Campervan sales are soaring thanks to lockdown savings and Instagram dreams of a beach lifestyle
From the outside, Tracy Gallagher’s white van is identical to thousands of similar models transporting delivery drivers and tradespeople up and down the country. Inside, however, it’s a world apart.
It opens into a miniature wood cabin, complete with a raised bed shrouded in lace netting, with storage and a fridge underneath, a rustic wood kitchen with a Mexican-tiled splashback, and hanging copper kitchenware over a gas hob. There’s a hammock seat suspended from the ceiling and even a cheese plant in a hanging basket. It’s an Instagram dream.
Gallagher is part of Ireland’s growing population of self-build campervan owners. Caravanning and camping is still popular with the retirement community, but growing numbers of millennials and young families are getting on board, especially since the pandemic.
Gallagher was ahead of the trend. A full-time musician, she renovated the van in 2018 with the help of a friend. Then in her early 30s, “I was living in shared accommodation and all of my friends were buying houses and settling down and I was starting to wonder was I ever going to have my own space. I had a dream of living by the beach. But that just wasn’t feasible with where I was financially at the time. So I came across somebody on YouTube and started watching van life videos, and I got it into my head that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.
“People thought I was crazy. They were like, you don’t even know how to use a hammer.”
Undeterred, she sourced a 2008 Renault Master with 240,000km on the clock for €2,700. Together with her friend Enda Reid, they set themselves a budget of €5,000 and a target of renovating it in three months. The most expensive part of the renovation was spray foam insulation, which she ranks – along with a really good mattress and her portable chemical toilet – as among her best investments, because it means the van can be used in winter.
Since then, “Mags” – the campervan community has a penchant for naming their vans – has taken the full-time musician to work at weddings all over the country and on trips to France and the United Kingdom. She tends to camp wild for two or three nights and then books herself into a service campsite. “What I’ve done a few times, which is a bit luxurious, is go to a spa for the day.”
Owning a van, “the freedom is indescribable. If something happened to the van, in a heartbeat, I’d get another one.”
She calculates that she uses it at least 40 nights a year and it doubles up as a spare bedroom when she has visitors to stay at her Dublin home. Reid enjoyed the experience so much that he went on to set up his own business, Oldboy Campers, and is now on his 15th van conversion and booked up until the end of 2022.
Data from the National Vehicle and Driver File, a database of all 2.5 million vehicles in the country, shows the number of campervans in the country rose from about 11,200 in 2018 to almost 12,600 in April 2020 and had reached 13,700 by October of that year.
In the Dáil last October, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said “increased demand for motorhomes and campervan registration requests” was contributing to delays in Revenue providing VRT quotes to drivers, but that backlog had been fully cleared by February.
Meanwhile, the Facebook group Self Build Campervans Ireland has 10,700 members, though there’s no way of knowing how many of them are actively converting a campervan.
Dave Hanley, who has been renting out and converting campervans at Vanderlust in Ennistymon, Co Clare, since 2007, says the market for commercial vans professionally converted into campers is also booming. “It’s the whole explosion on social media, van life, everyone looking at YouTube videos and on Instagram, with their nice shiny interiors and their beach lifestyles.”
It is “lovely, but you have to be realistic. It’s not for everyone”. You need to be prepared for a “less is more” approach to packing and creature comforts, he says.
Hanley converts about 60 vans a year at an average spend of €20,000 to €25,000 on top of the cost of the van, which he can help source. Once converted, the van has to be re-registered at 13.3 per cent of its new post-conversion market value, which can add considerably to the cost. “Most people will spend, by the time all is said and done, €45,000 to €50,000.”
On the upside, campervans are holding their value, with people selling them back to dealers two or three years later for close to the price they paid. Meanwhile, motor tax on camper vans is €102, regardless of vehicle size, and insurers will generally look at them as a second vehicle, so insurance can be as low as €330. “They’re certainly a good investment if you’re using it,” says Hanley. “But there’s no point having something monstrous sat in your drive for 11 months of the year if you never go anywhere.”
One of the trends he has observed over the past couple of years is that smaller vans are becoming more popular. “People are downsizing. They all started with massive six-berth vans. Now they’re going for more compact vans that allow you to go to nicer places and travel a bit more.” Navigating the Burren in a six-berth motorhome could be tricky, he says, “unless you’re a bus driver”.
