Factors to Consider When Buying a Holiday Home - Expert Buyers Guide
Until now there hasn't been a comprehensive an impartial guide designed to help you find and buy the perfect static caravan holiday home for you. In our guide - we take all the mystery away and give you the solid facts!
When it comes to buying a house, a car or even a new toaster, there’s plenty of advice on the internet to help you find something that will exactly suit your needs.
The team at Holiday Home Buyer feel people who are interested in buying a static caravan are left somewhat in the dark, either taking their chances with the information a park operator gives them (newsflash - most just want you to buy a holiday from them, as soon as possible!) or relying on second hand stories from friends or family who might have looked for one in the past.
Some people write the idea off altogether based on the belief they 'probably can't afford it' or aren't sure about whether they'd get the credit they might need – you should definitely keep reading if you think either of these things!
Well, the answer is here! We’ve put together the most comprehensive guide that you’ll find that explains everything you’ll need to know, including:
- How to find the right park for you
- The cost associated with having a static caravan
- The pitfalls to look out for
- How to go about getting the very best deal
It would be easy to find yourself here on your holiday home search!
Doing it right – first time!
Buying a holiday home is often one of the largest purchases a person will make in their lifetime - so making the right decisions about where you buy, what you buy and who you buy from will often be the difference between a great holiday home experience - or one that you wished you'd looked into a little bit more.
So, before you start arranging to look at caravans you've seen for sale on Facebook or Ebay, taking a few minutes to read through this guide will make sure you don’t make a decision you come to regret.
The really good news is; finding a nice caravan is surprisingly easy! We’ll cover the actual caravans in a bit further down the page – but to begin with, we’ll start with the trickiest bit; finding the right location for you:
1. Where should I start my search?
The question we'd ask everyone to consider before you've even looked at a caravan or a park would be "Why do I want a holiday home?"
The potential answers are endless!
Perhaps you want to be closer to family (or maybe further away!)
Perhaps you'd like an escape from your local area? Or like a chance to relive those childhood holidays by the seaside?
The right travel time
Whatever the reason there's a possibility it's going to steer you toward a geographical area. Unless there's a very specific reason for choosing a far-flung location (i.e. being close to loved ones) our experience suggests aiming for an area within a 1-2 hour car journey from home.
This kind of distance means no huge journeys, no mad-panicking if you need to get home in an emergency and hopefully a minimum amount of stops to use the toilet on the way!
Caravans aren’t just for car owners!
Of course, that's not to say only people with cars buy holiday homes, there are plenty of great locations that can be accessed easily by train and bus - and your own holiday home means you can plan those journeys in advance enabling you to book cheap seats with plenty of notice.
Have a look at a map and pick out areas you might be interested in that are a nice traveling distance from home, an hour and a half will normally get you around seventy-five miles by car (but give yourself plenty of extra time on a bank holiday!)
Have you got any specific interests?
After thinking about the journey, it's worth considering what you'd like to do when you're at your holiday home, do you have interests that require a specific kind of location?
There's not much sea fishing to be had in the Cotswolds and you'll struggle for mountaineering in Norfolk, so perhaps you can use your interests to rule out some areas - and highlight others as possibilities.
- How long do I want to spend traveling?
- Which location options does that allow?
- Is there anywhere in there I'd like to concentrate on or rule out based on my interests?
2. What should I look for on a park?
So you've managed to narrow down your search based on location and what that area could offer. Now it would be good to consider the kind of park you would like.
At this stage we'd recommend focusing on your exact 'wants' rather than cost - while it is important to consider the differing costs of parks, there are many ways to make sure the annual outlay of a particular park suits you, so we'll cover that in more detail later.
What’s enjoyable for you?
Think about the things that will be factors in how much you enjoy your time there - again, these will be specific to you, but having supported hundreds of people to consider different parks we've found that there are some commonly occurring considerations:
- How important is it that you have lots of activities and entertainment?
- Would you prefer peace and quiet?
