First Time Renting or Buying a Trailer
The RV Resort Experience
There are few places that offer the winter climate available in AZ. The desert location provides winter weather that is conducive to outdoor life.
Relatives of ours used to spend three months each winter in a Phoenix area resort. Family would comment on their return that they always looked healthier in April than any other time of the year.
Our first experience in an RV resort was amazing and surprising.
I have never seen so many older people golfing, playing tennis, shuffleboard, in a swimming pool, and generally out-and-about.
A common mode of transportation in the resorts is bicycles. Almost everyone has one and I had to get back on as well. (No you never forget but those seats do seem a little harder than I remember)
The biggest surprise was probably the weather and lack of bugs. I had always imagined winter in Arizona like (say) May at home. Some nice sunny days, some calm days, some rainy days, some cloudy days, some windy days, and such.
I was pleasantly surprised that maybe 90% of the days in February were sunny and calm. (see weather chart) Most days in February were around 20-25C (or 70-75F) with little if any breeze.
And the bugs. I never thought that critters would also hibernate in warm climates, but they do. During a six week period I saw exactly two bugs. I never realized before how pleasant it can be to have nice summer days outdoors without bug spray or swatting the critters off the food. It is quite pleasant.
What you Need to Know!
If you haven't spent a winter in Arizona before
There are a lot of people who are looking for a way to spend their winters in a climate more conducive to an active and enjoyable lifestyle.
The problem is that if you have not experienced any of the various options for that lifestyle it can be difficult to decide what to pursue.
There are a few things you need to consider before you decide whether the RV Resort and a Trailer are for you.
Take the time to read about the lifestyle and experience, the resorts, the trailers, the weather.
A strange statement to make on a site that is all about trailers. But it is important to realize that, while called trailers, you will probably feel more like you are in a cottage in a resort rather than in a trailer in some 'old style' trailer resort.
We have had some complaints about our name and the use of the word 'trailer'. "They are called RVs ... not trailers!" we are told. We can understand the concern. It certainly can be. But those who are looking at this lifestyle for the first time tend to look for a 'trailer'. (And they are a resort model of the 'trailer' family.)
You are not only in a resort you are in a 'community'. And a community that really does have some of that 'small town America' feel.
The trailers are set up in a way that looks and feels very permanent, and really almost is. The driveway, patio, storage shed, and maybe an Arizona Room and even small garden area all add to the feeling of a more permanent residence.
Many of the facilities in your home are also available in the trailers but some of it is outside or down the street. As described in the section About Park Model Trailers your living space really extends to the outside and beyond. The pool and hot tub are down the street instead of in the backyard. The craft area, woodworking shop, laundry, music room, and other facilities are there for your use but just not in your house or yard.
About the RV Resorts
Important - Resident-Owned vs Privately Owned resorts
Before doing any resort shopping make sure you understand the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of choosing a resort that is resident-owned or one that is privately owned. (see the section on private vs resident-owned resorts)
RV Snowbird Resorts for Seniors
The whole focus of this site is the experience of living in a Seniors RV Resort in a warmer climate through the winter months.
There are literally hundreds of these resorts in the state of Arizona offering a wide array of amenities and lifestyle experiences. But there are also some important differences.
The size of the resort is a primary determining factor. The resorts range considerably in size from the very smallest of maybe 25 lots to resorts with 2,000 spaces.
It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with a smaller resort but naturally the larger resorts can afford more activities, amenities, and central facilities.
The medium and larger sized resorts are pretty standard in terms of layout, security, and central facilities. Some smaller resorts are more for the very budget conscious and those who are not interested in paying for a lot of things they don't use. It is all about individual choice.
Most of the resorts are about 70-90% 'park model' homes. (With the rest being mostly motor homes and travel trailers.)
These park model trailers are all about the same size. The lots they sit on are about the same size.
Most resorts separate the 'pets allowed' area from the 'no pet' area.
That 'Small Town America' Feel
We all know that model small town doesn't really exist outside of Hollywood. But these resorts have come about as close to that imaginary feeling as I have seen.
The clean paved streets with mostly bicycle and pedestrian activity combined with the friendly greetings present a very comfortable atmosphere.
Nearly all the resorts are designed with a similar layout. Streets of RVs surrounding central facilities.
