Spring is in the air – at least if you aren’t in Chicago, New York, or Texas. And even with the snow, you know that in a few short months the thaw will finally come. It will be time to hit the water again.
However, you need a boat to turn the dream of sailing into reality. Making the transition to boat owner can be daunting. To help you avoid some common pitfalls, we’ve identified the top five mistakes people make when buying a boat. We asked experienced yacht broker Ken Comerford, of North Point Yacht Sales in Annapolis, to give us some advice on how to avoid them.
1) Doing All Your Research on the Internet
There is no question that the Internet is a valuable tool. From surfing brokerage sites like Boats.com to asking questions on web forums, there is an unbelievable amount of information available to potential boat buyers. But that can be a problem. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, or to get conflicting answers.
Ken makes two recommendations for boat shoppers. First, get out and sail some boats. Make some boating friends, volunteer yourself as crew, take a class at a sailing school, or join a boating club. Try out different kinds of boats to see which best fit your needs. Ken said boating clubs, in particular, are “a good opportunity for people to get on the water and have hassle-free ownership.”
Second, make sure you get input from a trusted expert. This can be someone from your local yacht club, a broker, or another sailing professional who has actually sailed a number of different boats.
“A lot of our customers have used search engines to look at boats,” Ken said. “But sometimes people don’t know what to do with those tools. One mistake I see is the level of frustration b/c people don’t seek out true experts in the field. We do this 24/7. Not that all brokers are perfect — but not finding people that are truly knowledgeable where you can get good feedback and good answers is the number one mistake.
It doesn’t cost anything to get good advice. If buyers come to a knowledgeable person who’s willing to invest the time, it will help them. A good broker will listen to the customer’s needs and then try to help by providing brands, price ranges, and types of boats that will work for them.”
2) Relying Too Much on the Test Sail
Many experts would consider it sacrilege to buy a boat without a test sail. But oftentimes, boat buyers get to that point only after putting their deposit down. For the on-the-water survey, you’re reliant on the conditions at the time, and the boat may not be set up properly or there may not enough crew on board.
If you are planning on relying a test sail, make sure you have clear goals. They shouldn’t be about boat speed or specific numbers. Even getting a feel for a boat can take some time – more time than is often available on a test sail.
“Sailboats make a left and a right,” said Ken. “What do you actually intend to get out of a test sail? A survey includes a sea trial, but that’s more to make sure that things mechanically function on a boat. Generally speaking, you have to really identify what your goals are for a sea trial. If you want to go 6.5 knots upwind and you only go 6.3, will you be unhappy?”
A better option is to find another boat owner with the same type of boat who is willing to take you out for a sail. Then you get both the owner’s experience – be sure to get his or her input on the pros and cons – and you get to develop your own feel. Many brokers will be able to set up these sails within their network of previous buyers.
3) Waiting Until Spring to Buy
We’re all looking for the right time to find the best deal on a boat. But, according to Ken, most of the year is the “right” time.
“We get this question a lot, from sellers as well as buyers. It’s an 11-month business. It generally slows down between Christmas and New Year’s and also after July 4th weekend. There’s no time that’s a better time to shop or get more for your money. Spring is good because there’s a lot of inventory, but sometimes in the spring there is older inventory that doesn’t have a price adjustment.”
Ken added that the current market is a good one for prospective boat buyers. “It’s a good time to buy a boat because there is a fair amount of inventory at attractive prices. Prices haven’t come back up but the market is up. So the time to buy is now because the good inventory is going to get gobbled up. It’s starting to happen – but right now there is still plenty of inventory.”
4) Failing to Analyze the Total Cost Of Ownership When Comparing New Vs. Used
When you compare the price tags on those shiny new toys at the boat show with the prices for older boats on a brokerage site, you might wonder why anyone would buy a new boat. But it’s not that simple, according to Ken.
“If you buy new, your issues are really my issues – as things that break, etc., are under warranty. For myself, owning a new boat after having used boats was like, ‘Wow, I can use the boat without having to fix things all the time.’ With used boats you almost always have a project. With new boats, for the first few years you are out having fun.”
It’s all about the total cost of ownership. “If you are only going to keep the boat for three years, you may not need a new boat, but if you are going to keep a boat for 4-5 years or more, it may make sense to get a new boat. You have to look at the cost of the overall experience.”
5) Underestimating the Complexity of the Closing Process
Buying a boat is a lot more like buying a house than buying another vehicle like a car. This is often a surprise to potential buyers.
“When people come and buy a boat, they don’t always realize that there is a process,” said Ken. “Once you’ve agreed on an offer, there are still the survey, adjustments, and closing. At closing, there are still things to be done – insure the boat, transfer the title, and find a slip or boatyard. While I’ve done it in a few as four days, most times it is closer to four weeks.”
With the return of the financial markets and a large number of new and exciting boats like the J/111 and Beneteau 30 on the market, now is a good time to start moving towards your dream. Start online, but be sure to get good advice from a broker early in the process – it is free, and many have years of experience to help you find your perfect boat.
Photo courtesy of Dufour Yachts
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