How to Calculate the Blue Book Value of an RV?

I am writing this article to help our readers.  There are literally thousands of results on the web when searching for the Blue Book Value of an RV. Unfortunately, most of the information out there is inaccurate, out dated or incomplete.  

How to Calculate the Blue Book Value of a Motorhome, Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel? The RV Industry has standardized Camper Valuations that are based on the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Recreational Vehicle Value Guide. RV Values are derived from the NADA Low Retail calculation. Low Retail is generally the maximum amount a bank will lend for a camper. 

Next we will discuss the detailed process of determining the Blue Book Value of a RV.  I will cover the reasons why the method works and explore several resources that can be used to validate the valuation estimate.  I will also show examples of the searches I am performing and explain the results.  By the end of this article you should be an expert on how to establish the value of a Motorhome, Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel you are buying or selling. 

Kelley Blue Book RV Values

I am including KBB because there are thousands of searches for people looking for the KBB value of their RV.  Many of the results lead searchers down a rabbit hole to sites trying to charge fees for VIN research, etc.  Those of you who read this can avoid that frustration!  

Kelley Blue Book does not track RV values anymore.  They exited the RV valuation business several years ago.  There are numerous articles that mention Kelly Blue Book (KBB), but all of them are outdated at this point. Ignore anything you see on the web referencing Kelly Blue Book.  If you come across old KBB value books they are not relevant anymore either. RV estimated values change quarterly. 

NADA – The National Automobile Dealers Association RV Valuation Guide

The source used by banks and dealers to value a RV is the NADA guide. NADA is the RV industry standard guide for resale values.  The driving factor that makes the NADA guide so strong is that Banks use the information to determine their max lending amount on Travel Trailers, Motorhomes and 5th Wheels. Insurance Companies also use NADA values to determine total-loss payouts.  

Knowing the NADA value of a Coach is critical.  On the buying end, it helps to know the Fair Market Value (FMV) of a RV one is considering so they can negotiate a fair purchase price.  On the selling end, it helps establish the value a Rig can be sold for.  Banks generally will not finance over NADA Low Retail.  Lending Officers are trailed to use the NADA valuation.  They rarely lend more.   

Using NADA

  • The process to calculate ones NADA value is easy
    • Navigate to NADA RV Pricing Guide
    • Click the Start Here button on the middle of the page
    • Select the RV Manufacturer 
    • Select the year from the dropdown menu
    • Find the model number in the list and click on it
    • Enter a zip code and click continue
    • If you just want to get the base model price, click the blue button at the top of the page labeled “Get Base Pricing.”  
    • We recommend that you go through the options and select everything a coach has when fine tuning a Motorhome valuation.  It is important to select all non-standard items in the list.  Each item will have some impact on the final value.
    • After selecting the options click configure.  This will take you to the values page.

2020 Grand Design Momentum 397TH Example

I worked up a NADA price on our 2020 Grand Design Momentum 397TH

The numbers can be confusing at first glance, but the only column that matters when establishing the value of a RV is NADA Low Retail (highlighted in RED).  Our 2020 397TH is less than a year old and the max we could sell it for is $96,365.  The Grand Design MSRP for our Coach as configured when we ordered it was $131,825.

Although we have made thousands of dollars of improvements to our Fifth Wheel Toy Hauler, the only upgrades that are considered are standard ones included in the NADA calculator such as “Washing Machine” and “Dryer” that we added later.

If a modification is not on the NADA list, banks will not take it into consideration.  

What is NADA Average Retail?

NADA Average Retail is an ESTIMATE of what someone could potentially pay for a camper.  Average Retail is NOT what people are ACTUALLY paying for campers

NADA numbers are calculated based on formulas, not actual sales.  Average Retail is a calculated markup from the estimated value (Low Retail).  

In our 397TH case, the markup between Average Retail and Low Retail is 17%.  NADA is assuming that a buyer would put down via trade-in or cash somewhere between 15-20% depending on the model and finance the balance.  The actual lending value for a RV is the Low Retail Price.  

What is NADA Retail Value?