And they are truly 'communities' onto themselves. There is a strong community feeling in most of the resorts as people live together in a type of small town atmosphere. Everyone is very friendly and quick to help a neighbor.
"We knew about these resorts and had considered trying it out to see if we liked that experience. I was quite reluctant because I didn't feel quite ready for 'what I perceived to be' the lifestyle. To my surprise I felt quite at home and very comfortable. And my privacy was very well in hand. Sure everyone is friendly and says 'hello' but no pressure to join or participate. Or, lots to participate in if that is what you want. And I was shocked that I actually enjoyed living in a trailer. Never thought that would happen."
It's interesting how all these people from all these different places and backgrounds come together with the common bond of just wanting to live life as enjoyable as possible. There is not a lot of discussion about who you 'used to be'. Really not that many actually care. Whether you were successful in your career or just survived it doesn't really matter.
Status seeking is not very evident. It's like there no longer is any value in trying to impress the neighbors.
Choosing a resort
"It may be hard to change later"
A major consideration when deciding to 'try out' a resort is that you may be choosing a new 'home town'.
It is noticeable how many resort residents would find it unthinkable (well almost) to move to a different resort. It becomes a home and it is sometimes hard to leave because you have become part of a community.
Of course those with bad experiences will be happy to leave. But once you develop a bit of a community social life it can be difficult to start over again in another 'community'. You make friends and develop relationships with neighbors. You get involved in group and club activity and that can be hard to leave.
While some people have spent their lives moving to different communities and don't worry about making new friends and such, many of us get attached to our location and find a move more difficult. And, to some, the older you are the less you search for the new adventure associated with moving from your community.
- Choose carefully ... you may not want to change later.
Check out the resort Facilities, Services, Amenities, and Activities
You should make sure you are moving to a resort that has the facilities, services, and the things to do that meet your needs and interests.
Most of the larger resorts have websites and we have listed them in the resorts listing and links sections. The resorts do a good job of listing their facilities and usually show pictures so you can get an idea of what is available.
The resort facilities include both the functional (laundry, office, security, etc) and those related to resort activities such as swimming pools, hot tubs, workshops, and the like. And of course basic services such as mail service, access to the internet and cable TV, as well as maintenance and support.
- There are a huge assortment of facilities in some of the resorts; Recreation Centers, Exercise Rooms, Laundry, Swimming pools, Hot Tubs, Libraries, Workshops, Card Rooms, Tennis Courts, Computer Rooms, and on and on. Very large resorts will even have Grocery Stores, Restaurants, Driving Ranges/Putting Greens, and maybe a Golf Course.
You want to know that the facilities are in good condition and things work as they are intended. You also want to know that the resort is clean and well maintained.
The Activities - "What is there to do?"
That old clich� ... 'You can be as busy as you want to be' ... certainly fits the concept of the RV Resort trailer resorts.
Tennis, Dancing, Golf, Billiards, Pickle ball, Concerts, Shuffleboard, Horseshoes, Lapidary, Silversmithing, Wood Working, Quilting, Card Games, Ping Pong, Ceramics and Pottery, Book Clubs, Service Clubs, Church Services, Movies, Water Aerobics, Yoga, Pilates, Painting, Computer Club, Choirs, Musical Groups, and more.
The last thing you need to worry about is having enough to do.
When choosing a resort location the activities are critical if you want to match your particular interests and lifestyle. If playing horseshoes is your thing then look for horseshoe pits. If tennis is your game then make sure there are adequate tennis courts. If you are a 'lap swimmer' then make sure the pool(s) can accommodate that.
"We blew it on this one. We like playing tennis and bought a trailer in a resort without tennis courts. But thought it was such a good deal and we can drive to tennis courts. Now we are sorry. But love the trailer and love the neighbors. Now what?"
While you may feel you can travel outside the resort to participate in activities (and certainly you can) you may not be so inclined once you take up residence. It seems that resort residents develop a lifestyle that becomes more 'small town'. It becomes habit to walk to things and/or ride your bike. You may strongly regret that you chose a resort where you needed to fire up the family vehicle and head off into the city traffic to participate in your favorite activity.
