Turn your Dream Vehicle into Passive Income; Renting the Van

Last Friday, I handed off the keys for my nearly-new, custom converted sprinter van, to some random strangers I met on the internet. Good idea?

Monday comes; return day. Not a peep. No news is good news, I tell myself.  30 minutes before the discussed return time, my phone chimes. They’re parked outside and ready to return it.

Inspected inside-out, I confirm that it is actually cleaner than when they departed. There is no evidence of collision with another deer (sorry about that lil’ guy). No water damage, no chunks of cabinet missing, no funky smell. My renters might have taken better care of my van than I do.

They’ve had a time. Couldn’t have been happier with the rental, and as a bonus provided much inspiration for their future camper build. And well, I’m pretty happy too. A couple hundred bucks in my pocket for a few hours of work, with the added bonus of mixing the pace up – quality time in the city with friends serves as a nice break from the road.

Stemming off the AirBnB model, there are now a handful of services that will help you list an RV, insure it during the process, schedule bookings, and payout actual monies directly into your bank account. I’m using two, Outdoorsy.com (US based) and RVezy.com (CAN based).

Fill out the boxes, upload photos showing off your rig, and apply for the complimentary insurance coverage. Through both platforms, the process takes roughly twenty minutes. Within the first week, I already had a few inquiries. Now, I’m aiming to have two fully booked months for this summer – well on the way to achieving this goal.

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Remind your prospective renters… home can be anywhere!

Both services require driver’s licensing information and history from all prospective renters. They’re initially verified and approved by the site, and you ultimately have the final say whether or not to rent to them.

Having someone do all your vetting for you is nice, but having a blanket insurance policy that covers up to 2M in damages and liability is ever nicer. There are requirements to maintaining this insurance coverage, like having your tires and propane system inspected every so often. But the asks are far outweighed by the benefits, as a commercial rental policy that provides similar coverage would likely run an outrageous sum of dollars.

And if something goes wrong during the trip, both services offer roadside assistance as an additional services, providing help with a tire or tow, or more concierge-like services such as booking campsites or providing local knowledge and insight. Hopefully you’re getting the sense that these service providers make it the process pretty hands-off, because they do! is!

What’s it cost? Like AirBnb, both services charge an “owner” fee, which at the time of writing is 20% for Outdoorsy, and 15% for RVezy. They also charge a renter-side fee of the same amount. One big advantage to using Outdoorsy is it’s exposure – the site seems to be SEO optimized, and thus many more inquiries come through this medium. It’s tidy interface and mobile-friendly dashboard and messaging systems are a step above RVezy.

So far, nothing but positive experiences. It took a little while to position my listings to cover a majority of the questions/inquiries that were coming in, but now most potential rentee’s are well briefed on what exactly they are getting for their money, and quicker to move on the booking and placing a deposit.

Less stuff, more adventure. The sharing economy is an emerging market, and I love it. We won’t miss the acre-on-acre storage facilities that house RV’s for 90% of their useful life. Do you like the idea of upping our collective asset utilization?

UPDATE:

I wrote the above back in April, just as the summer rental season was ramping up. It’s now mid August and the van has been rented for all of July, August, September, and now most of October, with only a few unoccupied days. 88 Rental days at an average of $250 per night… that grosses over $20,000. Whether you look at these earnings as your mobile home paying for itself, or a nice side income while pursuing other paths, the number is very compelling. I’ll share what I’ve learned throughout the process:

Picking a Location and Handing Off the “Hand Off”

The rental business for these nomadic travel vehicles, contradictory to the name, must be fixed to one location. I tried it the other way, opening the dialogue to renters from all over, thinking that I could tie in a trip of my own to deliver the RV to their whereabouts. It’s a complicated offering that will fill your time with nothing but back and forth with few financial results. Pick a place and stick to it.

For me, this was Calgary, Alberta – home for only a few years, and thought I’ve been away for some time, it still feels like home. It’s international airport, proximity to the mountains which encompass desirable tourist areas like Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, make it a prime location to run an RV or van rental business.

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Nestled in the woods, warming by the fire, creature comforts not far off. This is the vacation that your clientele is hoping for!

I had plans elsewhere this summer, so needed to delegate all the “hands on” responsibilities of the rental process; coordinating pickup/drop off times, the pre/post trip inspection, instructional walkthrough, and cleaning. Wherever you pick, having an established social group helps, but isn’t necessary if you plan. My “boots on the ground” gal in Calgary works in the school system, thus enjoys her summers off. If you offer a fair wage ($30/hr was where we settled) and free use privileges when it’s not booked,   I would imagine that other professionals with flexible schedules very receptive to the 5-8 hours a week of work that are involved.

Systems for Success

First things first – you need bookings. As I mentioned previously, I’m using both Outdoorsy, and RVezy as listing services, but there are others which I’ll include below. Write a tasteful ad, post photos showing your rig being enjoyed, and price according to the market. As you start to get inquiries, take note of the questions asked and think about including those points in your listing, further reducing the back and forth Q&A.

A week prior to the booking, I’ll connect with the renter. Forwarding important items like contact info, getting in touch with my local gal, and a few notes about the van. I presume people read it, because everyone has made the pick up, and no one has put gas in the diesel tank yet 😉

From there, she coordinates a time for pickup and conducts the van walk-through, pre-trip inspection, documenting any damage or scuffs by photograph. An iPad is used to handle electronic signatures on the documentation required, and is then uploaded to Google Drive so that we can both access it. From the background, I’m keeping an eye on trip mileage to ensure overages are billed, but it’s a minimal effort at an hour or two per week.

Here’s the spreadsheet I use to track contact information, mileage, and the financial outlook of each rental. Save a copy to your personal drive, or download to modify with excel. I recommend only modifying the BLUE unless you are an advanced user. It has a handy section to track hours, log each trip’s individual mileage, and a helpful “check & balance” section to ensure that you’re being paid in full and that there are no errors on the company’s end.

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Photos of spreadsheets aren’t very exciting, so here’s a beautiful camping spot nestled in Hells Canyon, ID

So far, the process has been seamless, excepting the one mishap of leaving a couple without propane shortly after they took off (Sorry, sorry, sorry!). And to my great surprise, everyone has been thrilled with the van, even though it was design-built with a whole ton of gear storage in mind that goes unused during these rentals. I was almost certain that some of the finicky items, like filling water, emptying greywater and the cassette toilet, would cause the renter a whole ton of stress, and flip that onto me when it all went wrong. Something to be said about having many worries, and most of them never happening.

What is the best site to list an RV or van?

From experience, Outdoorsy takes the cake. But, there are other options, most of which I have no experience with. Keep in mind that there’s nothing preventing you from listing on multiple sites. The only downside of this is having to manage multiple availability calendars, but it’s a minor hassle when you consider the additional exposure you receive in return.

For Canadians:

For Americans:

Do you have an experience to share with one of the above companies, or thoughts about the idea of sharing your own RV or van? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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