The advice offered by Brian and Nora Lacey, who convert commercial Volkswagen vans into bespoke campervans at their Wexford-based business Happy Campers, is to treat your campervan like a second car. “It’s a lot of money to spend on a vehicle to have it sitting up there, except for four or five weeks of the year,” says Brian who started the business as a hobby a decade ago with his brothers. It now employs five people.
Prices for a two-berth conversion start from €10,500 at Happy Campers, with the customer providing the van. At the other end of the scale, they have just completed a conversion of a brand new van to the customer’s specification which “will be on the road for €51,000”. But in 10 years, “that campervan will have a minimum value of €30,000 to €35,000”.
The good news is that it’s fast: a conversion without an elevated roof can be done in about five days; for one with an elevated roof, it takes eight to 10 working days. But the bad news is that Happy Campers is now booked up until almost the end of the year.
And if you want to buy a second-hand purpose-built motorhome straight from a dealer, you’ll also have to wait. Business is “crazy. We can’t get vans to keep up with it. We’ve never seen the likes of it. The whole industry is waiting on new stock,” says Pat Horan, one of Ireland’s longest established dealers in campervans.
He has been selling them in Borrisokane, Co Tipperary, for 40 years. Since the pandemic began, he has started trying to source them from Europe to keep up with demand. But increased demand and raw material shortages due to Brexit, the pandemic and other factors means prices have gone up, too. A few years ago, you could start off with a budget of €10,000 to €15,000. That would hardly get you something from the scrapyard now, he says. “Even to go €10,000 more, you’re at the bottom of the barrel.”
The retirement community have traditionally been the main market, but now families are also looking to spend their lockdown savings. “For the past 15 months, people haven’t been at the pub, they haven’t been at restaurants, they haven’t been on foreign holidays. There’s a good bit of surplus money out there at the moment. Last month, we sold seven campers in a week, and three of those customers bought those campers over the phone. They hadn’t met us, they hadn’t seen the camper, and they sent us on the money before they collected it. If someone said that to me two years ago, I’d have said go away and get the white coats.” But, he adds, it’s a safe investment: he is currently buying them back from customers two or three years on for the price they paid for it.
Horan also runs a parts business for people doing their own conversions and business is booming. But he worries about the safety aspects of some of the work being done. “That’s the negative side of the pile of home conversions going on. I’m scared of what’s going to happen there. Ireland is not as well regulated as the rest of Europe. We’ve seen some horror stories here where people have been fitting gas appliances themselves. It terrifies me that there might be some big explosion some night in a campsite.”
The other thing Ireland doesn’t do well is support facilities for motorhomes. “Ireland is awful. We have Third-World facilities; in fact, we have none,” says Hanley. “What’s upsetting is the fact that all of this money is being spent on advertising what we have, which is an amazing island. And then people rock up [in a campervan], and they’re told to bugger off.”
He has researched the cost of basic facilities which allow you to empty waste and refill your water, and reckons they cost as little as €3,000. “The county councils would make money out of it. It’s a no-brainer.”
Martin Gaughan, a television director in his 20s, has been chronicling his campervan conversion – and his adventures in the timber yard – on Instagram (@theboujway.) In the early weeks of the first lockdown, he sat down with his boyfriend to plan a 27-country roadtrip. As the plans advanced, it became apparent they were going to need a camper to do it. He bought a 2015 Vauxhall Movano for about €7,500, and then spent months researching how to convert it. The total conversion cost is going to come in at about €7,500, though he says his spend on building materials “is on the high end”.
It’s clear from Gaughan’s Instagram stories that he has put a lot of thought into the design: from the Scandinavian-style birch plywood cladding and the box-shower that hides under the sink, to the pull-down screen for movie afternoons. “There’s a million and one ways you can go about designing a van and it’s all about what you want.”
In his case, a lot of the decisions were driven by the roadtrip. Since they want to take in part of the Arctic circle, he invested in a very good heating system and insulation. “It’s so overwhelming at the beginning, but you can just look at it in stages: find a van, design, layout, insulation, electrics, furniture and the finish.”
He launched himself into it nine weeks ago. “I knew I was off work for a month. There were 16-hour days for more than 30 days straight. It was so relentless and painful, I’m still reeling. But you can make huge savings if you decide to really tackle it yourself. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction.”
He did most of the work – other than the electrics – himself and was also able to draw on the help of family and friends, especially his dad. “My dad is so crafty with his hands, part of the reason why I wanted to do [it] was to almost emulate how my dad would turn his hand to anything. And I knew I’d have him there as a fallback.”