Of course some activities, like golfing, normally require outside travel. But even with golf, there are some resorts with (or bordering) golf courses. Generally the larger the resort more there is to choose from. But it may not always be 'the more the better' for everyone.
It doesn't make much sense to contribute (and you usually will either directly or indirectly) to an expensive recreation facility in a resort if you have absolutely no interest in that activity.
More about resort Activities
Most resort sites will list at least the most common activities and you should check out the list. If information is not shown or your interests don't appear but other resort attributes are appealing then you may want to take the trouble to contact the resort.
The resorts have someone in charge of activities. This is often a volunteer resident but could also be a resort employee. Contact them to discuss your interests. If their name and contact information is not shown on the site then contact the resort office. They are usually more than anxious to accommodate and promote all they have to offer.
In some cases the resorts are hungry to have residents that like to organize and spend their time getting people together for new activities. If you are that type of person then you may be able to start your own 'unique' activity. Ask if that is allowed and supported.
Location - Location - Location
There are a lot of considerations regarding the location of the resort. Most of them are personal and depends on what appeals to you and how you like to spend your time outside of the resort.
The larger resorts are really quite self-sufficient and you will probably be surprised how little you travel out. But of course you will want to shop, eat out, golf, and take in the whole array of adventures and entertainment in the area.
The best way to get a sense of the resort's location is, of course, on a map. But you can also get that lovely satellite view of the actual resort and see what the layout looks like, from above of course.
On the resorts chart you can click on the location city name and go to the google map view. There you can see the general proximity to major locations and roadworks. You can then click on the satellite view and go down for a good look of the resort.
Keep in mind that you are actually having to consider TWO community locations. (1) The location of your trailer within the resort 'community' and (2) the location of your resort within the larger community.
Check out the resort security.
We all care about the safety and security of our homes. And of course your winter home is just as important. This is even more important to those of us who come from smaller or rural communities into a strange place and maybe even find big cities a little scary.
A huge huge advantage of having a winter residence in the (larger) resorts is the 24 hour security. These resorts are gated and most have a security person at the gate checking who comes into the resort. This is also important because you don't live here year-round. The comfort of knowing there is an emphasis on security helps you to relax and enjoy the lifestyle.
The Resort 'Paper'
Many resorts have regular (usually weekly) publications describing resort news, events and activities. Usually done by resident volunteers. They are a good source of resident information but also provide a bit of the 'flavor' of resort life.
Getting a copy(s) of these journals can contribute to your information package when deciding on a resort location. Some resorts place the copies of the resort paper on their websites. Worth checking.
Watch out for the Rules!
Before committing to residence (especially if buying a trailer) make sure you get a copy of the resort rules and even take the trouble to (at least) phone the resort office to discuss arrangements and clarify rules of residence.
Rules are important and you should want the resort to have them. But within reason.
You should look for a resort that has rules that you appreciate if you are making it your (part-time) home. You will want to feel some comfort in knowing that security and other aspects are important to the resort management. But you will also want to make sure you do not lose your lifestyle independence with over-zealous resort management.
It is common for resorts to have rules governing security, cleanliness, quiet, and general good conduct. And most resorts do an excellent job of maintaining these standards.
If you are not moving into a 'resident owned' resort then you will be at the mercy of the resort owners and management. They get to make the rules and of course rules are important. But, some are more reasonable than others.
"Our bad experience had to do with renting out our trailer. We felt we could rent it out for a month or two when we were not using it. After considerable roadblocks put up by the resort management (i.e. need the renters credit report with a high rating even though the renters were paying us) we had to tell our renters that they could not come.
Our sense was that the resort management really didn't want to encourage residents renting out their trailers. Whether that was an overzealous attempt in trying to maintain more control over who was staying in the resort or an attempt to limit competition for the resort owned rentals I am not sure."
Unless you invested in a resident-owned resort ... Remember that you are parking Your Unit on a Rented Lot
There is a tendency to think you have bought a residence just like buying a house back home. But you need to remember that you only bought the Park Model. And you parked that unit in an RV resort. It may have already been parked there when you bought it but it is really no different than when you rent a spot at a campground ... just a much, much longer stay.
When you pay for the annual rent of the lot that is the only timeframe you have agreement for. The resort owner can refuse to rent it to you the next year and then you have a problem. That may be rare but it is legally possible.
