One lesson learned was that we would only buy local (at least within our state where we were familiar with the laws) and probably from a dealer. Even if it cost a little bit more we wanted legal above all else! Still not sure if we’d buy old, not real old or new we continued looking. I found two older ones that looked to have potential for restoration at a good price at Berryland Campers in Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
We decided one day in late October to visit Berryland after work to check them out. We were greeted by a salesman who showed us those two and gave us information on a couple of others we could check out. We knew when we walked out of the first two they were just not for us, no matter how much restoration we did. I felt sad in those two and just knew we’d never be happy there. The others were better and as we were going to call it a day he said he had one more that we could see.
It was a 2005 39 foot Fleetwood Excursion Diesel Pusher with three slides. As we walked over to it he told us it only had 9,500 miles on it. It was owned by a family who lost their house in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and lived in it while the house was restored. They hadn’t used it much since the first year and only took a few trips in it which accounted for the low mileage. When we walked in we fell in love. During our researches we came up with sort of a wish list in our minds of the things we felt we’d like to have – this one almost matched our list exactly! A few of the top things were the cream colored soft leather sofas, full size stove, full size refrigerator, washer/dryer, ceramic tile on the kitchen backsplash, bamboo glass on the cabinet doors and the shower enclosure. We loved the cherry wood cabinets, the convection/ microwave, the exterior and mostly the “feeling of home” we both shared.
Even though the price was considerably more than the older ones we saw, it was still within our actual budget. We thought it didn’t need anything. Of course you find out how much they really do need to become “our RV” but basically it was exactly the one we wanted. It was night time by then and we really wanted to be sure by seeing it in the daylight so we went back at lunch the next day and confirmed our initial impression. This is “the one”! After a brief negotiation with our salesman he processed our loan application and he said the few minor issues we noticed would be taken care of within the next two weeks which would include a full servicing and cleaning.
Now we could turn our focus from finding an RV to getting it ready to travel and getting our toad ready to travel also. I am an avid checklist maker and love to check things off the list when they are completed – this one got a big checkmark!
Since we hadn’t sold the house, and now own an RV but don’t have it in our posession yet we wanted to do something RV related. We started looking for the items Roy would need to make his truck into our toad! We’re starting to learn some of the RV lingo and it’s fun to say our truck will be our toad! Then you get to explain what a toad is and they get to learn a little about RV life. Roy may posts a blog one day about what went into transforming his Dodge Dakota truck into a toad, all I can say is a lot of money went into it.
Our toad is named Boots because it will follow along behind Dora the Explorer. Every child knows that Boots is Dora’s trusty side kick and always follows along with her. Of course Madisyn’s grand parents know this to be true so we named Roy’s Dodge Dakota truck Boots.
I try to share as much of what we’re learning with others hoping to give someone else the RV bug like we’ve caught! I’d love it if some of our friends and family would at least part time if not full time RV. You’ll probably see me say this often. If anyone needs a little push in that direction just contact me directly and I’ll convince away!
WARNING: THIS IS GOING TO BE A VERY VERY LONG BLOG. HOWEVER IT IS WORTH READING AS YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOU READ IT. SORRY, I CAN’T SAY AT THIS POINT IN THE BLOG WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR OTHERS TO READ IT.
During all this fun we were having, I had two eye surgeries to have the floaters in my eyes removed. Both surgeries left me with bloody looking eyes for about a week after each one so we tried to limit my public exposure during those times. I can’t even describe how creepy I looked with my blue eyes surrounded totally by blood red where the whites use to be.
I tell you this because it was after the second eye surgery, right after the garage sale, when my eye was at its most bloody looking that we found “the perfect RV for us”. We had only been doing “research” on RVs up to this point when the day after the last eye surgery I found on Craigslist a 1997 40 foot Holiday Rambler diesel that had been updated to a 2009 interior. The floors were granite, sofas were leather and was a diesel for only $40,000. It was near Houston, Texas and I thought we should make a road trip to see this one. Even if we weren’t ready to purchase we realized this might be too good to pass up. I was on sick leave from the eye surgery so I was off work already for a few days. I called my husband, sent him the information about this RV and said “Let’s take a trip to see this one.”
This was around 10 am one day and by Noon that same day we were on the road to check it out. This spur of the moment road trip is not how we normally operate. I like to plan and Roy likes plenty of notice so this was very unusual for us.