NADA Retail Value is an arbitrary number that is based off what NADA calculated as the price an RV would have sold for when new.  Take a look at the above 397TH NADA report, the MSRP is the same at the top and bottom.  NADA does not factor in any accessories into the Retail Price.  

NADA uses the Retail Price to set the depreciation schedule.  Year one forward values are derived from the Retail Price.  

In our case, they show the retail price at $111,562 and the first year’s Low Retail Value not counting accessories of $86,900.  The calculated depreciation from current model year to a one-year-old model is 22.1% for a 2020 Grand Design Momentum 397TH.  

Grand Design Campers hold NADA values well.  There are RV that lose 30% of more of their value in year one.  

It is very important to negotiate a fair deal when buying a new camper.  As stated above, the MSRP as configured for our coach was $131,825 not including the Washer and Dryer. NADA estimated the MAX one would pay for ANY 2020 Grand Design Momentum 397TH regardless of its configuration is $111,562.

The options we added helped push our value up, but not by the amount we paid for them. For example, the 5KW OWEN Generator had a 2020 MSRP of $5,933. NADA credited us $2,270 for the generator option — a 62% loss in value.

The more one pays over the NADA estimated retail price the bigger their depreciation loss will be in year one forward.  We encounter people all of the time that owe more on their campers than they are worth.  After the sale, there isn’t much anyone can do to mitigate this problem.  They must pay down the debt below the value of their rig to be in a position to sell it or be willing to write a check for the difference.  

NADA Challenges

The primary concern we have with the NADA Valuations is they are calculated from a fixed depreciation schedule.  They are not based on actual sales prices.

NADA values are based off a static depreciation schedule, NOT actual sale prices!

NADA does not consider local markets such as Florida and Arizona that may pay a premium for RVs during peak seasons; NADA does not take into account a pandemic that has increased demand for RVs; and NADA does not differentiate between different locations in the country that may have a higher demand for a particular type of rig. The values are the values.  Buyers and sellers are locked in by NADA and it is difficult to work outside of the NADA Blue Book Value.

Are Their Options to Value an RV that is Beyond NADA?   

NADA is the standard that banks and Dealerships use to estimate values of Motorhomes, Travel Trailers, and Fifth Wheels. It is possible, however, to convince a bank to loan more money on an RV to a qualified buyer.  

Banks need documentation that shows that a RV is worth more than what NADA is saying.  Of course, Lending Officers are not going to take our word for it.  They need third-party proof that can be used to get approval to fund a loan above the Low Retail NADA Value.  

Professional Appraisals 

A formal appraisal is the most common way to convince a bank that a RV is sufficient collateral to secure a loan above NADA Low Retail. Getting a formal Appraisal from a reputable firm ads cost, but it may be worth it for a rig that may be worth more than the NADA Low Retail value.  

High-end coaches often require an appraisal to secure funding because it may be one-of-a-kind that does not have a NADA value at all   

The process to higher valuations is generally used for high-end multimillion-dollar coaches and boats, but a formal appraisal can be used for any type of camper.  

It is certainly possible that an appraisal can come back with the NADA Low Retail Value on mass-manufactured RVs.  NADA is the standard source for everyone, including appraisers.  

RV Appraisals and Investigations of America

The firm we found that appears to be very active appraising RVs is RV Appraisals and Investigations of America, LLC.  I will call them RVAIA to make it easier to type their name.  

RVAIA’s website is archaic and hasn’t been updated in over a decade, but they told me that they have performed hundreds of RV appraisals and have worked with most banks. 

RVAIA states on their website, “In order to have an unbiased true Motorhome/RV appraisal, Motorcycle appraisal or Boat appraisal, the vehicle or vessel must be inspected by a disinterested third party. Only a third party can ascertain an unbiased condition, which can affect the value by several thousand dollars.”  

Banks value RVAIA and other licensed appraisers results because they are an unbiased third-party that has expert experience appraising RVs. An appraiser legally cannot have any vested interest in the overall valuation — they get paid before performing an appraisal.

eBay Motors

eBay has become a major player in vehicle sales and they move thousands of RVs through their marketplace every year.  We like using eBay to help quantify valuations because the prices reflect the value based on market demand.  When RVs are popular, the prices on eBay go above often above NADA Low Retail.  When demand is low, they can fall below.  