It’s now 90 per cent done, “but I’m afraid I’ll be saying it’s 90 per cent done for another year. You are building a house on four wheels that has to have all the functionality of everything you have in your house.”
The conversion project was born out of an ambitious travel plan but for his first trip, he’s planning something a little closer to home. He is looking forward to taking the van to Phoenix Park, where he’s going to park up for a day and look out at the deer while he works. And his first overnight will be at the Mayo Dark Sky Park, an area spanning 150km, near where he grew up, that is recognised as one of the best places in the world to view the night sky.
Man the Van: Tips from the experts
1 It’s not for everyone, so if you can, try before you buy. Vanderlust still has about 12 weeks’ availability in its fleet of vans this summer. Prices start from €1,000 a week for a two-berth VW transporter and go up to €1,500 a week for bigger vans that can sleep five.
2 Buy from a registered dealer, says Pat Horan. “If we can’t guarantee it, we won’t take it. We would have seen 10 at least this year that we wouldn’t let into the yard, and they’re gone the next week on Done Deal.”
3 If you’re planning to self-build, do your research. There’s a wealth of online resources, including YouTube videos and Facebook groups, and lots of people willing to help and advise. “I probably spent a year researching, really going down the internet rabbit hole. There’s such a wealth of information out there online,” says Martin Gaughan.
4 Don’t forget to budget for VRT if you’re doing a conversion, says Brian Lacey. “There’s three things you have to keep in mind” when you’re budgeting for a campervan. “One is the cost of the van. Then there’s the cost of the conversion. Then there’s the VRT,” which is 13.3 per cent of the open market selling price, as defined by Revenue. As a rule of thumb, for a brand new four-berth campervan, that’s a VRT of about €6,000 to €6,500.
Mirrored furniture provokes strong emotions. Some see it as the epitome of bad taste, flashy and bling. Others know that mirrors have magic powers.
A mirrored table or cabinet makes a room or a hallway appear more swish and spacious. It’s a trick that bars and restaurants employ to ensure their establishments appear roomier and more inviting — and they can add lustre to your home, too.
Choosing a piece of mirrored furniture also sends out a sign that you are aware of one of the year’s trends — the return of Art Deco, the influential style that emerged in the 1920s.
Reflections: A mirrored bedside table. The power of the mirror to create an impression has been recognised for centuries
It blended forms that celebrated modern machinery with decorative elements drawn from Greco-Roman culture and nature.
The mirror was a favourite material, used on the surfaces of furniture and walls to supply a shimmering silver and gold effect.
Probably the most famous piece of Art Deco architecture is New York’s Chrysler Building. Completed in 1930, its sunburst-patterned stainless steel spire remains one of the key elements of the Manhattan skyline.
Art Deco console tables, drinks trolleys and other items from the era of the building’s construction sell for thousands on auction sites such as 1stdibs underlining the growing appeal of this aesthetic.
Jamie Watkins, the co-founder of fabric and wallpaper company Divine Savages, explains Art Deco’s allure for a new audience.
‘Art Deco, with its bold geometrical patterns was such an iconic period for design: it’s synonymous with glamour and luxury.’
The resurgent popularity of Art Deco is also based on its practicality: a mirrored piece works with almost any interior, adding interest and depth.
The power of the mirror to create a wow impression has been recognised for centuries.
Examples of this technique include the round mirror on the wall behind the bride and groom in Jan van Eyck’s 1434 Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery. It sends out the message that the couple are discerning — and wealthy.
Cheers: B&M’s £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves
The hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles was designed to be a place of beauty, but also to display the financial resources of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Mirrors were a luxury item until an inexpensive manufacturing process was invented in the 1830s.
In 2022, it is possible to pick up mirrored pieces for under £100. B&M has a £25 oval drinks trolley with two mirrored shelves that would lend an air of Thirties elegance to any gathering. The £94.99 Ellison serving cart (a U.S. term for drinks trolley) from Wayfair has a similar vibe.
If you believe that the right mirrored trolley would save you money on trips to bars, the larger £144.95 gold oval mirrored trolley from Melody Maison could be the thing.
A mirrored cocktail cabinet will dazzle guests. The £1,200 Primrose & Plum champagne and gold cabinet has a Jazz-Age feel.