- Will you be bringing kids and young people to the caravan?
- Would you like a park where you can take your dog?
- Do you want a park that's primarily adult orientated?
- Does the park offer full accessibility for people with disabilities?
Deciding whether this picture looks like a joyous time or a headache could give you a good indication of whether you'd like an 'all action' park or not!
You might want to speak to some parks to get the answers to these questions.
Talking to parks on the telephone
Don't be afraid to give them a call, as well as getting answers to your questions, how a park deals with you on the phone also is an extremely useful gauge of how you will be treated if you decide to visit to get a better feel for a place
- Is the person you're talking to friendly?
- Are they happy to answer your questions?
- Do they seem happy to send you some information?
- Are they evasive with their answers?
If you’re speaking to someone on a smaller park, you might find you’re talking to the sales manager who looks after everything to do with holiday home sales themselves. On a larger park you're likely to be dealing with a salesperson whose sole role is dealing with people who are looking to buy a caravan.
Try not to worry about dealing with ‘salespeople’ – no one can force you to make a decision you’re not happy with - arming yourself with the right information means the decision is always yours and you'll never feel 'backed into a corner'.
You’re not wasting anyone’s time
It’s always important to remember that you're never wasting a person's time, even if you chat to them for an hour before deciding it's not the right place for you, it's their job to give you the information you need – and quite honestly, they really don’t expect their park to be right for everyone!
- What kind of lifestyle do you want when you're on a holiday park?
- Is there anyone else involved whose needs/wants you should consider?
- Talk to some parks – you’re not wasting their time!
3. How much does it cost to keep my caravan on the park?
It's now safe to say that you've given some solid thought to the kind of place and the kind of park you'd like to spend some time on.
So, it won't be long before you get to jump in the car and have a good look around - but before that, we'd like to explain a little bit about the running costs of having a caravan - and why you might be acting prematurely if you're to rule a park out based on higher annual bills.
There are a number of costs associated with having a caravan. Here's a quick run-down of what the different terms you'll hear actually mean:
- Site Fees - the rental paid to the holiday park for keeping your caravan on their land and using their services.
- Local Council Rates - most parks use some provision provided by the local council, water rates, sewerage connection etc. You make a small contribution toward the park's overall bill.
- Insurance - the cost of repairing or replacing the caravan or contents if damaged.
- Gas - Normally used to power the water heater and any heating in the caravan.
- Electric - Normally used to power appliances and sockets.
At the very lowest end of the market these costs will add up to less than £1,000. On the most luxurious parks in the country - they could up to £12,000!
The ‘average’ price for overall running costs you’d expect to pay is somewhere between £3,000 and £5,000 – but don’t worry if this sounds pricey – there are lots of ways of paying and offsetting these costs.
Site fees explained
The cost of keeping your caravan on a park is primarily driven by the cost of site fees. This cost most often relates to the level of facilities and service on the park.
It's fair to say you should expect not a great deal more than having your grass cut on a park where the site fees are less than £1,000 - but for site fees approaching £10,000 you're likely to have either private mooring for your boat or somewhere to land your helicopter (and we're not joking!)
As we’ve said, more often than not, site fees on a park with some facilities (think swimming pool, bar, entertainment, etc) would start around £3,000 and would go up to around £5,000. However! The reason we're suggesting not focusing on these figures until you visit the park is because there are often ways of offsetting these costs:
Letting your holiday home
Most parks will allow you to let your caravan out.
You can make a very healthy chunk of money renting your own holiday home out! The money you make doing this can either make a big dent in the cost of the yearly fees, or in some cases wipe them out altogether!
"Hang on - we're not sure about letting the caravan out…"
Don’t worry - people often have reservations about letting out their caravan or, as it’s commonly referred to; 'subletting'.
"People won't look after it" or "what if it gets damaged" are common concerns.
We'd like to make it very clear that in all our team's time of working on holiday parks (including some of the biggest in the country with massive amounts subletting to holidaymakers) we can count the amount of wilful damage we have seen on one hand.