To effectively use eBay to research valuations, we need to look at completed auctions.  The final sales price is the quantitative information we need to assess the market demand value of a RV.  Listing values and values of auctions that closed without a sale are not accurate.

  • To get started searching eBay Motors
    • Navigate to the eBay Motors Search Page
    • On the left sidebar toward the bottom you will find a Show Only Section.  Put a checkmark in the Sold Items Filter.  
      • Sold Items show Sold Auctions Only.  Auctions that ended without a sale will not show up.  
      • Completed Items shows all ended auctions.  This will add in auctions that ended without a sale.  
    • After the desired filter is applied, scroll back up to the top of the page and type in the RV you want to look for (e.g. grand design momentum 397th)
    • Click the Blue Search button.  

Not all RV types have been sold on eBay.  I couldn’t find any 397TH models.  I changed my query around a bit and ended up searching for “Grand Design Toy Hauler.” I found a 2018 351M that sold for $57,988.    

Next, we want to see how the seller did in comparison to the NADA Guide.  I pulled a standard NADA report without adding accessories for the 2018 351M.  

NADA’s Low Retail value for the 2018 351M is $58,050. The eBay auction sold for $57,988.  

This RV was sold by a dealership for $62 below Low Retail.  Dealers aren’t in business to sell below what they paid.  NADA Low Retail was their target sales price. This dealer certainly paid below NADA Retail when they acquired the 2018 351M. Otherwise they would not have made a profit.

Consignment Sales

Another source for verifying the value of a Camper is to look at the sales prices at Consignment sellers and Retail Auction houses.  

Consignment sellers’ function like a dealership, but they are selling RVs that are owned by someone else.  They make money by charging a commission.  

The advantage of using a Consignment dealership is they function somewhat like eBay Motors.  They generate traffic and interest from RV buyers and the connect them with RV sellers.  

The seller has the advantage of not having to deal directly with the buyers.  They can let a trained salesperson do the selling for them.  The seller still maintains full control over what they will sell their rig for. 

A Consignment dealership we like to reference is PPL in Houston, Texas.  PPL is the largest consignment dealership in the US, and they have been in business since 1972.  PPL also shows the sale price of the RVs they move through their inventory.  We can reference the PPL site and see if they have sold any RVs similar to what we are researching.  

  • To get started searching the PPL database
    • Navigate to https://www.pplmotorhomes.com/
    • Page down to about the middle of the page to the section that says “To look at selling prices…”
    • Click the link of the type of RV you are looking for (e.g. Diesel Motorhomes, Fifth Wheels, Travel Trailers, etc).
    • The left bar of the site has several filters that can be selected to narrow down the search.  
      • I selected the Manufacturer “Grand Design” and the Model “397TH”

My initial search only found one 2016 397TH that was sold in September 2019 for $57,000.  This sale is too old for a good FMV estimate.  I removed the model filter and just left the Grand Design manufacturer filter on.  I then went to the top of the page and sorted the results by “Date Added Newest First.”  This sort shows all Grand Design’s that have been sold through PPL with the most recent ones on the top of the list.  

I selected the 3rd result on the list — “42’ 2019 Grand Design Momentum” — for my research.  The PPL sales page has all of the details of the unit.  It is a 2019 395M that sold for $67,995.  Next let’s compare to NADA to see how they did.  

The NADA Low Retail price for a 2019 395M is $61,500.  The PPL 395M sold for $67,995, which is $6,495 above the NADA price.  PPL did a great job for this owner.  Of course, this does not consider the commission paid to PPL that would be deducted from the proceeds of the sale.  

RV Trader

The last area we will explore is the one that most people go to first – RV Trader.  RV Trader has a Price Checker feature that searches their database for current listings that meet a specified criteria. 