The £299 Venetian sideboard from Furniture Market, meanwhile, is a more modestly priced way to conjure up the party spirit of the Roaring Twenties.
The show flats of apartment blocks are often equipped with mirrored cocktail cabinets containing bottles of spirits and crystal glasses. This makes buyers dream of dinner parties, with a prelude of aperitifs, but also serves to make the apartment appear even roomier.
A console table in the hall also creates an illusion of space which can be amplified by the addition of a lamp. HomesDirect365 has a range in the style of almost every era including Art Deco, Regency, the 1960s and the 1970s. Prices start at £233.
The bedroom is often the most cramped room in either a house or flat which is why this can be the best place to experiment with mirrored furniture.
The desire to preserve family harmony is another reason. The other members of your household may prefer the kitchen and living room to be slick and understated, seeing anything mirrored as excessive.
In the bedroom, however, you can indulge your decor fantasies. Habitat has the one-drawer Hepburn bedside table for £76.
Next offers the antique effect Fleur bedside table which costs £225 for the one-drawer version and £275 for the two-drawer version.
The Fleur is also available as a six-drawer chest for £599 or a £1,150 double wardrobe if you seek to waft around your bedroom channelling your inner 1930s Hollywood screen siren.
Dunelm’s Venetian mirrored dressing table also offers a chance to live out your dream of silver screen stardom (£449).
If mirrored furniture has brought out your party animal, kindling a passion for Art Deco in every guise, Divine Savages offers Deco Martini wallpaper whose design is based on the geometric forms, with a hidden Martini glass within the print (£150 per roll).
Some of your guests may not be too busy checking out their reflections on the doors of the mirrored cabinet to notice this subtle and witty detail in the wallpaper.
Savings of the week! water jugs… Up to 52% off
The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from made.com is half-price at £22
Sitting outside on a sunny afternoon is already delightful. But it is even more enjoyable if you are sipping on a cool drink or an iced coffee from a generously sized jug, or maybe even a Pimm’s. The arrival of the July sales means bargains abound.
If you prioritise practicality, Ocado’s textured lustre plastic picnic jug has 33 per cent off at £8.
The price of the pleasingly geometric plastic smoky-grey Prism jug from Wayfair is 16 per cent off at £10.10.
If you would like to feel as if you are in the south of France, John Lewis has the plain glass Arles wicker-wrapped jug. It is reduced from £25 to £12, down 52 per cent.
Wanting something more elegant that you can also use for flowers? The Sandvig hammered-glass jug from made.com is also half-price at £22.
VGP NV and VALGO signed an agreement to purchase 32 hectares of land that housed the former Petroplus refining units in Petit-Couronne, near Rouen. This brownfield rehabilitation project is fully in line with VGP’s core expertise and strategy. Thanks to the six years ownership of the site by VALGO and its expertise in asbestos removal, soil and water table decontamination, in-situ waste treatment and development, this area has now become a suitable site for the development of new industries and business activities.
On the banks of the river Seine and close to the A13 highway, the 32-hectare area of land offers its future users a highly strategic location. Following the extensive depollution work carried out by VALGO, the site is now ready for redevelopment. VGP expanded into France only a few months ago and is delighted to start its French business activities in the dynamic Rouen Normandy metropolis area, via this major project. In total, around 150,000m² of land are set to be redeveloped to accommodate industrial and logistics projects, with work due to begin in 2023.
Jan Van Geet, CEO VGP, said: “VGP is delighted to begin its business activities in France on a site as exceptional as this one, with strong economic and environmental ambitions that are shared by both our partner, VALGO, and the local authorities. As the rehabilitation of brownfield sites is at the heart of our business, this project is a great opportunity for us to deploy our industrial and logistical know-how. The uncertain geopolitical situation and the rise in transport prices mean that companies are increasingly looking for local support to start their business. In this context, we strongly believe in the relevance of our integrated model with a long-term vision. We are now eager to get to work and bring all the expertise of the Group to the project.”
Francois Bouche, CEO VALGO, commented: “We are delighted that this huge piece of land has been sold to a major investor with experience in redeveloping brownfields in Europe. However, I would first like to celebrate the work of the men and women who worked so hard to make this colossal project a success. It took more than 1 million hours and over €60m in investment by VALGO to turn the page on over 80 years of refining on this site, which already employs 600 people.”
As anyone who has indulged in the brutal ‘swipe left’ culture of internet dating will testify, you don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression. And the same is true when trying to sell your property.
