- Sarah Lemp, a homeschool teacher and blogger from Detroit, Michigan, renovates vintage RVs with her family.
- Lemp buys RVs from Facebook Marketplace, spends about three to four weeks renovating them, and then uses them with her family for a few months before selling the vehicles for a profit.
- Lemp and her family have flipped six campers to date, and they’re working on their seventh at the time of writing.
- An RV is first and foremost a car, so it presents unique challenges during the renovation process. For example, Lemp uses lightweight and flexible design choices like stick-on tiles for a kitchen backsplash to make the spaces cute and functional.
- “It’s given us a more affordable way to vacation,” Lemp told Insider of why she enjoys the projects. You can see all of her renovations on her blog, All Things With Purpose.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Meet Sarah Lemp, a blogger and mom from Michigan who flips vintage RVs. Lemp told Insider she was interested in purchasing a trailer because she had positive memories of camping during her own childhood.
“I wanted to glamp. I had this vision of us and our small family in this small camper,” Lemp told Insider, speaking of her early interest in owning a trailer. “I kinda fell in love with how cute they are.”
She and her husband had three kids at the time, so a smaller camper would have had plenty of room for them.
The Lemps bought their first camper from Craigslist in 2014 for $1,700, but when they realized they needed a bigger vehicle to accommodate their growing family, they saw the profit potential in their reno projects.
After enjoying their first remodeled camper for a few years, the Lemps sold it in 2017 for $8,900, according to Lemp’s blog post. They quickly bought a bigger model to accommodate their family of seven.
Now, Lemp and her family have renovated six campers, including RVs from the ’50s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
Lemp writes about her renovations on her blog, All Things With Purpose. We’ve featured some of her most transformative projects below.
The Lemps usually buy their trailers from the Facebook Marketplace, as they did with this Coachmen Cadet RV from the 1970s.
Lemp says she uses Facebook Marketplace because of the open communication it allows between buyers and sellers, and because of the heavy traffic on the platform.
“The market never really slows down, at least in our area,” she told us.
They bought this RV for just $500 on the Marketplace, according to Lemp’s blog post about the purchase.
Budgeting plays a big role in how the family chooses a new vehicle.
“I would rather not buy something that’s gonna need more than $2,000 in renovations,” Lemp told us.
For the Lemps, it makes sense not to spend too much on renovations because they sell the campers after using them for a little while.
For Lemp, the first step when renovating is to seal any holes to prevent further water damage.
She seals leaks first, according to her blog, as it prevents any potential leaks from harming the project during renovation. And there will always be leaks.
“It’s not really a matter of if there’s been water damage; it’s where,” Lemp said of leaky areas in campers and RVs.
The next step is to paint the exterior.
“It looks cuter sitting in the yard,” Lemp wrote on her blog about why she paints the exterior of an RV or camper early in the project.
It looks like a lot of progress has been made, even if there’s still a lot to do. “It’s crazy how much of a difference it makes,” Lemp said to Insider, speaking of the paint.
Next, Lemp addresses water destruction inside the vehicle, removes any damaged items, and tests the electricity and plumbing.
“You have to really investigate stuff to see where there’s been water damage,” Lemp explained to Insider, as it’s often in places you might not expect.
Much of the ceiling and wood of this camper had been damaged, so Lemp removed and replaced it.
When replacing materials in the camper, Lemp recommends using lightweight materials.
An RV is first and foremost a vehicle, so weighing it down with heavy materials will make it move slowly and cause it to wear out more quickly. For this reason, Lemp advises against using bulky but trendy materials like cement countertops.
After the damage has been repaired, it’s time to remove old cosmetic items, like outdated cushions or curtains, so the interior can be painted.
RVs are full of nooks and crannies, so the painting process is really tedious as it is.
Removing the items you don’t need makes it quicker, which is important since it’s the most time consuming aspect of the project.
Painting the interior of the vehicle takes up most time of the whole project for Lemp, especially because she prefers to use a roller.
“I did attempt to use a paint sprayer,” Lemp told Insider of one of her recent projects. “And it went faster but it was also so much messier. I actually just prefer to roll it.”
She also noted that she doesn’t use oil-based paints, as they’re too heavy for the vehicle to withstand.
