I have collected vintage camper trailers now for over 6 years. I have bought several, sold a few and watched the market on a daily basis for many years. My opinion comes from the many contacts I have made through The Vintage Camper Trailers website, Facebook page and magazine as well as the face-to-face interaction I have had with 100’s of trailerites at car shows and rallies every year. I speak on this topic for groups and consider myself to be current on the values and trends in this market.
More than any other factor the market dictates the price. With a limited supply and a growing demand, trailer values seem to be rising. There is no trailer “bluebook” to reference for trailer values like there is for cars. If you look as much as I do you will see that trailers can be found for anywhere from free to $30,000 on craigslist, ebay and other sites like tin-can tourists. Even on the VCT Website the most popular pages are the classifieds. The vintage camper trailer hobby attracts both the budget minded as well as the high-dollar collectors. Many can find a trailer for under $2,500 and fix and clean the trailer to their standards and start attending rallies as soon as possible. Useable, refurbished trailers can easily run from the $2,500 to the $10,000 range. If you have the means, beautifully restored trailers can be had in the teens to over $50,000. The good thing is that we all have just as much fun at the rallies!
I am going to give you some guidelines to use to value a vintage camper trailer; whether you are buying or selling a trailer. You’ve probably heard the phrase “condition is everything”. Condition is a big factor because repairs will drive up your actual investment quick. If you do decide to restore a trailer yourself (or hire someone to do the work) the upside is that you get to do it exactly like you want. You pick the colors, the finishes and the theme. In speaking with several trailer restorers in Northern California I have come up with the following prices you can use as guidelines. To get a trailer up and running, useable, safe and working may cost as much as $3,000. Time is money and checking and repairing water, gas, electric, running gear etc. can add up. A professionally restored and refinished interior can run $3,000 to $5,000 and a paint job can easily be $1,500 to $3,000 and up. These are general numbers and the work you want accomplished will be negotiated with a builder based on your choices and expectations.
Another term you’ve heard is “location, location, location.” It’s true in real-estate and when you are buying or selling a trailer. If you are selling a trailer you may be able to ask a higher price if you are in a metro area with a greater number of interested collectors. A trailer located further away from a large pool of potential buyers reduces the number of people willing to come and see the trailer. If you are a buyer you always need to see the trailer in person (unless you are a gambler). Trailers usually look better on the internet than they do in person. If you are a buyer you also need to consider the added cost of transporting or retrieving the trailer.
Most buyers are looking for smaller trailers for a first trailer. Many people own smaller cars and want to get a trailer they can tow easily. Many want a bathroom which usually means at least a little larger trailer than the tiny rounded canned hams. People that embrace the hobby often end up owning more than one trailer. Frequently a smaller one (maybe their first.) And a bigger one with more amenities and creature comforts.
Rounder, (Canned ham) styles tend to be more valuable than “boxier” models. Older (pre 1965) is usually more desired. A camp ready trailer will sell much more quickly than a fixer if priced fairly. Buyers tend to be attracted to shiny aluminum, turquoise and pink trailers. The retro 50’s look of amber wood interiors is also a big draw for most buyers. Some do prefer the "clean brightness" of a painted interior when well executed.
There are definitely brands people gravitate towards. Airstreams, Spartans and Shasta are among the more popular. Airstreams have a unique easily identifiable shape. Spartans are aluminum framed and very well built. Shasta’s have their irresistible wings and typically sell quickly. That being said there are dozens of brands that were produced from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. I personally am drawn to the more unique brands. For the most part many brands don’t seem to have a significant value over another brand unless they are early limited production models like a Clipper, Wally Byam Holiday or a Westcraft trolly top. Find a style and length you like and keep looking. One will come along.
There are things that make a trailer worth less. Aside from the condition you also need to consider the cost of registering a trailer or paying the back-fees if the registration is delinquent. Larger, dual axel trailers appeal to less potential buyers than a small canned ham style trailer would. Newer trailers (1970 and later) are worth less than the earlier models. These trailers can be a great option for those new to the hobby and can be a good value with more amenities like AC. A painted interior (as opposed to varnished wood) can be a good solution for a quick fix but may not appeal to some potential buyers.
If you are selling a trailer you also need to consider the time and money you want to spend marketing and showing the trailer. Your pricing will be the main factor in how quickly you sell your trailer. You can sell a trailer more quickly if the price is low. Collectors and restorers (like me) will typically pick-up a good deal without a lot of tire-kicking. If you don’t mind waiting you may be able to get more money if you want to wait for that one buyer to come along. If you are asking market rate expect tire kickers and offers to negotiate over your asking price.
If you are selling a trailer; what would you be happy to get for your trailer? That is a good place to start. Look on-line and see what similar trailers are listed for. Remember; that is asking price, not necessarily selling price. If it is in great condition start at a higher price and see what kind of response you get. If it doesn’t move you can always lower your asking price.
If you are buying a trailer; look at a lot of them and buy what you love. If you can, spend a little more up-front for something in better condition unless you have the ability or funds to take care of the repairs. (A free trailer that needs $3,000 in repairs may not be as good of a deal as a $2,000 trailer you can camp in next weekend). If you buy something and it doesn’t work out, don’t panic. There are always other trailerites looking to buy!