Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let You In On Project Number Two

In addition to sprucing up the house, Leon and I have been exploring the possibility of a major change.  I wish I could report a different outcome, as that might have been a bit more interesting.

We have enjoyed camping in our Fifth-Wheel trailer for many years and have frequented many campgrounds from New England to Florida to Arizona.
 We have enjoyed camping at several gay campgrounds on the East Coast because of the very relaxed atmosphere, the freedom that guys have just to be themselves and the beauty of the natural settings of many of the campgrounds.

And the fact that they are, well, just SOOO GAY!

 Here, in the Northeast, most of the gay adult membership campgrounds are about a 5 hour drive from us.  There are no full-fledged gay campgrounds in New England.  Leon and I have long thought that a gay campground in this area would be a boon.
We have, on more than one occasion, looked into buying a campground ourselves as we think we would really enjoy the work.  Years ago we looked at a local campground for sale.  The price was about $350,000, a bargain, but no matter how we figured it, it was out of our reach; especially since the 18th century house on the property was at least a $250,000 liability - it would have to be restored or razed or replaced.  So much for that.

A few years ago we looked at another local campground - a $750,000 property that needed more infrastructure and a pool and house repairs and rec hall repairs.  We fantasized about making a low ball offer and getting bank financing....So much for that.

The problem is always, right from the get-go, MONEY.

Probably 80% of the campgrounds for sale are over $500,000. Most established campgrounds are selling for well over $700,000, with many going for one, two three million or more.  If I had that kind of money, would I want to own a campground?  I don't think so.  We could live off the interest alone for the rest of our lives and travel and visit other people's campgrounds, or villas in Italy.

But I have been out of work since July and don't expect to be hired for anything anytime soon, especially since I no longer "tint" and so look like someone's grandpa.  Leon is tired of climbing ladders and cleaning gutters and washing windows and cleaning carpets.  He actually got excited when someone recently inquired about buying his business.

So we have been revisiting the campground idea again, or should I say campground fantasy?  Every once in a while we'll see a listing for a campground for under $300,000 and get excited.

Recently we found two such campgrounds, both in Vermont.  We contacted the respective sellers/realtors and set up appointments to see the properties.

One, we'll call Camp North was listed at $275,000.  We drove the 5 plus hours to get a closer look.  Everyone knows the admonition "Location, location, location".  Camp North, even though it has impeccable infrastructure - water, sewer, electric, (but no pool) is so far North, well, no gay person from Boston or Providence or Hartford or New York would ever travel that far to sun their collective bare asses for a weekend.  Besides, the place was both very remote and, at the same time, lacked privacy, as it was right on the road across from a house.  So much for that.

The other campground, Camp South is listed at $199,000.  Now that is a sweet price for a campground.  It is in Southern Vermont, an ideal location within two to two and a half hours of large metropolitan areas with lots of gay bears who love to camp and show off their fur and romp in the woods.

The "Unusual" House
While our first tour of the property revealed some things lacking, we thought (hoped) that the positives outweighed the negatives and that location would be the overriding plus.

We had a realtor to see our house and tell us what we could get in this depressed market.  Although we had planned on sprucing up the house, the realtor encouraged us to do more - tile the sunroom and kitchen, replace the bathroom vanity and stage our house like it was HGTV.  Can you say cuh-ching.  And there was no guarantee that we would get a higher price for our pain.  We stuck to painting.

Another realtor's opinion left us as depressed as the housing market - the price we could expect to get for our home is less than we've put into it over the 12 years we've lived here and $40,000 less than the campground.  And in this market, it might take six months to sell.

But we were undaunted.  We could cash in all of our retirement savings, which isn't much, and if Leon could actually sell his business, maybe we could swing it.  We'd put all our eggs in one basket - what the hell - when we're dead, what will it matter?  We'll make it work.

We spent hours over several weeks researching the permits on the property, the environmental laws, the survey maps and various documents the realtor supplied.  We made phone calls and wrote emails to environmental departments and banks.  I researched and started writing a business plan.
The Electricity is Good
We made an appointment to see Camp South again, this time to see the insides of the house and cabins which we could not see the first time as they are occupied.  (The fact that there are full time residents is one of the major issues with this property.  The proximity to the road was another negative, but one that could possibly be remedied by current owner).
The Cabins Need Work

If You See Smoke, People Are Living Here

We spent six hours with the realtor in Vermont touring the campground and going over the well and septic engineering plans he had acquired for us.  The house was not pretty, but it was livable.  My feeling was, if I HAD to live there, I could.  It needs work.

