Selling a Boat? Buying a Boat?

Set Sail Along the Rocky Path of Selling

You can listen to this story via our Podcast Show: Turning Your Cruising Dreams into Reality – brought to you by Pantaenius Yacht Insurance.

Receiving personal opinions like blows from a knuckle-duster; suffering to incurable pedantry, munching through nuances and perennial laments (ours!). What an earth am I talking about? – the process of selling a boat.

I am the sort of person who likes people – if I meet somebody new, I will like them until they do something to make me stop liking them, even then it doesn’t take much to make me like them again. This innocent philosophy has been turned inside out and upside down like a runaway roller coaster, simply by advertising our boat for sale.

“You went around the world in that boat?” (yes, and if you ever stop dreaming and get out there you will see that, that boat is a lot better than most) and “she isn’t flash” (no, but she is safe and comfortable, you can have flash for another $200,000). I shouldn’t get too carried away in my smart retorts that seem to arrive two days too late. What I am trying to show you is the agony involved in selling a boat. Potential purchasers take note and read on, I will cover both sides of the rickety fence, (having now experienced both sides).

Anchored in at a south pacific island
Anchored in at a south pacific island

First, let the gasps of horror wash over you. Boat owners, dreamers and wannabes could not believe that we wanted to sell Mariah. The ebb and flow of life’s desires changes for us all; what Noel and I crave now is a voyage that means adventure in one place. Convincing someone to follow your individual dreams is like trying to make them feel what you feel – it is just too personal. Second, marshal your marketing skills and thick skin. Surfing through the syrupy sales spiel to study what to include in an ad is an education itself. Just how do you colour a boat with black words on white paper? Pictures definitely help; but have you tried taking a picture of the inside of your boat to show what it really looks like, it’s a bit like cutting hair down a phone line – impossible.

The saloon - it is hard to show everything when taking pics to sell your boat
The saloon – it is hard to show everything when taking pics to sell your boat

How Much?
Mariah was independently valued by a Sydney broker for $80,000. We advertised her at $77,500.00, I thought her price was fair, with room for haggling (but then I think she’s worth a million). Three different people (two friends and one stranger), thought the price was cheap!; “that’s a lot of boat for not much money” said the stranger, but the lack of response said something else. Trawling through Trade A Boat I noticed all the “reduced” and “buyer says sell” notices plastered over advertisements, giving me a thud of disappointment. Fuelling the disenchantment was a yacht broker friend who said “the market is dead.”

We stuck to being honest and open, “yes, the manual part of the electronic winch is seized, we have just used the electronic part”, we also explained that in a year or so a new oven/cooker may be needed, but it is fine for now – hence the price. We had considered a broker but at 10% (which is the norm), and embedded budget keeping, we thought we’d have a go ourselves. Next time, depending on circumstances, we would employ a broker. They definitely earn their money dealing with the multitude of tyre kickers.

Photos for selling a boat - don't forget the deck
Photos for selling a boat – don’t forget the deck

Haggard Entreaties
Our conversations with ‘potential buyers’ became haggard entreaties. “If you want to do miles in comfort Mariah is for you, if you want to race Beneteaus and tack around small harbours, she is not the boat you want.” What we expected was honesty to match honesty. What we didn’t expect were hordes of dreamers looking at Mariah who were further away from buying a boat than I am to becoming the Captain of the Queen Mary. In my post research, some enquirers admitted to being dreamers, but that isn’t quite the problem. We are all dreamers, it is just weather we have the guts to follow those dreams. The honesty part fell down when we spent sometimes five – yes FIVE hours – showing people Mariah’s most private parts. We wanted to say (and probably did) “she is a great boat” but strangers are strangers and they didn’t know us from a bar of soap. We might be Mr and Mrs Dodgy trying to palm off a defective old tub – how were they to know? I encouraged buyers to read back issues of Cruising Helmsman to see what she/we had done. Some people loved the fact that Mariah had been featured regularly but one enquirer said it put him off by my stated windward performance reaching the Galapagos article, even though we completed this stretch faster than some larger boats.