The Importance of Rules about Trailer Age
A trailer is not a house. A trailer is legally a vehicle and is likely to depreciate rather than appreciate.
Many resorts have a rule on the age (and condition) of trailers being moved into their resorts. And some requirements regarding the upkeep of the trailers. It is very common that resorts will not allow a trailer older than (say) ten years to move into the resort.* They of course want to maintain high standards. This is understandable but also is an important issue to consider when you buy a trailer.
*A recent ad in the Mesa newspaper, by an operator of three larger resorts, promoted free trailer moving and one year free rent if you move your park model into one of their resorts. They also are allowing trailers as old as 1985 models. This may be an indication of softening the rules in today's more depressed market.
While you are just parking on a rented lot (with generally a one-year term agreement) you also can't just move it to another resort. If you buy an older unit you are taking some added risk that you need to consider. You are probably stuck with that unit in 'that' resort. You are quite limited in the choice of resorts you can move to. (Not to mention that the cost to move can be as high as the value of an old trailer.)
It is certainly rare that resort operators refuse to renew rental agreements because of trailer age. But it has happened.
This doesn't mean to suggest that an older budget-priced trailer is a bad buy. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. But you do need to view your purchase similar to buying an old car compared to a new car. It will depreciate and it will require some more work and maintenance. And when you are done with it you may not recover your original price. An old car may have to be sent to the wrecker when you are done with it. An old trailer could have the same fate ... probably not, but possible.
Rules regarding 'First Right of Refusal'
Some resorts will require that you do not sell your trailer (while parked on their lot) without offering the resort owner a first right of refusal. You come up with a buyer at a price and then are required to inform the resort operator of the deal. The resort operator may decide they want to buy it at that price ... and have the right to do so as long as it is being parked in their resort.
Rules Limiting Trailer Ownership
Another rule that is worth knowing about.
Some resorts will limit you to renting only one lot. What that can mean is that you cannot buy that nice, newer, place next door and then decide to rent out your older trailer.
It can even mean that when you buy a different trailer in the resort you need to immediately have yours sold or you could end up breaking the rule of limitation to one rented lot.
Of course resort operators will generally be reasonable but it can also be a rule that hits you by surprise.
Planning to Buy a 'Fixer-Upper' and Rebuild that Old Trailer Yourself?
Many resorts will have rules that do not allow you to do any major renovation work yourself. If the work involves anything that requires a municipal permit they may insist that you hire a licensed contractor.
Of course most trailer owners will do smaller jobs themselves and that is not a problem, in fact it is probably encouraged. But it is worth checking for these rules if you have any plans to redo that older unit. It can be a real unhappy surprise later on.
About RV Park Model
It is quite difficult to find good information on park model trailers. After a lot of searching we have located some sites that provide information but even those tend to be more generally about house trailers and/or recreational vehicles.
The average park model is really very inexpensive. (see: how much will it cost)
A basic new unit can be purchased for as
little as $35,000. Many used trailers on
'rented' lots are available for anywhere from $5,000 and up. Most are priced in the neighborhood of $25,000 but can range
much higher with a lot of extras.
In resident-owned resorts the whole cost
changes because you are now buying not
only the actual trailer but also your share
in the resort itself.
They are all about the Same Size 400 Square Feet
- But that can be Misleading -
The trailers all start out at about 400 square feet. But then a storage room gets built and maybe an Arizona Room. There are all kinds of creative modifications done to enhance the living space. The climate allows for some pretty basic enclosures to be added that functionally serve as an addition to living quarters. But still generally retain the legal status as a vehicle.
park model trailers in Arizona cannot exceed 400 square feet if they are to benefit from vehicle status and not be subject to residential taxes.
We eventually learned why that is. It seems that there was a municipal taxing issue of
how to tax a park model trailer if it is essentially permanently parked on property. At
what point is it a trailer (classed as a vehicle) and at what point is it a permanent
residence. It still has wheels and can be moved.
A method was needed to distinguish between the more permanent trailers in a
standard trailer resort and those classed as vehicles. It was decided to use square
footage. Under 400 square feet is a vehicle and legal ownership titles are handled
by motor vehicles.
The diagram shown here is a very typical park model design. This layout is very common, at least before any modifications or additions.