One Well Is Working
The three cabins, unfortunately, are non-conforming and would not pass inspections. They would need remodeling or preferably rebuilding - but only on the original footprint or that would mean additional permits.

A Little Lysol?
Still hopeful, we saw the leach field overgrown with pine trees.

The three stage septic pumping system was not in use.  Was it functional?

The three water wells on the property were apparently dug by some grey-bearded Vermonter with a willow branch. According to records the wells could not supply a sufficient flow of water to service the campground and required huge, 30,000 gallon holding tanks (underground) and pumps to meet code.  Were the tanks ever installed?  What is their condition? Do they leak?

"One of the wells blew" according to the resident "caretaker".  What that means is anyone's guess.

Septic Pump Station
The realtor gave us a an estimate for the inspections that would be needed just to determine the condition of the infrastructure - $5,000 to $10,000.   And this is before we sell our house or get a loan. We could back out at that point but lose whatever we've paid for inspections.

It wasn't looking great.  If the wells and septic didn't pass muster, we can back out.  And did I mention, there is no pool.  You know how gay guys like to congregate at the pool.  Permits, engineering, construction...

Leon and I both agreed that the negatives were outweighing the positives.  Neither of us are great risk-takers or wheeler-dealers.  Unless the inspections go well, this property might be for someone with very deep pockets.  We decided to think about it some more.
A Brook Runs Through It
Leon believes the right campground is out there.  It probably is.   But will we ever be in a position to acquire it?  He wants to keep looking.  But the bottom line is, we don't have the working capital and will need an income almost immediately should we acquire a campground business.

I don't know if our problem is that we dream too big or too small or not at all.  To many people a few hundred thousand dollars is chump-change.  For people like us, an entrepreneurial venture seems always just out of reach, like chasing rainbows.

We will keep looking for now, but I'm afraid every star and planet will need to line up in perfect harmony for us to find that rainbow campground.


  1. Frank, the campground idea is a lovely dream. But since money is so hard to come by - and I wouldn't dream of such an undertaking unless I already had at least a year's worth of living expenses money squirreled away in a CD somewhere - let me throw out another, perhaps more workable idea at least for the meantime.

    Your evident love of cooking reminds me a lot of the ex-roommate, who really wants to start a catering business in a couple years when he retires from his day job. Have you thought about such a thing? You wouldn't have to sell the house or move away - you could start small now with equipment you already own - once you get a clientele going, maybe go for a small biz loan to expand and develop.

    You could cook and Leon could do set-up and delivery - or something like that. This is something that is in immediate reach, seems to me, with your culinary talents. Rather than betting the farm on a money pit that could leave you guys stranded and starving in the frigid wilderness. Brrrr!

    Just sayin'. Think about it, will ya?

  2. I might have a lead for you. I'll write you privately and tell you about it.

  3. Here's hoping your find one close by. I'd be a happy camper if a gay oriented campground were a little closer to home.

  4. I tuned into project number one and you had my curiosity going!! even though I just stumbled across your blog and your name caught my eye. Wanted to wish you the very best of luck and I admire yalls ambition and dreams... I hear they do come true?? :) Sounds to me though you are on the right track and ill be praying you find that "pot of gold at the bottom of your rainbow!!!!" :)

  5. Would your camp provide child care for my kids? Just kidding!
    I think it's a wonderful idea and if it truly is a dream of yours, then work to make it happen.
    Your Friend, m.

  6. Russ, I hear you and I must say the first part makes a lot of sense. As for a catering business - Leon would either kill me or marry me and get a divorce. Either way, I'd be SOL.

    Cubby, Thanks.

    Truthspew, and bring your friends.

  7. Treasure, thanks for stopping by. Sounds like you might like my other blog, "Dinner's Ready". Gotta go make a King Cake...

    Mark, Day Care, now that's a thought...

  8. I hear you Frank, and I understand the need to dream and dare. But you have a mighty good thing going there with the two of you and your pretty little house. So look before you leap, and don't leap without a net under you, is all I'm saying.

  9. Not to worry, Russ, Mitt says theres a safety net and he's gonna fix the holes in it.



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