On the hard - Mariah did us proud in light winds
On the hard – Mariah did us proud in light winds

Common courtesy
“I want to see Mariah, she is exactly what I am looking for, then we can discuss price” was one plea – this guy didn’t even bother to turn up! Selling a boat is not like selling a house. People wonder along, cling and hug the dynamic knowledge highway of boats; history and build is important. We are the Hillbilly’s of the water world and could not understand how people could drive half a day, spend half a day on a boat they were never going to buy and drive home again. We had a quiet life with lots of time, how did these people have more time to chuck away? When we were looking for a boat, we had already given up our jobs and had the time and money within our boat-owning dream, to search for the right vessel. Understandably, not everyone can do this, but if you’re sincere in seeking that horizon, maybe it should be a serious consideration. Somewhere in Australia there will be a boat for you – why not take your dreams and turn them to reality right at the start?

Mariah under sail
Mariah under sail

The two-way highway of judgmental thoughts (ours on the buyers and theirs on our boat) led to introspection, how did these people see us? Some wanted to hear all our stories, while explaining the ins and outs of sailing (“long periods of boredom, short periods of terror”) and of the boat. Generally talking about our journey was against our nautical religion as eyes often glaze and I’d rather save it for printed matter. So when we had a captive audience that was tantalizingly effervescent about our voyage, we indulged. This was not because of show casing what we had achieved. It is because we cannot quite believe it ourselves. We sit in our boat and see the Eiffel tower, Statue of Liberty or Big Ben on the TV and we cannot believe we have been there onboard our small boat that we now sit on in the Crookhaven River!

In the Crookhaven River
In the Crookhaven River

Sales and Marketing professionals
“I am not a salesman” says Noel with defeat in his eyes. So, how do we go about convincing complete strangers she is worth becoming a member of their family? This is where it all becomes a little thorny. Plunging into the lexical forest we first advertised in Trade A Boat, both in the magazine and internet. This produced a trickle of enquirers which dried up after a couple of weeks. We took Mariah off the market while we did our Master 5 in Moruya. Then returned and produced a few posters and found This inexpensive advertising channel created an enormous response. Ironically, we sold Mariah to a local guy’s brother, where advertising didn’t really figure. However, on the day she was surveyed we had four people waiting by the phone to hear whether she had gone or not. Whilst she was actually being surveyed another potential buyer sought us out, seeking a viewing there and then. Considering she was currently being surveyed we had to decline. However, what the surveyor said and what we found surprised us all.

Exposing oneself
I felt exceptionally exposed with strangers looking around my home. This was not the buyers fault, they had to have a good look and gain as much information as possible. But for everyone that didn’t come to see the boat, or worse, did and did not put in an offer, I felt I had been judged and failed . . . I didn’t like it one bit. So is there an answer?, don’t sell your boat? Yes, the gasps of horror continue. The boatie intranet kept our minds gimballed. At times we pleaded, to old and new salty friends “what do we do?” The collective advice was “Swallow it.”

The other side of the rickety fence
Back when we were searching for a boat, we were in the enviable position of not having a mortgage, and (because of long and dramatic stories) of the “bugger-it” attitude. From a buying perspective taking a punt on a boat, a large purchase with even larger maintenance and time bills ain’t easy. While paying a mortgage and supporting a family you have to search for the right boat while carrying on with “normal” life and hoping, when you find the right boat that the rest falls into place.

Trial sail
April fool’s day was the big trial. The night before we didn’t sleep. Would the buyers be impressed? We should not have worried. Mariah surprised us all reaching 4 knots in just 6-10 knots of breeze. The day was perfect and once Suszanne said “I feel more confident and happy about Mariah” we started to think she might be sold.

Rob and Suzanne (and brother Wayne) were quietly excited about the prospect of owning Mariah. So quiet in fact it took some convincing that they were serious. However, to witness their excited smiles when the surveyor gave the OK galvanised much pleasure. To see their enthusiasm and energy in scraping her bottom was akin to, what I imagine, living in Cadbury land would be. We agreed on a price at a little under $70,000. With all considerations we had reduced Mariah to $72K and negotiated, what we all felt was, a reasonable settlement.

Sailing into the Galapagos Islands on Mariah
Sailing into the Galapagos Islands on Mariah

There were so many things happening at the same time.

The edgy panic in my voice was startlingly clear. “Just where is mum, dad (visiting from UK) and you and I are going to sleep while Mariah is on the hard?” The room went silent, still, and all eyes with humoured creases penetrated my confusion.

Within a second, which felt nauseatingly like years, I realised that I was sitting in a house, that we have just purchased. “Oh, we have a house” I said with a silly grin, a rash of red crawling up my neck and claiming my pommie pale cheeks. Embarrassed chuckles flitter around the room while I desperately change the subject and cover my faux pas. I guess living in a house in going to take some getting used to!