Lemp also likes to use detailed wall coverings to differentiate kitchen areas, which can be challenging since real tile isn’t great for RVs.
- Sarah Lemp/All Things With Purpose
“Putting in real tile with grout, it’s probably gonna crack,” Lemp explained to Insider, as grout and tile are both heavy.
In this renovation, Lemp used peel and stick subway tiles to add a backsplash in the kitchen.
Peel and stick is a great alternative to actual tiles because it has the look you want without the weight. Lemp got hers on Amazon.
Next, Lemp lays down new flooring or paints the floors if they’ve been damaged.
She also sanitizes the shower and sink to ensure they’re safe for her family to use.
For this project, Lemp opted to paint the floors.
Lemp used the same gray paint throughout this RV for the flooring, getting rid of the carpet that was in the other areas.
The time it takes per renovation varies, but Lemp estimates it takes her between three weeks to a month on average to complete a project.
“Once I start tackling something, I’m very motivated to get it done,” she said.
But she was able to renovate this 1987 Taurus Camper in just a week, as she recorded on All Things With Purpose.
Lemp, a friend of hers, and their kids worked together to renovate this camper in just a week in 2018, according to her blog.
Renovating isn’t new for Lemp’s kids, as they contribute to all of the family RV projects.
“It’s been really fun for our family that all the kids get a part in helping with,” she said.
“I feel like it helps them be more appreciative of the final project,” Lemp said of her kids’ contributions to the renovations, especially because they spend vacations in the campers.
The kids help a lot, but Lemp said her husband watches the kids while she does some of the more detailed work.
The Lemps tend to use their campers for a few months and then sell them, so they get to enjoy them as a family.
“Enjoying something for a while and then selling it and moving on to something bigger” is part of the fun of renovating RVs, Lemp said.
“It’s given us a more affordable way to vacation,” Lemp said of the campers.
Because they’re a family of seven, a hotel room often can’t accommodate them all, so they save money staying in the camper.
Plus, Lemp pointed out that you can use an RV as a generator, which gives their family the ability to cook in the camper, saving them even more money.
Despite the benefits, RVs take a lot of work to renovate because you’re essentially working on a house and a car.
You can’t approach an RV renovation like a house renovation.
“Everything you put in an RV has to be able to move,” Lemp said.
That’s why it’s important to know what you’re getting into when renovating an RV, according to Lemp, who says you should “be realistic about what you can handle.”
For instance, most of the RVs need new tires on top of all the other renovations, like this 1994 Horizon 29 foot “class C” RV did.
“That could be $1,000 in itself, too,” Lemp said, speaking of replacing the tires.
But, at the same time, it’s a smaller scale project than a house, so it can feel more manageable.
“It’s nice because it’s obviously a little smaller than a house,” she said, and it costs less than a house renovation.
Plus, the RVs sit in her backyard, so she can work on them whenever she wants.
“Know that it is an involved, hands-on dirty process,” Lemp said. “But it’s very much worth it in the end.”
Lemp sometimes wonders if she has the stamina to continue renovating RVs.
“Can my body keep handling this? Because it definitely wipes me out, and I definitely have carpal tunnel from all the painting,” she said.
How much money they make per project also varies, but Lemp estimates they made $6,000 in profit on this camper.
The profit margin also depends on how much money they have to spend on renovations.
“I try not to take on something that needs to be completely stripped to the duds,” Lemp said, as it increases the work and money she has to put into a project.
But she sees that money as a perk rather than a pay-off, since her family gets to use each vehicle before they sell it.
Unlike she would with a house renovation, Lemp gets to enjoy the fruits of her labor personally when she remodels an RV.
“I kind of look at that as almost like bonus that we got to make that much, because we also in the meantime used it,” Lemp said of the money they get when they sell the campers.
Lemp says her favorite part of the projects is seeing the drastic difference between the beginning of the process and the end result. “I think that’s the part that keeps me going,” she said.
“The worse looking it is at the beginning, the better,” she said. “Because then the end product is that much more satisfying.”
“My dream is always if we were ever in-between jobs or needed a transition in life, we would just live in it for a while,” Lemp said of her renovations.
The Lemp family has already started working on their next RV. Lemp says it will have a more high-end feel than their previous projects in the hopes that her family can use it for a longer time.
You can keep up with Lemp’s renovations on her blog.
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