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How We Bought Our 34-Foot Motor Home for $1500

Debra Redalia

Larry lying on the bed at the front end of the motorhome, with view to far end 34 feet away.


In January 2018 we finally made a decision to actually BUY a motorhome and get started on the building of our tiny house. This was a big decision to make because we were now committing to actually do the project.

We had no previous experience with motorhomes, so the first thing we needed to do was just find out about them. To begin learning what was available, we went to Fairfield, California because they have many motorhome dealers there by the side of the highway and we would be able to see many different types of motor homes. Also, Airstream dealer was there and we wanted to look at those too.

These motorhomes were late model new and used including returns from rentals. They had many bells and whistles like slide-out walls that open to give you more space when the motorhome is parked, but close to be compact when driving down the road. I really liked these slide-outs. Some of them were little dining alcoves with windows on three sides and built-in tables, so it felt like a lot more space when you sit there.

To buy a used motorhome from these lots would be at least $20,000 and then we would have to rip the insides out.

We went and looked at the new Airstream trailers and motorhomes just because we love the design so much, but the new ones had many toxic materials on the interior and were also way beyond our budget, so we crossed Airstream off our list. We had been looking at vintage Airstream trailers but they are now hard-to-find and often leak. The lowest price we could find for a leaky vintage Airstream trailer that needed every bit of the interior replaced was $25,000. So we finally crossed Airstream off the list of possibilities. What was most important was to get the right tiny house that would meet our needs. And it wasn't an Airstream trailer.

By the end of the day we determined that what we wanted was a "Class A" motorhome, which is the largest size at 26 to 45 feet (see all types of RVs and campers here). We thought we wanted a motorhome that was about 30 feet. We also got ideas about use of space in motorhomes and how motorhomes use space efficiently. Now we knew what to look for.

Then we started looking at used motorhomes on Craig’s List. There we found motorhomes of the size we were looking for about $5000 to $10,000. These were more basic models without the slide-outs, which was fine for us. Again, we planned to rip out the interiior anyway, so there was no point in ripping out slide-outs.

But again, it’s $5000 to $10,000 just for the shell, because we would rip out the interiors, so we really didn’t need something with the interior in good condition.

What we were looking for was a motorhome with:

  • a good chassis
  • an exccellent engine
  • an interior that was so rough that it had little sale value.

About a week later, Larry was looking on Craig’s List and found an ad for a 34’ motor home with a rebuilt engine. For $1500! The ad said  It needed interior work. Larry called and it sounded like what we were looking for, so we jumped in the car, went to the bank and got $1500 cash, and drove 70 miles as fast as we could to go see it.

It was a 1987 Pace Arrow, sitting on the side of the house of an older couple who were selling it to go live near their grandchildren in another state. One of their father's had lived there with them in the motorhome until his death about ten years ago. Since then, the motorhome had just been sitting there. It was covered with vines and leaves.

The interior certainly did need work! The motorhome had never emptied it, so it was still full of all Dad's stuff—even canned food and his favorite Dean Martin video tapes.

But it had a rebuilt engine that started right up! And it had a non-operation permit from the DMV, so there would not be exorbitant registration fees and back registration fees. .

It was an interesting situation. They had sold their house and needed to sell the motorhome NOW because they had to move it before the new owners arrived in a few days. The motorhome had been used as living quarters for a father living with his children; we will be using it as a couple living with a mother. And as if this wasn't already perfect, they had two swans with their necks in a heart over their front door and Larry and I have swan images in our home too. And the price was thousands of dollars less than any other motorhome on the market.

The next day we came back and met the couple at the Department of Motor Vehicles. We all signed the transfer of title, then we paid $158 for registration. And that was it.

We had some adventures getting it home. Since the motorhome hadn’t been driven in ten years, we had to change the oil and the gasoline. The fuel pump wire came disconnected, so it stopped running several times on the freeway until Larry figured out the problem. In the end the owner followed Larry home so he could help get it to our house.

We would just like to say at this point that a project like this requires a variety of skills. If you don’t have the skills, the project will cost more. Fortunately for us, Larry is an experienced auto mechanic in addition to being an experienced builder, so we have all the skills we need to do this tiny house project.

Another major requirement is to have space to put the motorhome while you are tranforming it into a tiny house. One of the things that made this work for us was we are living with Larry's Mom with sufficient space around the house to park the motorhome and work on it. If you don't have this, you'll have to find a spot to park the motorhome for the duration of the rebuild.

Once we got the motorhome to our property, we pressure washed the entire exterior to get alll the dirt off, then we started removing all the debris from the interior.

And then came months of demolition, again because other things were going on in our lives and we could only work on it occasionally.

But now we have an empty motorhome on a solid cassis with a good rebuilt engine, and we're ready to start designing and building our new home!