Bad luck/Good luck?
On Friday 13th, Noel and I hauled out Mariah for the last time. The surveyor, David Copley from Jervis Bay Marine Consultants expounded virtues about the boat. So much so, we walked away with tears in our eyes – had we done the right thing letting this great boat go? We also found out that Mariah’s keel is actually stainless steel, something we didn’t know. As the surveyor said “they just don’t make boats like this anymore.” He had recently surveyed Mariah’s sister ship (featured in April ’06 ch “’Mary Celeste’ yacht found”), and was thrilled to have the opportunity to survey another fine vessel.

Puttering through Chicago
Puttering through Chicago – Mariah took us around The Great Loop in America as well as across many oceans

The right thing
We have done the right thing. Winter approaches and we don’t have to hop in the dinghy and suffer a wet bum. Mariah will not rot away while we continue with land-based projects. The new owners are excited and local – we had thought we’d prefer Mariah to leave – but actually it’s kind of nice having her nearby. It is pure delight to watch her sing along the water to the tune of her new owners. We don’t miss sailing, indeed we were ready for land. I relish the compost heap and garden – will that stay the case? Ask me in a year or two.

It is very cathartic writing about the experience – (I had to delete a lot of “and another thing . . .”), but then I guess I am passionate about the subject, and if there is no passion, well I just can’t see the point.

Comments from surveyor

David Copley Assoc. A.I.M.S. (Associate of the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors); Jervis Bay Maritime Consultants
“The vessel was built in timber to the Sindur design by Frank Blom based on the proven Norwegian double ender design. The hull planking is double diagonal Kauri and is said to be sheathed with fibreglass cloth set in epoxy resin. We sighted ten stringers per side and frames on 3 foot centres; a substantial beam shelf at deck level and solid hanging knees and substantial laminated deck beams.”
“We consider the vessel to be well assembled from heavy scantlings and found no apparent defects or departures from sound boat building practices.”
“Throughout the vessel clever use is made of all available space for storage and fuel and water tanks. We found the inner hull to be dry, clean and in good condition.”
“The previous Owner’s completed a circumnavigation in 2005 and the vessel is rigged and fitted out accordingly. We found no apparent structural or rigging faults and except for some minor defects noted elsewhere in this report consider the vessel to be in above average condition.”

You can see the large hatch (timber) on the foredeck here. We tied a square tarp over this at night - to keep the rain out but breeze in. It was tied tight so not to flap in any breeze.
They don’t make them like this anymore – fun times looking for reefs.

Comments/concerns from prospective buyers (mostly by enquirers that did not view the boat).

“We didn’t purchase Mariah because my partner wanted a steel or fibreglass boat. In the end, we purchased a basic 38ft steel sloop, which was in Victoria – saving us delivery charges and time… I thought Mariah was gorgeous but I just couldn’t convince Andy that we could maintain her. The money we saved is going into work on this one … and as always there are far too many surprises but we are still having fun… (I think!).”
“Resale ability (it seems timber boats take longer to sell than glass or steel)”
“Separate cabin” (other than v-birth)
“Engine hours”
“Sheathed timber”

“Living space, we are thinking perhaps something 36 – 39′ may be more appropriate.”

“In hindsight, your candidness in showing off your boat ‘warts and all’ did add a few doubts in my mind. Having said that, however, I appreciate your candid comments.”

“Yes we are dreamers, but its gradually coming true. We decided to go cruising 20 years ago when we bare boated in the Whitsundays in 1986. It just took us a while to realise the “normal” way of life was not perhaps the best and the simpler, low impact life of cruisers was more in our idiom?”

