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.
Hotel Indigo opened its first hotel in Austria, Hotel Indigo Vienna – Naschmarkt. Located a short walk from the city’s historic center, the hotel offers 158 guest rooms, a rooftop garden resembling an urban jungle, a restaurant, and a lobby bar.
Taking inspiration from a famed local architect, Otto Wagner, a key member of the Secessionist movement, guests will find touches of gold used throughout the fixtures in the bathrooms as well as intricate patterns, made famous by Otto, woven into the carpet design in the hallway, and the tiles behind reception. Otto’s love for gold, Art Nouveau design, and ornate patterns can also be seen at famous local buildings such as the Majolikahaus, a short walk from the hotel. From ground level, the building looks innocuous, but as guests look skywards, they will see the top floors are decorated with exquisitely sumptuous floral motifs in brightly colored porcelain and gold leaf, a hallmark of the new style.
Stefanie Augustin, General Manager, Hotel Indigo Vienna – Naschmarkt, commented: “We are pleased to open our doors and accept our first guests into the first Hotel Indigo in Austria. We sit in the heart of the surrounding neighbourhood and strive to make all the locals proud, by helping to bring a bit of that external story in so guests can truly experience what Vienna has to offer.”
Tolent will put up 135 ‘ultra-modern’ system-build homes, with designs selected from an architectural competition. Sunderland’s new Vaux neighborhood, being built on the site of an old brewery, will eventually have 1,000 homes, according to the plans, as part of a drive to double the number of people living in the city centre. The homes will stand alongside The Beam and City Hall – the latest development to rise from the ground at Riverside Sunderland. Construction work on the scheme is expected to start within weeks, forming the first of the new distinct neighbourhoods that will create city centre housing for up to 2,500 residents.
The properties are based on the winning designs in the Homes of 2030 competition, which was launched in March 2020, and managed by the Royal Institute of British Architects, to encourage the design of environmentally-friendly homes that support people in leading independent, fulfilling lives as society ages.? Construction work on the development is due to start this summer and the first tranche of homes should be completed by the end of 2023.
Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have taken this final step to get work started on our flagship residential scheme at Riverside Sunderland. The housing developments on Riverside Sunderland will be world-class, and Tolent is an ideal partner to deliver them, based locally and capable of building these aspirational homes.”
Tolent chief executive Paul Webster said: “Vaux neighbourhood is an amazing project that showcases the strides being taken in Sunderland to modernise the city centre. The world-class houses being built will provide a community fit for the future and an archetype for sustainable housing. As a truly local business, we are proud to be involved in the project and to showcase our ability to meet and exceed the capabilities of national contractors on a local level. The project will complement a number of local landmarks that we have constructed including The Beam, Beacon of Light and Echo Building. We have been working closely with the entire team since being appointed preferred bidder back in September and we can’t wait to get started.”
A joint venture (JV) between Chancerygate, a fund managed by Credit Suisse Asset Management, and Hines has forward sold a 172,000ft² urban logistics development in Dagenham to a fund managed by BlackRock for an undisclosed sum. Dagenham Council has approved plans to speculatively build 15 Grade A urban logistics and industrial units at the development which is called Zephyr Park. The units range from 5,490ft² to 34,670ft² and are available leasehold and freehold. Construction is due to commence in August this year. The six-acre site was previously owned by wholesale electrical distributor Rexel UK. Situated on Rainham Road between the A12 and A13, Zephyr Park is located less than half a mile from Hackman Capital Partners and Dagenham Council’s proposed €348.5m (£300m) film and TV studios.
Chancerygate managing director, Richard Bains, said: “Zephyr Park will be an outstanding urban logistics development which will generate continued investment and job creation for Dagenham. Forward selling Zephyr Park to BlackRock shows the strength in urban logistics as an asset class. It is also a testament to the high specification, a sustainable product we build as it attracts businesses to locate to our developments ensuring they are best placed to continue to grow. We look forward to working with Hines and BlackRock to deliver Zephyr Park and expect to achieve practical completion in summer 2023.”
Greg Cooper, Hines managing director, industrial and logistics, added: “We are pleased to have executed this opportunity to recycle this asset, with the value generated illustrating the unabating demand for high-quality logistics developments. It is an asset class which remains a key focus for Hines in the UK, and we are continuing to explore opportunities to grow our portfolio of both big box and urban facilities.”