During our 5 long hours of driving, we discussed many things including making sure we took precautions like checking the seller’s drivers license to make sure it matches the title. We brought cash with us for a deposit since the pictures and all we learned were so enticing. We pulled up at this million dollar mansion behind a huge brick fence with a remote controlled gate. We instantly felt better when we saw this beautiful home because surely it was all legitimate. We pushed the button and told them we were there. They opened the gate for us to enter. We noticed a shabby appearence to the landscaping which made their story of falling on hard times more believable. But then we saw the RV and forgot everything else!
When we originally spoke on the phone they told us that they were financially strapped and selling the RV was a good way to raise some quick capital. That all made sense to us and when we sw the house we felt better. Upon seeing the RV we were almost immediately sold. When we went in it was even nicer than the pictures. Granite floors, new leather sofas, 1 slide and they were only asking $40,000.00. It was of course a 1997 but you wouldn’t know that from the renovated interior. After hearing it run fine and really looking it over well Roy said we’ll think about it and we prepared to leave. After we got in the car and drove around to the front of the mansion Paula was still outside but by the front door of the mansion. Roy told her the most we could do was $20,000 and she said the lowest they could was $35,000. About 5 minutes down the road we got a call from the man, Rick Gonzales. He said he’d take $30,000 for it. Roy said you’re at $30,000 and I’m at $20,000, how about we meet in the middle. Roy and Rick agreed on $25,000. Roy watches all those shows where they go back and forth over the price and it seemed to be paying off! We were ecstatic, we were getting a great RV for $25,000.
We drove back to the mansion where the RV was located. Knowing we needed to take some precautions I asked to see the lady’s drivers license and the RV title. They looked fine to me, though she did look a little young in the driver license. Once we were satisfied with everything we gave them a large cash deposit and they gave us a bill of sale showing the deposit and that we’d pay the remainder within 15 days. Since we had started the financial process with our banker of the phone on our way to Conroe we decided to stay over night (totally unprepared) hoping we could finish it up the next day.
We had not planned to stay over night and didn’t bring a change of clothes, toothbrushes or ANYTHING. We found a very cheap hotel nearby that didn’t provide complimentary shampoos or even have a hair dryer like we’re use to having at hotels. The hot water must have been used up by others at this cheap hotel before we got to it in the morning so all I could do was stick my head in the shower, wash it with a bar of soap and dry my hair over the air conditioning vent. I put on my well used clothes from the day before and between my lovely looking hair and my bloody blue eyes I looked like a crazed possibly homeless woman. I’m sure my husband was so proud to be seen with me when we went to breakfast before heading to the bank!
Our bank had a branch in a nearby city in Texas. Our bank officer Barbara, in Louisiana, worked with the Texas branch after breakfast that day to get our loan transaction completed so we could take the RV home the following day. I asked our banker to please let the Texas branch know in advance I don’t normally look like I did that day! The people at the branch were very nice to us during the long visit we had with them. Our loan processing went well and we got approval in early afternoon. While we were waiting we arranged insurance for the RV with our State Farm Agent back home. I called Rick Gonzales several times during the day to get information the Bank needed. He was generally cooperative but as we neared lunch time he got kind of pushy about when we’d be bringing him the money. He needed us to give him the entire amount in cash as his bank would put a 10 day hold on the check and he needed the funds now. We arranged for that and tried to meet every requirement he put out.
In the late afternoon Paula brought the RV title and Paula’s drivers license to us at the bank. She owned the RV and Rick Gonzales was her boyfriend. Our banker questioned the appearance of the title since it looked different than the ones we were use to seeing in Louisiana. The branch there confiremd that is how a Texas title looks like. When our banker compared the two documents she noticed that there was a misspelling on the title compared to the driver license by one character. What was an l on one was an i on the other. Because of this she said we’d need a one in the same affidavit. She also noticed that the title showed the RV was one year older than our Bill of Sale. We asked Paula to draw up a new bill of sale and go get a notary to provide her with a one in the same affidavit saying that Paula Baltadano was the same person aS Paula Baitadano. This is a very common occurance and didn’t think she should mind doing it. She said she would and left the bank.