So, the chance of any damage occurring is hugely outweighed by the potential benefit of subletting. If you’re still not sure, at the very least we'd recommend you speak to a park about their subletting service - it could be the difference between 'settling' for a park you're not 100% happy with, and getting your dream park where the costs are slightly more but offset by a few weeks letting.
If a park can help you sublet they'll almost always have the facilities in place to help if there’s a glass of Ribena knocked over on the cream carpet - accidents do happen, but they're much easier to swallow if your running costs are paid for!
Can’t or won’t sublet?
Even if you can't or won't let out, we'd still recommend looking at parks with an open mind relating to cost.
If you set yourself a solid 'not a penny more' limit of £3500 site fees - wouldn't you be kicking yourself if your dream park was £3550? In our experience – it’s far better to decide on a cost you can justify when you're stood at the park soaking in the atmosphere!
- DON'T WORRY ABOUT COSTS FOR NOW!
When you visit, remember to talk to the park about:
- Letting, is it allowed and can it contribute to your costs?
- What other payment schemes are possible for your running costs?
4. What should we expect when we visit a holiday park with a view to buying a caravan?
Now's a good time to make some appointments!
Appointments might sound a bit formal - but in our experience it's the best way to ensure there's someone who can dedicate some time to showing you around the park, answering your questions and showing you some holiday homes.
Making an appointment does not mean you're obliged to buy - no matter how much time you spend with a member of the park team!
You’re there to gather information!
You're going to the park to gather all the information you need to decide whether or not the park is going to be the right place for you to spend your leisure time.
We'd recommend allowing yourself a couple of hours to look around each park and perhaps a little more time to look at the local area. Every park is different, some will let you wander yourself, and other will show you around.
Try to visit the park when you'd envisage using it, so, if you're a weekend person, arrange to go along on Saturday or Sunday - going along on a quiet Tuesday won't give a true glimpse of what your time there will be like.
What’s the local area like?
Get a feel for the local area! The park team might even be able to give you some pointers. If you’re the kind of people who like to venture out and explore – then do so on the day you visit. Check out local towns and attractions and see if it’s the kind of place you could imagine spending some time!
Have a good wander around the local area
Working with a ‘caravan sales person’
Caravan sales people come in all guises - there's the slick young guys and there's middle aged ladies - and everything in-between.
Age does not equate to knowledge, so don't be put off by someone younger showing you around, holiday park life often means 60+ hours a week at work and that's often more suited to the young or energetic! Ultimately, as long as the person who’s supporting you can answer your questions, you’re in good hands!
The more organised parks will often have a pre-planned experience for people who are there to look at purchasing a caravan or lodge - that might sound a bit staged - but it's often just a company's way of ensuring that no matter who you talk to you leave with all the information you need.
Why a step-by-step approach is important
Ideally, the person who's showing you around will break your visit down into bite-size chunks - one step at a time.
The team behind holiday home buyer has been involved with discussing over 10,000 people's buying experiences – some of which bought, some who didn’t! That collective knowledge has come together to recommend some ‘caravan park tour’ steps that look like this:
Step 1: Have a good look around
Look at the layout, get a feel for size, atmosphere, facilities and the different areas - being an owner on a park is often different to holidaying there, so even if you've been before, see if you can talk to the staff or other owners about the place.
- Chat about rules that are in place for caravan owners:
- Are there any age limits relating to caravans staying on the site?
- Who can help owners if anything goes wrong?
- Are you allowed to plant your own flowers?
- Do dogs have to be on leads?
- Can the kids go swimming by themselves?
Maybe these are relevant to you – maybe they’re not! Whatever happens - don't be afraid to ask the questions that matter to you.
Step 2: Understand the yearly costs
Be certain that you get a breakdown of all the yearly costs involved with keeping a caravan on the park. These are almost always available to look at as well as to talk through.
- Is letting allowed?
