We’re routinely told that RVs are cheaper than houses. That RVs are cheaper to buy, and cheaper to own than a house. But, is that really true?
CHEAPER TO BUY?
Sure, you can buy an expensive RV cheaper than you can buy an expensive house. A crappy RV also costs less than a crappy house. And, since an RV usually costs less than a house, you can pay it off quicker. But, does that make it cheaper?
A house tends to be an investment, but an RV is not. The value of a house generally goes up. The value of an RV almost always goes down. When you consider the return on your investment, the RV always loses. If you live 20 years in a $100,000 house, and sell it, you usually get all you money back, plus some. If you live 20 years in a $10,000 RV, it will be pretty much worthless.
When you buy a house, you’re also buying the real estate. When you buy an RV, you don’t get the dirt it sits on. The average cost to build a new house, not including the real estate, is $150 per square foot. The price per square foot of the average RV sold in the average year (including both new and used) is about $160. If we only look at new RVs, the price per square foot skyrockets. In price per square foot, RVs are much more expensive than houses.
Yes, the average RV costs less than the average house. But, that is simply due to their average sizes. The average size house is 5 times larger than the largest RVs. A tiny 400 square feet house (large by RV standards), is usually much cheaper than the average 2,000+ square feet house.
CHEAPER TO MAINTAIN?
RVs break more often than houses. That means more maintenance and repair. RVs are made of cheaper materials. An earthquake can damage a house, but every time you move an RV, it’s like an extended mini-earthquake. Every time you move your RV, there’s a breakdown waiting to happen. And, RV parts tend to be much more expensive than normal house parts.
CHEAPER TO LIVE IN?
One of the biggest expenses when living in an RV, is renting a place to park it. Unlike a house, an RV doesn’t come with real estate. Of course, with an RV, your property taxes and insurance are much cheaper than that of a house. But, those savings can get ate up pretty fast when paying rent daily. And, yeah, you can find places to park for free, if you don’t mind living in the desert or in a parking lot behind an abandoned building. In the Ozark Mountains, where I live, there are plenty of very nice, free campsites. Unfortunately, you can’t get to them in an RV.
RVs and houses, both, can cost as much as you are willing to spend on them. You can buy a cheap house or a cheap RV. You can live frugally, or extravagantly, in either one. Cost of living has more to do with lifestyle than with the roof over your head. But, overall, there is nothing that inherently makes an RV cheaper to own than a house. The “cheapness” of RV living simply comes from the smaller size, and the limited space forcing you to simplify your life.