We waited two hours for her to come back and finally Rick called us. He said Paula would not be coming back and they shouldn’t have to help us get our loan, we just needed to come up with the money. I explained to him that we had our loan already and that they would have this same problem with anyone they sold it to be cause the problem was with their title. He started getting ugly with me on the phone and I started sensing something was real wrong. Roy and I were siitting in the middle of the bank (which had closed the lobby doors by this time) with the Texas banker and their security officer within hearing distance. I told him that we’d just come and get our cash deposit bank and call the deal off. He got really ugly and said no we won’t be giving your deposit back. He said “You’ll bring us the rest of the money to pay for the RV” and hung up on me. I was shaking horribly and Roy listening was white as a sheet.
We quickly told the banker that we wouldn’t be making the loan and asked their security guard where the police department was. During the time Rick hung up on me and the time we left I contacted Barbara, our banker in Louisiana and told her what happened. I asked her to fax to me a letter from her saying our loan was approved and the only hold up was the sellers documentation. She also faxed a copy of Paula’s drivers license and the problematic RV title.
We knew we had to go back to their house to get our money. We also knew our only hope to do that was to get a police escort. We headed over to the Conroe, TX police department. Since it was after hours we explained through a speaker in the wall what we needed and in about 10 minutes an officer pulled up in front. We explained to him what we needed, showed him our documentation and he said for us to follow him to the house. We didn’t know it until we got there but the police department already sent another car over to the house as soon as we gave the person beind the speaker in the wall the address.
When we pulled up to the iron gate in front of the home we saw the other officer’s car. We called the house from the entry station out front and got no answer. Roy called them on the phone and after several rings Paula answered. I gave the phone to the officer that was with us and he spoke to her for a while. He told her they needed to give the money back and gave her various scenarios if they didn’t. He could have the district attorney seize the RV and give it to us for the money we already gave them, he could have her arrested and other things. She hung up on him!!!!!!!! We knew for sure this was going south for sure at this point.
The officer went to the mailbox and checked the name on the mail inside. It did not match. He called for back up. Shortly after he placed the call several police cars pulled up and out came what looked like SWAT officers. They had bullet proof vests over their uniforms and big machine gun type guns. They surrounded the wall and after one found a way in through the golf course in the back they all went in and hid for a while. An officer arrived with a search warrant – man I thought it only happened that fast on TV. The original officer went up to the door, Paula answered and she came outside to talk to him. We were still outside the gate and couldn’t hear anything but saw the heavily armed policemen enter the house. My biggest concern through this waiting time was her five children inside seeing it all happening. I wanted to get them out of there but had not control over all that.
It was a huge house and one of the officers came out to tell us they were searching it and that would take a while. After about another hour the officer came out to tell us that they found Rick hiding under his desk holding a bunch of money. Quite a picture, since he was a stocky short man I had difficulty imagining him fitting under a desk. They said they were sure we’d eventually get our money back but it would probably have to go through the judicial system because it would be held as evidence. That was our first glimmer of a little hope!
They searched for a while longer, spoke to Paula outside for a while longer, meanwhile we were sitting in our car texting everyone we knew and posting all about it on facebook. We werre hungry, tired, stressed out, dirty from not bathing and wearing old clothes and just wanted it all to be over. About three hours after it all started two officers came out from the gate holding some money!! He said they made a deal with them. In exchange for them giving us our money back the police wouldn’t charge Rick and Paul with the crime they committed against us. They said that the documents our banker provided us, and what they saw when they arrived, gave them reasonable cause to enter the grounds around the house. Gosh we were feeling very NCIS worthy around that time! The original officer told us that what started out as a routine escort turned into a major bust and thanked us for coming to them.
They brought Paula out in handcuffs at one point and she was just a screaming in Spanish at the officers.
It turns out the officers found in the search that multiple crimes were going on in the house. As one officer put it “Whatever you can imagine is going on in that house is probably going on.” All he could say was that there were drugs involved, falsifying documents and a lot of online crime – guess who got wrapped up in that last one with them – The Chauvins! The police didn’t need our little crime since they had so much against them so we signed for the money and got our money back!!!!!!!!!!! Roy and I were absolutely stunned but ecstatic at this turn of events. God was certainly looking out for this couple that night, as He always does.