A standard layout consists of a
bedroom, bathroom, and open design
The front door is typically patio doors and the rear door opens to the patio or Arizona room. They are well designed and make good use of the space available.
The common width is 12 feet so the length is normally just over 30 feet. But there are still some that are narrower.
Some very old units are only 8 feet wide and tend to resemble a standard older traveling trailer. Then additions were designed to expand to a 12 foot width. That resulted in what is called 'slide outs' or 'tip outs'.
The basic unit is 8 feet but there are sections expanded
by (usually) an additional four feet. Some run the length
of the trailer and some less.
The trailer shown here is an early '80s model. In the late
'80s and early '90s the manufacturers began making
most park models a full 12 foot wide.
The most common trailer in the resorts are the standard 12 foot width and are designed to
appear more like a permanent
dwelling with standard pitched and
Windows and doors are more like a
house and interiors also more
A very typical trailer may be
10 to 15 years old. The ones shown
at the left are commonplace.
Then there are the 'higher end' units that have been added to and modified.
These tend to be more common in the resident-owned resorts (but not exclusively).
The owners in these resorts have a much higher investment and monies spent adding to the unit represents a far smaller percentage of the unit total cost and possibly less risk.
A variety of modifications and additions have added a lot more space and may even include a regular attached garage.
The end result is some pretty elaborate set-ups for what began as a 400 square foot park model.
The Inside Living Space
Nearly all the Park Models have that standard layout (as already shown in the diagram) of the living, dining, kitchen area at the front of the trailer. Bathroom, storage, and rear/side door in the middle and bedroom at the back. There are some variations on this but those are pretty rare. (The Park Model used in the following section is about ten years old.)
Front Living Area
Probably more than half of the trailer space is the front living, dining, kitchen area.
The open design adds both spaciousness and versitility. It is a very practical layout.
Most units have ample windows and combined with the front entry patio doors they are very bright and open.
The kitchen setup makes good use of space
and generally there is ample cupboard space.
Most units also have some type of china cupboard and extra storage.
The appliances are pretty well what you will have at home with possibly one exception. Propane is fairly common for cooking and heating.
The dining area is usually set up for two or four people. There is often a second china cupboard and possibly additional storage in this area.
The dining area can be quite small but is really all that most need. Most units are only occupied by two people and most of the entertaining is done outdoors in the patio area or Arizona room.
Bathrooms are pretty standard four piece. Usually quite small, at least compared to todays large facilities in many homes. But they have come a long way from those tiny old travel trailer bathrooms.
They are certainly very functional and are getting a bit larger in newer units. They also have pretty reasonable storage space.
Bedrooms tend to have quite a bit of closet and other storage space. Usually one wall is dedicated to double closets and drawers.
The standard bedroom is probably in the range of 110 to 120 square feet. They are quite adequate. Although a king bed may be a tight fit.
The Outside Living Space
Nearly all the trailers sit on a lot that provides anywhere from about 15 to 25 feet of side yard. Normally that side yard is covered 'patio style' and serves outdoor living and vehicle parking.
Some resorts have deeper narrower lots allowing parking in the front while others are wider and allow parking at the side.
The climate is so conducive to outdoor life that the patio area can become like an added living room. It is possibly the most common area used for entertaining and maybe even regular dining. (No bugs remember)
The Storage Shed - More living space
An important part of the trailer unit. When you consider the limitations on trailer size the storage shed becomes far more valuable than your old shed in the back yard at home.
A storage shed is common fare and they are usually about 8X10 feet or larger. They are extremely valuable, especially when you consider you have no basement and the trailer size is limited. In fact I don't know what you would do without one.
The storage shed is rarely just a place for storage. Of course they are used for storage but the creative uses are pretty wide ranging. They are a natural location for a workbench and a common use as a place for your own washer and dryer.
But sometimes larger sheds are almost used as extra living quarters ... TV or computer rooms and even the odd one with a mattress for extra visitors. Although probably against some rules they do tend to serve in an emergency.
