Wheel Estate: 'Airbnb of RV rentals' hits the road in Alberta

Chad Ball wants to give everyone a chance to taste the freedom of the road from behind the wheel of an RV.

'There are one million personally-owned RVs in Canada. How many of those are just sitting idle?'

Looking to book the perfect weekend getaway? A new Alberta-based company helps weekend warriors get a taste of the open road. (Wheel Estate/Facebook)

Chad Ball wants to give everyone a chance to taste the freedom of the road from behind the wheel of an RV.

The Alberta construction worker has created a new company which he's touting as the "Airbnb of RV rentals." The online marketplace connects RV owners with people looking for affordable camping vacations.

He hopes Wheel Estate will allow owners to offset some of the costs of owning these enormous rigs, while allowing the uninitiated to share in a truly Albertan pastime.

"There are one million personally-owned RVs in Canada. How many of those are just sitting idle?" said Ball in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We didn't start by waking up one day and saying, 'Let's start a website.' We started by trying to solve our own problem."

'We just wanted to get away'

The idea for Wheel Estate came seven years ago. Ball, who works as a project manager in the home building industry, was struggling. 

Ball and his wife, Cherie, were weary from the stress and decided to escape the hard times with a simple road trip.

"Like many Canadians we were hit hard by the recession and by 2010 for our family it was honestly pretty bad and we just wanted to get away for one week and hit the reset button.

"We thought, let's go camping. That's cheap. So we looked into some of the big retailers to rent an RV and honestly we could have went on a beach vacation for the price they wanted."
Chad Ball of Okotoks, shown here with his wife and son, founded Wheel Estate, a peer-to-peer RV and camper rental website, in January of 2017. (Cherie Ball/Facebook)

Ball started eyeing his neighbour's gleaming RV in the adjacent driveway, and offered to rent it for the weekend, but ran into insurance trouble.

Most insurance policies become void once a vehicle is rented out privately, and the cost of a temporary policy can be astronomical, said Ball.

A long road

In the end, Ball and his family did go camping that weekend in an RV borrowed from a family friend.

It was on that scenic drive to the mountains that he noticed countless motorhomes parked idle, gathering dust in storage lots, and his business plan was born.

"It's still sort of emotional to talk about. Driving out and seeing those trailers, it was just another problem that existed at the time," Ball said.

"And now, back in another recession, record unemployment, people losing their jobs. People have these trailers in storage and can't even afford to camping themselves."

It would be a long road. The "insurance world" was hesitant to take on the risk of his proposal, said Ball.

"Looking back, it's been a long, long process," he said. "Just imagine, six years of just trying to put insurance together. Any rational person would have quit."

But after years of negotiations they landed a contract with Lloyd's of London. 

Wheel Estate launched in January, and the online marketplace is finally picking up some speed.

The free-listings website, provides $1 million liability insurance to verified renters with both daily and weekly rates. Renters can also pay extra for roadside assistance and access to a 24-hour help line.

The site contains more than 200 private listings, with RVs, fifth wheels and pop-up tents available to rent in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario.

"Right now, we have this romantic notion of ownership. I think that's going to be turned on its head with the advent of sharing economy sites like Airbnb," Ball said.

"The future looks bright."