When the officers told me we could leave, we were out of there! We drove the five hours back home, stopping about half way to pick up a part for the toad that Roy had previously purchased on eBay. After calling the elderly man who sold it when we were on our way out of Conroe, the man said to come no matter what time of night it was. Before we got there the man put on a fresh pot of coffee for Roy. What wonderful people they were. I stayed in the car and the wife came out in her robe and asked me to come in. I was so exhausted I couldn’t move so she gave me a hug and went back inside. They were so caring and concerned and it meant so much to us after the exerience we had just endured. By the way, the part Roy bought from them didn’t fit his truck when we got home!! He has since then sold the part on Ebay to someone whose vehicle it will fit.
When we got home I think we slept for 24 hours we were so drained and still in a state of shock from our experience. How could two intelligent adults be so bamboozeled as to not see what was happening from the first. We realized that we wanted it a little bit too much and got swept up in the whole thing, putting caution out back instead of up front. Had our banker not been so conscience and looking out for the bank and our best interest we would have lost our money and had a real set back in our RV dream.
The Conroe, Texas police department and our Whitney Bank officer, Barbara Davis were phenomenal in the care they gave to us and in handling their responsibilities. We wrote letters to the Conroe Police Chief and Mayor telling of their speedy response and how caring they were of us, two scared strangers from Louisiana. We let Whitney Bank know about Barbara’s actions and they honored her for protecting both our interest and that of the bank. People like these folks need to be recognized for their exceptional service and I’m glad we did that.
We learned later that the couple were both arrested and bailed out. When they did they went back to house. Turns out they were renting the house paying cash to an elderly couple who lived nearby. After bailing out they took everything in the house, even the appliances and left town in the RV! The FBI is now involved because their crimes were internet crimes covering several states. They’ve been arrested for this before and left town each time.
I said originally it was important for others to read this because they are on the loose again and will most definitely try to pull this or some other internet crime on someone else. The phone number it seems they use in most of their dealings, and ours, was 832-696-3741 so if you see anything being sold on the internet associated with that phone number, call the Conroe, TX police department – or better yet, let us know – we’d love to help put them behind bars so they don’t hurt anyone else!
ONE DAY CLOSER TO OUR DREAMS!!!!!!!!!! – NOW TO FIND A LEGAL RV TO PURCHASE!
Like I said originally, our plan was to sell the house and everything in it, buy an RV, retire and hit the road. The order of our plan was now changing because of two things. First was we began to realize how much time would be involved in preparing the RV and our Toad for full timing. And second was knowing that once the house sells we will only have a month or less to do this preparation, all while still working full time. So now the plan is to buy an RV, sell the house and everything, retire and hit the road. Because of this we started becoming serious about purchasing an RV, BEFORE we sell the house.
Some very kind friends of ours let us bring their really nice Class C motor home to our house to live in it for a few days. Of course their stuff was in it but we brought our clothes, our food, etc. and tried to make it our home for a few days. We slept well, ate well, watched TV and enjoyed ourselves. They use theirs for short and long trips and we will be living in ours. We pretty much decided we could do this RV thing but if we were going to be living in one full time we would like to do it in a Class A motor home. I learned that cooking in one isn’t that much different than cooking in a sticks house and also got to see that they had much less utensils and other kitchen stuff than I was use to. That’s the way all RVers are but it was a great help to have the actual experience of living in it. We really appreciate John and Donna giving us this opportunity. John offered to check out any RV we were seriously considering buying since we’re such newbies and he has lots of experience with RVing. It’s wonderful to have friends like that who care about you and want to help when needed.
In early October, right after John and Donna’s RV went back to their home, we had a second garage sale. We focused mostly on things we could not take with us in the RV and wouldn’t need between now and the time we sell the house and leave. There seemed to be a lot falling into that category. By this time Roy was a little more willing to get rid of a few of his tools and other toys. I had several large containers of Christmas and other holiday decorations that filled 6 tables. Can’t take all that with us in the RV! We did well again on this one making about the same as we did on the first. We tried something new this time. I gave each buyer, after their sale was complete, a slip of paper telling them about a 50% one hour sale that afternoon and a 75% off sale one hour the next day. We made a couple hundred more dollars that way. We then let all our co-workers and friends know we had a bunch of things left and they could come take whatever they wanted for free every evening that week. That really reduced what we needed to give away to a manageable load. I met a lady at this last sale that told me about a local facebook page where people buy, trade and sell items. After checking it out and joining the group I’m thinking this might be a possibility for selling some of our future items.
We need to take a break here from our October adventures to tell you about our trip to Conroe, TX which I’ll describe in the next blog!