At 24 years old, Cortni Armstrong found herself sleeping in her office.
One year earlier, she’d been a fresh college grad. She wanted a career in radio and was hopeful about the radio station her dad was investing in. But two months after her dad signed the papers, he had a stroke.
He couldn’t restore the failing station, or continue the car festival he’d been running — which left Armstrong to run both businesses by herself.
At the same time, her parents were on the verge of their eventual divorce, and her roommates decided to end their lease without telling her.
That’s how she ended up sleeping (or rather, trying to sleep) in her office. But she knew pretty quickly it wouldn’t be sustainable.
Armstrong turned to a family friend, who managed a KOA campground, for help. He happened to know someone who was selling his fifth-wheel RV.
The seller was willing to let Armstrong make payments on the RV. She got free parking at the KOA in exchange for working the front desk a few hours a week.
On April 21, 2014, Armstrong moved into her first fifth wheel. She felt like she had reached rock bottom.
“At first, I was embarrassed about it,” said Armstrong, now 28. “I felt homeless.”
Why She Fell in Love With RV Life
The living and dining area inside a 2009 Montana RV remodeled by Cortni Armstrong. Photo courtesy of Cortni Armstrong
At first, Armstrong didn’t think she had much stuff. But downsizing to a 250-square-foot RV forced her to shed all her knick-knacks and decide what was most useful and valuable to her.
“All of this stuff we own carries emotional weight with it,” she said. “As I was purging and getting rid of all of this stuff, I felt lighter. I felt freer.”
Her first year in the RV provided more than just a purge of extra possessions. She fell in love with the families on never-ending vacations, her quirky RV park neighborhood and the simplicity of tiny living.
Thirteen months after moving into her fifth wheel, she made her change of heart official by buying her own RV.
The first fifth wheel she lived in had white cabinets, tan carpet and leather furniture, Armstrong quickly found that upgrades like that are few and far between in the RV world. Turns out, most RVs come standard with floral couches, dingy blue carpeting and wall-to-wall wood cabinets.
That’s how she had the idea to renovate one. If she couldn’t find one that looked like home, she’d make it one.
And in July 2015, she renovated her first fixer-upper, a 2006 Sedona fifth wheel.
“That fifth wheel was such a game changer for me,” she said. “It was my safe space. It was the first unit that I chose the lifestyle in.”
Armstrong was finally able to shed her heaviest emotional possessions, too. She transferred ownership of her dad’s radio station and sold the festival.
With her new freedom, Armstrong was able to try something new, something she chose for herself: She decided to flip an RV.
“A guy, who had a sudden life change, had to move in three days and needed his RV gone yesterday,” she said.
Armstrong says she got a great deal on it and didn’t have to do much work to sell it for a profit. She was hooked.
The Business of Flipping RVs
The kitchen and dining area inside a 33-foot-long 2010 Denali Dutchmen RV that Cortni Armstrong remodeled and sold for $30,000. She describes her work on the Montana and the Denali as full interior renovations: She replaced counters, light fixtures, faucets, flooring and more. Photo courtesy of Cortni Armstrong
Armstrong got her resale license and has flipped 28 RVs for profit. She has also been living and traveling in RVs full time for over four years.
She rents a workshop with an acre of property that she’s quickly outgrowing. There are currently six RVs on the property.
She flips RVs during the year and travels for two to three months during winters. She’s watched the sunrise on New Year’s Day over a vortex in Arizona and frequently meets up with other full-time RV friends across the country.
Armstrong has poured hours of research into getting good deals, floor plans that sell, how seasonality affects sales of different units, and the industry in general.
A lot of people think Armstrong’s flips are all total renovations, but her favorites are actually the ones she does very little to. She calls them “turn and burns.”
“Some of my favorites I’ve barely vacuumed the carpet,” she said.
But some are deceptively needy — one required so much work she barely broke even.
Armstrong didn’t set out to build a successful RV-flipping business — she didn’t even want to live in one — but she’s become a sought-after professional that other flippers look up to.
Armstrong started a website, The Flipping Nomad, to help other people learn how to flip RVs and inspire others to use their rock bottoms to power their own emotional and financial freedom.
She loves the rich and flexible life the business affords her and is often reminded of how it all started.
“Had I not gone through that terrible dark time, I wouldn’t have found my passion and love in life,” she said.
Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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