  • To search the RV Trader Inventory
    • Navigate to https://www.rvtrader.com/research/tools/price-checker
    • Select the green button on the top right side of the page labeled “Check your price now!”
    • Select the Type, Make, Model and trim you want to search.
      • I generally do not select year since that narrows the search too much. 
    • When you are done with the selections click the Green Check Price button

The RV Trader Values listed can be confusing. They are showing the Highest and Lowest prices out of the current 21 Listings that Matched Grand Design MOMENTUM 397TH Fifth Wheel only. These are asking prices, not actual sale prices.

To see the listings, click the button labeled “SEARCH” and it will take you to all active listings that meet the criteria.  

By default RV Trader puts paid listings first and then they are listed by date added. The default search makes it difficult to find what we are looking for. The easiest way I have found to search though the listings is to go to the top of the page and select Sort By “Newest Year.”  This will group model years together making the list easier to review for side-by-side comparisons of like year, make and model listings.

After scrolling past the new 2021’s, I found 3 used 2018 397TH's that are listed for sale.   Let’s compare once again to the NADA values of the 2018 397TH.

NADA’s low retail price is $65,600.  The 3 units we found have prices ranging from $69,000 to $83,000.  I suspect the low number is an owner who is knowledgeable about how NADA Low Retail works.  They priced $3,400 over Low Retail to allow some haggle room.  The other two listings are from Dealerships.

I don’t like using RV Trader to assess the value of a coach because it can mislead someone into thinking their coach is worth more than it is.  

Dealers inflate the price because everyone going into a dealership is expecting a discount.  They are also hedging their pricing against trade-ins.  With higher margins built into their list price, they can claim they are giving more money for a trade than they are.  

RV Trader NADA Comparison

Let’s take the high example of $83,000 and crunch some numbers.  If the dealer discounts by 20% they will sell at $66,400, which is $800 over NADA Low Retail.  This dealer set their price 20% above NADA Low Retail and then rounded up to make the list price an even number. 

Experienced RV buyers generally expect to receive a 15-20% discount when buying from a dealership

RV Trader is an excellent website to use to research, buy and sell RV’s, but it is not a great resource for estimating the Fair Market Value of a camper. Dealers have to manipulate their sales price well above what they expect to sell an RV for.  

High markups and deep discounts has been standard practice in the RV Industry for decades.

The actual sale price of listed RVs is not supplied to RV Trader like it is at eBay Motors and PPL.  RV Trader has no idea how much a camper sold for. Not having accurate sales prices significantly limits the functionality of the RV Trader Price Checker. 

A good rule of thumb when looking at RVs for sale by dealers is to take 20% off of the advertised price.  If the result is lower than NADA Low Retail reduce to 15% off of retail to see where you land.  This will get you into the ballpark of where a dealer is expecting to land.  

It is important to keep in mind that dealers pay less than Low Retail.  They buy wholesale and sell Retail.  Low Retail is the Retail price when buying from a dealership.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, a RV is worth whatever someone will pay for it.  If you can find a motivated buyer with cash in hand anything is possible.  The numbers we reviewed are analytical.  RV Values need to be approached with a business hat on. It makes no difference to a Banker or a Dealership what you paid for a RV or how much you owe.  

The NADA Low Retail price is going to be very close to what the market will assess the value of your rig to be.  Appraisals can help move the value up, but there is no guarantee.  The other sources to look at are Consignment dealers and eBay Motors to see what a similar rig has sold for through their services.  If you can document higher recent sale somewhere else, it may convince a bank to increase the loan amount or motivate a potential buyer to up their offer.  

One needs to use caution when looking at RV Trader to assess market value.  Dealers generally list prices 15-20% over NADA Low Retail to leave room for negotiations.  The retail sales prices listed on RV Trader can mislead owners into thinking their Coaches are worth more than they are.  

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Jim Kerr

Jim Kerr is a entrepreneur that has founded several businesses including Orbitz, Team Convergence, Assure Flight, and Passion Highway. He is an airplane pilot, PADI SCUBA Dive Master and adventure traveler. Along with his wife Lisa, they travel North America in their 2020 Grand Design Momentum 397TH Toy Hauler with their cat Dexter. To find out more about Jim, visit JamesNKerr.com

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