Top Tips for Buying and Selling a Boat


For boat buyers

– Ask yourself a few questions that will get you focusing on the kind of boat you want/need, price range etc.
– Research, research, research
– Ask other cruisers opinions/advice.
– Tell the seller what type of boat you are looking for and what you intend to do with it.
– Do not expect to be taken out for a sail on the first visit – unless pre-arranged, we’ve met landlubbers with no boat using the excuse of buying to get a weekend on the water!
– Remember every boat is a compromise.
– Ask why the boat is being sold?
– Can you get spare parts easily?
– Consider the big picture; marina fees, registration, equipment, insurance, maintenance, fuel and oil, etc.
– Have the boat surveyed by a qualified surveyor. (Anyone can call themselves a surveyor – ask a local marina for a recommendation and/or make sure the surveyor is accredited by an appropriate authority, i.e. a member of A.I.M.S. (Association of the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors).
– Don’t rely on an old survey, new problems may have occurred and your insurance company will probably request an up to date survey.
– Watch out for pictures of the sister ship, if sellers cannot get a picture of the actual ship, be suspicious.
– Check maintenance records.
– Don’t be afraid to follow your heart, if she doesn’t do it for your then ‘no sale’.
– Give some information up on yourselves; the seller could be completely opening up their home to you. It leads to frustration when the flow of information is all one-way.
– Be honest, if you turn up and don’t like the boat say so – don’t spend hours rummaging though other people’s personal space for no reason.

For boat sellers

– Be honest, buyers will become resentful if the picture is blurred and expectations are too high, a second hand boat is just that, it will not be perfect, don’t pretend it is.
– Take pictures with people in the boat, gives idea of size/space.
– Old equipment is just that, old, declare everything for what it is and adjust the price accordingly.
– If you are able, remove all ‘not for sale equipment’ or list what is not for sale (to accompany completed inventory that is for sale).
– Ask buyers, what their intentions are with the boat and be honest about your boats capabilities/set up.
– Present her nicely and put all personal gear away (take time to tidy up and take good photos – personal gear in the pics will put people off).
– Don’t put in a picture of your boats sister ship, with the ease of technology there is no excuse for not taking a picture of the actual boat for sale – this turned us right off when searching for our next boat.
– Remember, every boat is a compromise

Boat Selling tips

• Bilges should always be spotless; they are a good indicator of the care the boat has received.
• Be realistic or your boat will sit on the market for ages.
• Remember asking price is only an indicator.
• Keep her clean and tidy; you never know when someone will just turn up.
• Focus on a good, clean cockpit; this is where your buyer will start.
• Have all the relevant paperwork to hand, boat maintenance records, registration, equipment manuals/warranties etc.

Boat buying/selling Haggling Tips

‘Haggling’ conjures up unpleasant pictures and makes most of us squirm, but boat buying should be an enjoyable experience. With large amounts of money involved, it is fair to say that both parties have an expectation that negotiation will occur.
• Does the seller have incentives to reduce the price, eg. market quiet, old equipment etc. You might be able to negotiate merchandise in lieu of dollars – especially if you are dealing with a broker/new yacht sales.
• Use competition and timing to your advantage.
• Keep if friendly and light, both parties should respect each other. If it is a seller’s market then a buyer cannot expect too much haggling. But in a buyer’s market (of which it is at the time of writing) a buyer might find more willingness in the seller to negotiate.
• Keep focused on what you want to buy, don’t get talked into buying something you don’t want.
• Know how much you are willing to spend, stick to it.
• Ask – discount for cash?
• Remember you don’t get if you don’t ask.

Get it in writing
If you decide to purchase the boat, it is best to get everything put down in writing. This should state any terms agreed and the amount. You should also have a clear inventory and ensure dates of money/boat transfer are agreed and written into the agreement.

Beware of fraud
There are a few things to watch out for to make sure you are not the victim of fraud when you buy a boat:
Is the price too good to be true? Take care not to give a deposit until you are completely satisfied the boat is not stolen.
Be suspicious of anyone who only uses a PO Box (we only had a PO Box at one stage, but always had a family member’s address – remember if you have a bank account you need a street address, so everyone should have one).
Ensure you verify the phone numbers, don’t just use email.
If buying overseas, be very cautious, take more care and verify all details/information.
If you are plain uncomfortable, or something doesn’t sit right, don’t ignore those feelings.

New or used?
A new boat comes with a warranty, but initial costs are much higher and the value depreciates quickly. In addition, used boats seem to be better equipped, they have been used and therefore some thought into what is needed and where it should be located, has been given.
Buying a new boat means that any thing that goes wrong should be covered by warranty. Being new does not guarantee everything will be ship shape. If you have purchased a boat and there are defects, you are not going to get much use out of it if it is in the boat yard. Conversely, new equipment should not fail. Boat shows are an excellent way to look at many different new boats and maybe you will have many dealers there to haggle with.
Second hand boats are cheaper and the value will be maintained (if you maintain the boat). If you buy from a private seller there will be no warranty, so ensure you check the boat carefully. Remember second hand boats have had any defects shaken out of them.

Do you have any buying/selling tips to share?

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