- When are you expected to pay bills?
- Are payment plans available?
Parks will often include some or all of the set-up costs and season's bills when a caravan is purchased - this can be really useful as it means you've got some time before you have to start organising paying any bills.
The following will normally be included in your purchase price:
- The current season's site fees
- The cost of connecting the caravan to the pitch (moving it to your pitch, plumbing and wiring, safety checks, etc)
- A gas bottle or two (or the connection cost to the supply)
Some will include insurance and local rates too - and some may even include things like duvets, kettle, toaster etc, saving you a trip to Ikea!
Including even some of these things means your initial cash outlay is kept to a minimum, you're not paying for a caravan then having to spend money on site fees for the rest of the season before you can start enjoying it.
Step 3: Have a look at some suitable caravans (and ways to pay for them!)
Most parks will insist that if you want to be on their park you buy a caravan that they have in their stock, whether that's pre-owned or brand new.
Before actually climbing into some caravans, the person you're dealing with is going to need to know an upper limit you'd like to spend on your new lifestyle.
This can be a bit of an awkward time, we Brits don't really like discussing our money with all and sundry!
Though there's no reason to let talking about money be uncomfortable, we guarantee you there's no judgement passed - every customer should be treated exactly the same and if you get the feeling you're not - then a trip to another park might be in order!
Some quick working out of finances at this stage means you can relax in your holiday home without worrying about the bank balance!
Different ways to pay
There are a few different ways of paying for a caravan. We’ll explain them all in some detail.
Paying with cash
Although it’s quite rare - you may have the money saved that allows you to pay for the holiday home completely, in which case looking at the overall cost of the caravans for sale would be the angle to work from.
The law stipulates that large cash transactions have to be noted and reported upon – therefore, some parks won’t take actual cash in notes for sums over £14,000. It’s often safer to use a debit card.
Third party finance
A lot of people look at using what is often referred to as 'third party finance' - i.e. taking a loan through the bank, borrowing from family, etc.
This would effectively be dealt with by the park as a 'cash' transaction, however, if this is your intention there's a couple of reasons why considering the third option - 'specialist holiday home funding' - might be worth looking at.
Specialist holiday home funding packages
Most parks will have a relationship with at least one or two specialist lenders.
In the same way lenders have mortgage departments or car finance departments; many also have holiday home funding packages available.
Interest rates vary - though they're often comparable to those truly offered by your high-street bank (it's amazing how many banks advertise super-low interest rates which seem to creep upward when you actually apply!)
The park will be able to talk to you about these packages in more detail. Don't be put off the idea of 'finance' if you're not sure about your credit rating or are in receipt of incapacity benefits relating to work. Finance companies will generally consider all circumstances when purchasing a holiday home and consider all sources of income, not just a monthly salary.
Most (but not all) funding companies will insist on a customer providing a cash deposit.
This could be done as actual cash or come from a debit or credit card.
Don't be put off if you're asked if this is 'available today' - the person isn't trying to pry the money out of your hand, caravans on larger parks tend to sell quickly, it's useful for a park to know how quickly you'd be able to provide your deposit if you fell in love and they were to offer to reserve a caravan for you.
Some parks will be able to give you some examples of what your finance ‘spending power’ will get you. This is effectively a selection of caravans that fit within your deposit and monthly payment budget.
When you have established this budget – whether that’s the overall cost or a monthly payment and a deposit, the person you're dealing with should be able to show you some holiday homes (often pre-owned, sometimes new, depending on the park and their stock) that fall into the price bracket.
Choosing the right caravan
Finally! We’ve got to the part where you get to think about caravans!
To beging with we'd urge you to have a look at the most cost-effective ways of joining the park - the most expensive caravan isn't always going to be the one you fall in love with!
Even though this is an exciting time - you're going to have to balance looking with your heart and looking with your head - falling in love with a two bedroom holiday home when you plan on bringing six children most of the time is going to be a headache going forward!
