership and Full-time RVing Mutually Exclusive, Or Not?

One of the biggest dilemmas that many potential full-timers have when thinking about jumping into the nomadic lifestyle is; should we keep our house or not? Is combining property ownership and full-time RVing a bad idea? Or can the two work together somehow?

Yes, they can. If you’re smart about it. We’ve owned three different properties in the last 16 years of full-time RVing. This is what I’ve learned about juggling real estate with full-time RVing.

Should You Keep Your House When Full-timing, or Not?

Playing in the snow with Four Wheel Campers Project M on Hatcher Pass, Alaska
Our current home-on-wheels!

We were on our second go-around as property owners when the concept of nomadic living first grabbed hold of us. It was 2006, and after five difficult years rehabbing a 100-year old money pit in Humboldt County, California, we were so ready to ditch the shackles of mortgage payments, upkeep, and property taxes.

Our experience during the “Nightmare on F Street” ordeal combined with Jerry’s cancer diagnosis pushed us so far outside the American Dream of home ownership, that I had zero regrets about getting rid of that 3,770 square foot beast.

We hit the road knowing that someday we would find our next property.

And in 2009, we did. Far from a nightmare, Jerry’s Acres was our Rocky Mountain high. We purchased it mortgage-free, which left us feeling like we had stuck it to The Man for good!

For a while we felt like we had the best of both worlds; a debt-free property and full-time RV living. The only problem? There was a house on that beautiful alpine acreage, and I constantly worried about it when we weren’t there.

After adding up our return-on-investment in the monetary, emotional, and practical areas of owning property, we agreed to put it on the market in 2017. Our cool UPS driver (another Nelson!) bought our place, and turned it into an awesome little retreat.

Once again, we embarked on what I thought was the best full-time RVing arrangement I could imagine; being debt-free, and property-free. I could sleep at night, and gone were the worries about property taxes, insurance, bear break-ins, or another too-close wildfire.

But 2020 Opened Our Eyes to the Value of Owning Real Estate

Matanuska River Overlook, Palmer, Alaska
Playing near Palmer last weekend.

During the early days of the Pandemic, we had no place to go once the Fountain of Youth climate became unbearably hot. If it wasn’t for our dear Camp Covid friends, I don’t know what we would have done.

“When the pandemic hit, it brought home the fact that we truly don’t have a place to go,” said Rene Agredano, who decided with her husband to start living in a recreational vehicle in 2007, usually moving to a new spot every month.

When lockdown restrictions at the start of the pandemic forced RV parks and campgrounds to shut down, the couple had to move temporarily to a friend’s property.

“It was pretty terrifying to think: we don’t know anyone who wants us,” Agredano, 52, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from southern California.

Reuters reporter Carey Biron, “Oscar nominee ‘Nomadland’ spotlights Amazon’s RV workforce:

From Pandemic Worries to Pragmatic Property Ownership

We decided property ownership and full-time RVing could work for us if we took a completely approach than our previous two real estate adventures.

This time around, instead of attaching sentimental feelings to a piece of real estate, we would buy a duplex that would make us money and help fund our retirement. This time around, it would be all business.

We’ve had lot of time to think about the post pandemic RV life. What do we want for our future? How are we going to get there? And what the heck are we going to do when the next pandemic hits?

Jim and I do our best to Be More Dog. But as we inch closer to AARP-age, we are more focused on building a financially secure future. In this capitalism-based economy, one of the best ways for the common person to do that is to own real estate. Jim always accepted this truth. He’s a good capitalist. I intellectually understand that real estate builds wealth in an economy like ours. But I hate it. I didn’t want to be a homeowner after we sold Jerry’s Acres.

And then the pandemic happened.

A New Home Base for the Pandemic RV Life, March 17, 2021

As we expected, owning the duplex rental is a far different experience than owning a single-family home/residence. Having something that will turn a profit regardless of the real estate market climate feels far more satisfying than hanging onto appreciation dreams of a standard single-family home.

And conscientiously deciding not to get too attached to the place when we are there has made all the difference. It’s an investment, plain and simple.

The property pushed us back into debt, so there’s the downside. No way could we pay cash for something in Northern Colorado. So we have a 2.7% mortgage on it, and a small HELOC balance. But the duplex still turns a little profit while both halves are rented, so I don’t beat myself up too much over that debt.

My Biggest Tip If You’re Full-time RVing and Owning Property

Overall, there’s no clear answer about whether or not you should keep your house while full-time RVing. You have to do what will help you sleep better at night.

But if you do keep it, whether you rent that property, or leave it sitting vacant, hire a professional property manager to oversee it. Don’t cheap out and let family do it for you. That can easily turn into a bad situation, I don’t care how close you are to Cousin Eddie. We hired a good management company recommended by friends who own multiple apartment buildings. Our contract with them saves my sanity.

No, I don’t like the 10 percent cut the firm takes from the rent. Or the way they nickel-and-dime us for the dumbest little things like tightening bolts around a toilet base. But knowing that someone is following the law for tenant screening, maintenance, rent collection, etc.,, frees up a lot of mental space to enjoy the lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves. Full-time RVing is supposed to be about freedom, after all.

If your property is sitting vacant, hire a professional to check in on it weekly. Keep a good list of maintenance people handy too. We considered hiring an overseer for our mountain cabin, but never did, and I regretted not doing so. Although we never had any break-ins or other weirdness, it still kept me up at night knowing that it was empty for so much of the year.

Some day we may live in the back of our duplex. We love the neighborhood and the location. But that’s not going to happen for a while. This is especially true after living in one place for almost a year. Once we vacate it in June, we are happy to keep the full-time RVing lifestyle rolling into our 17th year of exploring all of the crazy avenues where this kind of life takes us.

2 thoughts on “Is Property Ownership and Full-time RVing Mutually Exclusive, Or Not?”

  1. Since we are not full timers since 2018 we think we found the best situation for us. Our neighborhood is 55+ and gated. Most people are retired and nosy enough to make sure no funny business goes on. They know when we are gone and coming back. Bonus…the HOA takes care of grass and snow and even paint for the house when needed.
    Our first granddaughter arrived the year after we bought the house and now there are 2…more reasons to be close to them when not traveling.
    I do miss full time travel sometimes but I hear “Grandma I love you” so often I know we made the right decision.
    I’m excited for our extended trip to Alaska this year since we had to stay home this past winter.


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