That’s why what lies at the front of your house — be it lawn, gravel or flagstones — can play a major role in making a sale.
Indeed, having a pleasing ‘shop front’ to snag potential buyers scrolling through listings or even walking past outside can offer leverage to boost the asking price, says Colby Short, CEO of estate agent comparison site getagent.co.uk.
Dress to impress: Colourful flower beds transform the look of a cottage in East Lothian, Scotland
‘Homes that offer a front garden carry a 4 per cent property price premium versus those without, and that equates to more than £11,000 in the current market,’ he says.
So what changes can you make to the patch in front of your house to help improve the saleability of the property?
Some alterations are simple, entry-level innovations. For example, even the smallest swatch of grass should be mown and rubbish-free.
In fact, bins and recycling boxes are often the first thing you see in a front garden, as well as the detritus left by squirrels who have curated bits of dinner from your bags of rubbish. But it’s easy to hide bins away in a box unit.
‘If you’re trying to hide ugly bins, how about building a bin store with a planter on the top, then you can have some gorgeous outdoor succulents and flowering alpines?’ says QVC UK’s gardening expert Michael Perry.
You can also buy wooden bin stores from outdoor furniture suppliers such as Wayfair (from £125.99).
Meanwhile, hanging baskets outside your front door help to break up a harsh brick wall, says Sean Lade, of Easy Garden Irrigation.
‘Hanging baskets are an excellent choice for adding colour and scent to your front garden and soften the front of your house. They should be installed at eye level —about 5 ft off the ground.’
Hanging baskets add colour and scent to a front garden and soften the front of a house
And think about replacing tired fencing or dilapidated brick walls with natural borders, such as Boxwood hedging, which will add visual interest and is also easy to prune throughout the year.
‘If you prefer a cottage garden appearance, then why not train climbing plants to create natural archways around your front door, porch or gate?’ says Deborah Cobb, product manager at builders’ merchants MKM.
‘Raised flower beds are also a clever way to add some natural foliage. If you fill them with evergreen shrubs, then they are an easy-to-look-after and low-maintenance option that will look good all year round.’
In terms of what plants to go for, Nicola Bird, founder of seed subscription service The Floral Project, suggests some annual flowers are perfect for planting at the front of your house if you’re looking to sell.
‘They include varieties such as cosmos, phlox, zinnias and sweet peas — not only to bring a bright splash of colour to your front garden, but also serve as a great conversation starter with your potential buyers.’
Even if you don’t have a patch of grass in front of your home, there are other fundamentals which will help with the sale, says Jonathan Rolande, professional property buyer at housebuyfast.co.uk.
This includes jet-washing your path. And just before a visit from potential buyers, remove any vehicles, where possible, to help to create an impression of space.
‘Clean the windows, frames and front doors — and clean the house number,’ he says. ‘If the garden is mostly given over to parking, soften the look with pots and planters filled with bright flowers and attractive shrubs.’
You may think your garden gnomes are cute, but to a prospective buyer, they can be just plain creepy
He adds that if you don’t have a lawn, terracotta planters on the front sills look great with fragrant plants such as lavender and rosemary appealing to the sense of smell, too.
If your front garden is really small, use decorative gravel such as pea shingle or slate chippings, suggests Thomas Goodman, property expert at homeowner and tradesman connection website myjobquote.co.uk.
‘This will give you an attractive, low-maintenance base for topping with a few nice plant pots.
‘Fix anything that’s broken, including gates, fences and walls. These detract from any nice planting and give the impression of a home that’s not properly maintained and is going to need work.’
Colby Short says some items in your garden should be permanently jettisoned to improve the chances of a sale.
‘You may think your garden gnomes are cute, but to a prospective buyer, they can be just plain creepy. The same goes for any large statues or display items, particularly if they are of a political, religious or risque nature.
‘When it comes to potential buyers, you want to present a blank canvas. But that doesn’t mean this canvas can’t look good and add appeal in its own right.’
On the market… with kerb appeal
Buckinghamshire: This four bedroom semi-detached cottage is on the edge of Denham Village. The bedrooms are spacious overlooking front and rear gardens. Struttandparker.com, 01753 481 781, £800,000
Suffolk: There are four bedrooms in this detached house in Old Newton. The property dates from the 16th century and has a thatched roof and mature gardens. Fineandcountry.com, 01379 646 020. £1.2m