The Arizona Room - Even more living space
Many people add a room at the side of the trailer to provide some extra living space. These rooms are known as 'Arizona Rooms'. They are constructed in varying sizes over part or even all of the side or patio area. (Apparently in Florida they are known as a 'Florida Room')
There are many different designs and
layouts, some quite basic and others much
They serve a variety of purposes including
space for guests with some even adding extra
But probably the most common is for the
Arizona room to serve as a type of 'family
room' ... similar to the one in your house
Extra Room for Guests
It seems every trailer has a sofa bed (or whatever they are called in your area) to accomodate extra guests. They are pretty well standard fare in the living room. And just as common in the Arizona Room.
In addition, some storage sheds will have means to accomodate guests sleeping quarters with a Murphy Bed or some other arrangement.
Visitors are common in the resorts and it is easy to tell when it is 'spring break' or (naturally) Christmas and other holidays. The kids and grandkids come to visit. And of course friends from 'back up north' will visit to experience some winter getaway.
Most resorts have a variety of plants and some lots may have small growing spaces. And of course there are the Citrus Trees, Palm Trees, and the Cactus.
Breakfast in the Back Yard?
The citrus trees are commonplace throughout the trailer resorts. It is quite
common for a trailer lot to have mature grapefruit and orange trees. They are
a very special treat for us northerners who can't imagine going out in the morning and picking off some grapefruit and oranges
for breakfast. But that is pretty normal for many RV resort residents.
Palm Trees - the unofficial emblem of RV Resorts
And of course a symbol of the south to us northerners are the palm
trees, a common site in the resorts.
They epitomize a warm holiday place for those of us who only see
them in pictures. And that is probably why they are used as an
attraction for the northerners.
If you can't find the resort just look over the landscape for a collection of
Palm Trees and that may be it.
And the cactus is also a symbol.
It is a symbol of the desert. There are many varieties, some only found in desert locations. They are a common fixture on RV lots.
There are wonderful cactus blooms in the spring and they certainly add to the flavor of the desert location.
The larger cacti often take on the role of Christmas trees when that season roles around. (The picture on the right was taken last Christmas in an RV resort in Apache Junction.)
Checking Trailer Condition
- Trailer age
- Air Conditioning
- Swamp Coolers
The condition of the trailers will of course vary widely. Older units can have some real serious problems. They are generally not constructed to the same standards as most houses so judging the expected condition of the unit by age is different than for the typical house. (A twenty year-old trailer is viewed as much older than a 20 year-old house ... also see watch out for the rules section about impacts of trailer age.)
A couple key items to look for are the condition of the roof and the floor. Roofs are most vulnerable. They can certainly be prone to leaks and weakened by previous water damage.
Older trailers came with metal roofs and a common site is an old roof with patches over patches. Newer trailers have traditional shingled roofs and are really not much different than your normal house roof.
Floors can become weakened from previous water or termite damage. What seems like a simple floor squeak can be a sign of bigger problems. It is a good idea to have a look under the trailer to see the condition of the floor.
Electrical wiring can be somewhat less than up to normal household standards as well. Again, this can be more of an issue in older trailers where modifications may have been made over the years.
Plumbing in trailers is often done using plastic water lines and over time some of this older plastic becomes hardened and can easily break, especially at or near joints. Plumbing is usually not that hard to access and lines can be repaired and even (quite easily) updated.
Another common issue in the Phoenix area is the termites. They can really wreak havoc with a trailer. They are common and if the owner hasn't done proper prevention they can infest the trailer.
If you are not familiar with what to look for it may be a good investment to have an inspection by a pest control company.
Heating equipment is similar to a regular house with the possible exception of the common use of propane. Especially in the older units. Many are equipped with propane for both heating and cooking.
Cooling is by central or window air conditioners and an item we had never heard of before, the 'swamp cooler'. Swamp coolers are most common in older units and are quite a reliable and inexpensive method of cooling. But they only work in very dry climates.
Swamp coolers use water evaporation to provide cooling that is then blown throughout the trailer.
The best explanation I heard to describe the concept is to imagine putting on a wet t-shirt on a hot day and then blowing yourself with a fan. The rapid evaporation of the moisture provides considerable cooling effects.
Swamp coolers became quite out of fashion and almost suggest 'old'. But there may now be some resurgence. They can be more economical to operate than air conditioners and will save on energy. They require some regular maintenance but do seem to be quite an affordable means to provide some relief from the heat in earlier fall and later spring.