Caravans come in an almost infinite number of styles and layouts.
Unlike cars, there’s no real 'Rolls Royce' manufacturer – virtually all makers provide models to suit most budgets and design tastes.
Ask yourself some of these questions to help narrow the caravan choice down a little:
- Based on who’ll be visiting most often, how many beds will you need?
- Are you planning on subletting your caravan?
- Do you have any particular design likes or dislikes?
- Where would you like the space in your caravan? Kitchen? Bedrooms? Living area?
- Does anyone using the caravan have any accessibility needs?
Have some fun as you look around! Sit on the seating, lay on the beds, see if you can reach the cupboards, work out if getting in and out of the shower will be practical!
These are all really important things – so don’t be afraid to spend some time looking for something that’s perfect for you!
Step 4: Decide where on the park you'd like your caravan to be
When you've had your wander around the park, did you see an area you liked?
Would you prefer to be close to the dog walk spots? Or perhaps away from the road so the kids are safe?
Again, the pitch location is going to be personal to you - though that might be limited to what the park has.
Get a feel for who's going to be around you - you want peace and quiet but the family next door has fourteen grandkids? Might be worth a look at another location!
Maybe the park only has one pitch available, so would they consider moving you at a later date?
If parks don't have a wide selection of pitches available they'll normally be able to work something out with you to ensure you're happy going forward.
What if something’s not quite right?
If at any point during your visit something crops up you're not happy with, tell the person you're dealing with. This is important – as it could be as simple as them forgetting to tell you something, though, if it's not and their clarification means there's something you're definitely not going to be happy with, then explain that to the sales person.
There's truly no point wasting your own time if you know there's something that you've discussed that means that the park is not going to be right for you.
5. What happens if everything is perfect?!
The big moment! – If all of the things you've seen and heard fit in with your idea of a perfect holiday home, then now could be the time you begin to formalise plans with the park!
A salesperson will be able to talk to you about the next steps - this will initially focus payment - a park won't start incurring costs relating to setting the caravan up until they've either had an agreement from the finance company, or have the funds from yourself.
That's not to say planning can't begin though, they will know timescales around the money side of things and will be able to arrange with you getting the finer details tied up, i.e. siting dates, moving in dates, etc.
Normally if a caravan is bought on a finance agreement you will need to provide some proof of ID upon signing your agreement. Some kind of photo ID (driving license, passport, etc) and one or two proofs of your address (utility bills, bank statements, etc) will normally fit the bill.
Don’t misunderstand though – this isn’t just the time for you to be giving the park all of your details – they should also be giving you copies of official paperwork at this stage. You should definitely receive a copy of their site charges – this documents every cost you’ll incur on the park and is good backup should you get any charges you’re not expecting.
You’ll probably get a copy of the park rules too. Take all these things away and read through them – don’t be afraid to call back and check with your salesperson if there’s something you’re not certain about.
Time for big smilies all round - now just to decide whether you tell friends and family - or keep it as your secret getaway!
Back at home
While you're at home planning your first weekend as holiday home owners - the park will now be busy getting your caravan in place! It should be in the process of being moved, connected to the mains, tested by electricians and gas fitters and cleaned ready for your arrival on your big day! Don’t be afraid to give the park a call and see how things are going!
6. Finally! - Getting the keys!
Congratulations! You're now a holiday home owner!
Hopefully the park will show you around the caravan and explain how a few things work, the boiler, the fold out bed, etc.
They'll explain how to order extra gas bottles and what happens if the electricity goes off, as well as talking to you about any jobs that you might need doing in the future.
There's a possibility that you might find the odd window or door moves slightly out of line as the caravan settles and you wander around, don't worry about this kind of thing at all, it's perfectly normal and the park will be able to rectify it without any disruption.
Don’t be afraid to report any little jobs that need to be done after you move in. It also gives you a chance to have a walk up to the office and have a look at the other caravans parked on the show ground. These have got great part-exchange deals available on them - but that's a story for another day!